Need to unplug and relax on your vacation? Consider leaving the car at home and taking a train.
Train trips offers fabulous views of mountains, deserts, oceans and forests, as well as cultural and historic experiences. They allow you to ponder the scenery instead of the traffic.
“You get a chance to relax,” said Sylvia Blishak, co-owner of Train Travel Consulting in Klamath Falls, Oregon. “You can get back into the habit of being in the moment.”
The cost will depend on the season, route and class of train car. But discounts are often available for military members, seniors, students, children and members of AARP or AAA.
Here are 10 of the most fantastic, scenic train trips in the United States:
1. California Zephyr
The California Zephyr Amtrak route running between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area takes about two days.
After crossing the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and enjoying the passing panorama of the Great Plains, passengers get to see the Rocky Mountains, along with Colorado’s Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons; cross the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel; and see San Pablo Bay just north of San Francisco.
Visit Amtrak’s “Deals” page to learn about current promotions as well as everyday discounts available for AAA members, students, military members, seniors, children and others.
2. Cass Scenic Railroad
For a short but magical historical jaunt, try the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park rail line. Riding in a train with a restored Shay steam-powered locomotive, you will traverse the scenic mountains of eastern West Virginia.
The full route from the Cass Depot up the mountainside to Bald Knob — the summit of Back Allegheny Mountain at more than 4,800 feet — is about four-and-a-half hours round-trip. The Bald Knob overlook (pictured) sits at an altitude of 4,700 feet and, on clear days, offers views of two states.
Fares range from free (for children ages 3 and younger) to $66, depending on the date. Discounts are also available for children ages 4 to 11 and seniors age 65 and older.
3. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
This train route, a national historic landmark, runs between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, from late May through late October. Rides are two to eight hours long, depending on the route you choose.
The dramatic views include San Luis Valley, the Rocky Mountains and the 800-foot-deep Toltec Gorge. Lunch is served in Osier, Colorado.
Round-trip rides, which involve riding a motor-coach bus one way, start at $95.75 for adults and $49.75 for children. The railroad’s “Specials & Discounts” page details several types of discounts.
4. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
This Colorado ride takes passengers along the Animas River and through wilderness that can’t be accessed by any roads.
The train travels a 45-mile stretch of rail between Durango and Silverton from early May to late October. The round-trip train tour is about nine hours, including a two-hour stop in Silverton, a historic mining town. In the winter the route is about half the distance.
The round-trip train tour starts at $89 for those ages 12 and older and at $55 for children ages 4 to 11. Children under 4 who do not occupy a seat ride for free except for special events. Visit the railway’s “Hot Deals” page to learn more about discounts, which are also available for backpackers and the military.
5. Ethan Allen Express
A ride on this Amtrak route between Manhattan’s Penn Station (pictured) and Rutland, Vermont, is about five and a half hours. It features wilderness and views of the Hudson River Valley, as well as the Catskill Mountains in New York and the Green Mountains in Vermont.
Again, visit Amtrak’s “Deals” page to learn about current promotions as well as everyday discounts.
6. Grand Canyon Railway
This train journey offers travelers a unique and low-stress way to view the heavily tourist-invaded Grand Canyon — one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Since 1901, this train has been taking passengers to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Leaving from Williams, Arizona, the ride is two hours and 15 minutes each way. Passengers also get a few hours to explore the canyon before the trip back.
Six classes of service are available, starting with the Pullman Car at $65 for adults and $29 for children. Visit the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel’s “Offers & Packages” page to learn about the multiple discounts and packages that are available.
7. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad route in western North Carolina begins at a historic depot in Bryson City and takes riders through the Appalachian Mountains. Two round-trip excursions are available.
On the four-and-a-half-hour Nantahala Gorge Excursion, the train travels along the Tennessee and Nantahala rivers to the gorge, stopping for an hour at the Nantahala Outdoor Center before returning.
Riders on the four-hour Tuckasegee River Excursion travel through countryside — passing a set from the Harrison Ford movie “The Fugitive” — to the historic town of Dillsboro, where they stop for an hour and a half before returning.
8. Napa Valley Wine Train
This Northern California route traversing the popular wine valley combines fine dining, vintage cars and, of course, wine.
It travels 36 miles from Napa to St. Helena and back, passing famous and historic wineries on a three-hour ride. Train rides start at $146 per person for the Gourmet Lunch option. Passengers can also tour wineries as part of packages that start at $206 per person.
9. Mount Washington Cog Railway
The Mount Washington Cog Railway, a National Historic Engineering Landmark built in 1869, is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s open from late April through November.
Built for climbing the more-than-6,000-foot Mount Washington, on clear days this rail line offers riders a view of four states, Quebec, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Tickets for the three-hour round trip start at $69 for ages 13 to 64, $65 for ages 65 and older, $39 for children ages 4 to 12 and free for younger children on an adult’s lap. Specials and discounts are available.
10. Rocky Mountaineer’s Coastal Passage
This luxury train company’s Coastal Passage route links Seattle with Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Canadian Rockies.
During the all-daylight journey, passengers view the Pacific Ocean’s coastline and Puget Sound and traverse the Fraser River Swing Bridge.
Several price packages are available, starting at $2,359 for a five- to seven-day trip from Seattle to Jasper, Alberta, Canada, or the reverse, which includes hotel stays.
What are your experiences and impressions of traveling by rail? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.