Planes, trains, and automobiles: How many of us have traveled via the first and third option, and skipped right over the middle one? If you’ve never ridden a train just for the pleasure of it, then you are seriously missing out. Train rides are good for so much more than transporting us from Point A to Point B. Instead, they can make for unforgettable journeys in their own right. For proof, look no further than these amazing North American train rides.
Dubbed one of the top 10 most scenic train rides in the world, Amtrak’s Adirondack will not disappoint. The relatively short trip (10 hours one way) begins in New York City and carries travelers through the verdant Hudson Valley all the way north to Montreal. Along the way, you’ll pass notable sights including the Adirondack Mountains, the Palisades, the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle, and the shores of Lake Champlain. Take the trip in autumn to witness some of the country’s best fall foliage.
As the name suggests, the Cascade Mountains are on full display during this 11.5-hour trip through America’s Pacific Northwest. As you journey from Eugene, OR to Vancouver, take in views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker before passing through breathtaking rainforests and cloud forests. Wildlife sightings are common on this trip—keep an eye out for breaching whales, bald eagles, and other lovely critters.
Some of the United States’ most scenic vistas are on display on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which features views of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Glenwood Canyon, Winter Park, Donner Lake, and San Pablo Bay. The 51-hour ride begins in Chicago and passes through Denver, Reno, and Sacramento before rolling to a stop just outside San Francisco. The trip is known as one of the most beautiful train rides in North America.
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight offers 36 hours of breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean while passing through Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Portland. It’s a fantastic introduction to west coast scenery (including Puget Sound, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and the Cascade Mountains) as well as some of the country’s most influential cities.
The 46-hour journey on Amtrak’s Empire Builder passes along large swaths of the Lewis and Clark trail on its way from Chicago through St. Paul/Minneapolis, Spokane, and Portland on the way to its final destination of Seattle. Travelers will get a broad sense of America’s diverse scenery while taking in views of the Mississippi River, the North Dakota Plains, Montana’s Big Sky country, and spectacular Glacier National Park.
This first day of this two-day trek from Vancouver to Calgary is intentionally timed so passengers can enjoy daytime views of the gorgeous Fraser Valley, Fraser Canyon, and Hell’s Gate Waterfall on the Fraser River. The second day isn’t too shabby, either—the train crosses over the Continental Divide and includes stunning 360-degree views of glaciers and mountain peaks.
If these train rides haven’t convinced you that trains are a viable means of enjoying an unforgettable vacation, then we don’t know what will. But hey—that just means there will be more seats in the cafe car for the rest of us.