Trains are one of my favorite ways to travel. The constant chug of the train and the slowly swaying cars hypnotizes you into a relaxed state. One thing that makes train travel so amazing is that you do not have to do any work. You can sit back in your seat, take in the natural splendor and enjoy the ride. Unlike cars and buses, you can walk around, eat a meal in the dining car or even have a nightcap. As you stare out the window, watching the dramatic American landscape change, you are filled with bliss.
America is fortunate because the country is full of a wild mixture of different landscapes from towering mountains to almost lifeless deserts, most of which are crossed by trains. Let’s hop on board and take a voyage on some of the most scenic train journeys across America.
It should come as no surprise that the American West has one of the best train journeys in the country. Known as the Coast Starlight, this 36-hour train journey takes you past gushing waterfalls, the snow-capped Cascade Range, lush valleys, thick woods, and the incredible coastline.
If 36 hours sounds like a nightmare, do not worry. You can break up the journey by stopping for a couple of days in cities like Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, or Santa Barbara.
The train is equipped with sleeper cars, the Pacific Parlour Car, cafes, and lounges.
Route – Seattle, Washington – Los Angles, CaliforniaTime – 36 Hours One-Way
As the train ascends 3,000 feet up a sheer cliff face in a little over 20 miles, you almost feel breathless. This magnificent train trip takes you past untouched lakes, icy glaciers, green forests, gut wrenching cliffs, massive waterfalls, and trestle bridges and long tunnels.
This was once the route for the Gold Rush of 1898 when thousands of daring souls headed into these mountains seeking riches. Today the only gold is the beauty of the forgotten landscape. It is almost mind blogging when you think how much there is to see in a short 120-mile round trip.
Route – Skagway, Alaska Round TripTime – 3 ½ Hours Round Trip
Is there a more scenic site in America than the Grand Canyon? Most travelers arriving by car will never know the beauty of experiencing the canyon from a train. The train departs from Williams, Arizona which is just 30 miles outside of Flagstaff.
The Grand Canyon Railway takes you on an epic adventure through pine forests and fantastic desert landscapes until you arrive at the canyon. You will get stunning views of the South Rim while enjoying this natural wonder of the world from a unique perspective. Another huge perk of the Grand Canyon Railway is that you skip the hectic traffic and crazy parking which can save you hours during the peak season.
Route – Williams, Arizona – Grand Canyon South Rim – Williams, ArizonaTime – 4 ½ Hours Round Trip
If you want to treat yourself to some of the most scenic landscapes in America, embark on this train. Starting in Chicago, much of this ride follows the path of American legends Lewis and Clark.
You will cross a variety of landscapes from the iconic Great Plains to the impressive Glacier National Park. Covering such a vast distance takes around 40 hours, but the ever-changing landscapes keep you on a natural high. It is no wonder that it is known as one of the most scenic train trips in the world.
Route – Chicago, Illinois – Seattle WashingtonTime – 40 Hours One Way
Discover the craggy peaks of the West Virginia Mountains as you travel back in time on this steam-powered locomotive. Take in as much of the landscape as you can on this 4-½ hour train journey that climbs up 4,700 ft.
As you rise to one of the highest points in the entire state, you’ll get a bird's eye view of the untamed and raw landscape that has made West Virginia famous. You will also venture to a logging camp from the 1940’s and a mountain spring to refill the steam engine.
Route – Cass. W.Va Round TripTime – 4 ½ Roundtrip
The vast network of railroads tamed the backcountry of America and created new opportunities for thousands of Americans. Today we can follow in their tracks and make our own story as we enjoy the wealth of beauty that these scenic train journeys have to offer.
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Stephen Schreck is a world traveler, nomad, and adventure backpacker. Knowing a life of aimlessly wandering the globe in search of adventures was the only life for him he set out to make his dream his reality. Currently he is trying to conquer his fears and tackle his bucket list. Follow Stephen's adventures at A Backpacker's Tale or on social media on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
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