The Best Scenic Train Rides in North America

Luxury Train Travel in the USA

We are in such a hurry that we often forget that the journey is sometimes one of the best parts of a trip. Train travel is a perfect example of that. When I recently went on an epic trip to Alaska, a train journey ended up being a highlight for all involved- teens to seniors. Read on for some of the most scenic train rides in North America and make your next trip a journey worth remembering.

GoldStar Class on Alaska Railroad: Seward to Anchorage, Alaska

Best Train Trip in Alaska

Some of the best scenery we saw on in Alaska was on this train trip from the port town of Seward to Anchorage. Not only that, but it was a comfortable and relaxing way to travel. One can drop luggage off earlier in the day, the city’s free shuttle stops at the station and getting on the train is easy. It is comfortable, with clean bathrooms and good food.

You can sit by the big windows downstairs, or you can travel in luxury in the GoldStar Class. We chose to splurge, and it was worth it. We sat on the top floor of the train with nothing but glass surrounding us. During the four hour ride, we were treated to a gourmet dinner and dessert as well as drinks. We moved past glaciers, forests, and swamps as we were educated about the area and animals. On the back of each car is an open platform allowing unencumbered views from both sides of the train. If you are lucky, you will be able to see moose or even beluga whales traveling through the Turnagain Arm.

View from Goldstar Train just south of Anchorage

California Zephyr

by Laura of Country Girl Explores

great train journeys

The California Zephyr Amtrak train ride is one of the most beautiful and scenic journeys’ in North America. The passenger train runs from Chicago, Illinois to San Francisco Bay area, California and takes approximately 51 hours to complete.

The train cruises through 7 different states and three timezones, taking in the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. The train passes through Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno before landing in Emeryville, in the San Francisco Bay area. My favorite aspect of the California Zephyr train is easily the observation car, with floor to ceiling windows and outwards facing seats so you can take in the beauty of North America.

The California Zephyr has the onboard Trails & Rails program operating from Denver, Colorado to Grand Junction, Colorado and on the return route between these two Colorado cities. These are information talks about the local area done by National Park volunteers. I highly recommend getting a seat in the observation car and listening in on one of these talks.

For those who want to travel on the California Zephyr, the train runs daily from Chicago’s Union Station heading westbound to California or in reverse from Emeryville, CA eastbound to Chicago. There is a transfer service available between Emeryville Station and Downtown San Francisco.

Pacific Surfliner: San Luis Obispo to San Diego, California

from Rachelle from Adventure is Never Far Away

If you’re ever visiting Southern California, Disneyland, or Los Angeles proper, consider taking the Pacific Surfliner for a day trip to San Diego. Amtrak operates the Pacific Surfliner, and the Amtrak app can manage tickets on your phone. Business Class offers spacious seating, fewer crowds, free snacks and drinks, complimentary newspaper, extra luggage space, and like the rest of the train, free Wi-Fi.

The Pacific Surfliner is a train route that runs from San Luis Obispo down to San Diego, hugging the coast almost the entire way. This train route is suitable for families, solo travelers, and locals alike. Nothing is better than sitting back in a comfortable seat next to the window, watching the dolphins leaping out of the ocean as they play with the local surfers, the golden sunset illuminating the train carriage. This unique vantage point of the coast is one that you can only get on the Pacific Surfliner or a surfboard!”

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

from Nicolette Kay at Semi-Budget Travel
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in operation since 1882, transporting passengers and freight. Passengers enjoy the scenic route between Durango and Silverton, while gold and silver ore was also brought out of the mountains on the rail. True to its roots, the historical operation still 100% coal-fired and steam-operated. Year-round, the 36-inch narrow gauge railroad follows a path along the Animas River. Many people begin their trip in Durango and opt to “bus up/train down.” The time it takes to “bus up” is about 90 minutes; the time it takes to “train down” is approximately 3.5 hours. As such, the “bus up/train down” option allows for more time to explore the mining town of Silverton, including lunch. On the train, various seating options are available, including open-air cars with outward-facing seats. This allows the passengers exceptional views of the Colorado mountain scenery. There are concessions (& bathrooms) available on the train, but there are also some great places in Silverton to pick-up a snack for the ride back down to Durango.

A Ride Along the Hudson River, New York

from James Ian at Travel Collecting

Beautiful Train Trips through New York state
West Point

The three-hour train journey between New York City and Albany, the capital of New York State, is one of the most beautiful in the United States. For the entire journey, the train runs right alongside the Hudson River, so there are endless gorgeous views of woods or bucolic country scenes.  The Hudson Valley was the location of the summer homes of many of New York’s wealthiest families during the golden age, and several of these enormous mansions can be seen from the train. There are cute towns along the way, including Newburgh, Kingston, and Saugerties.  Lighthouses are also dotted alongside the river, together with the famous military academy West Point, perched like a fortress on the river’s edge.   The Hudson Valley is beautiful throughout the year, but is especially stunning in the fall, when the leaves change color.

For the best views, sit on the left, leaving New York City or the right heading south towards NYC. This trip can be taken as a standalone trip, or as part of the Adirondack, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited, or Maple Leaf routes.

Empire Builder Amtrak Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois

from Lisa of TheHotFlashPacker 

One of the best train rides in America is the Empire Builder Amtrak train runs from Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon to Chicago, Illinois.  Two trains start from Seattle and Portland, and they combine in Spokane, Washington to make the remainder of the journey.  The train makes its way along the northernmost track in the continental USA.  Highlights of the train ride in Washington state include the coastline between Seattle and Everett and the longest train tunnel in the USA in the cascade mountains.  In Montana, the most scenic part is in the west part of the state as the train makes its way around the southern border of Glacier National Park.  The view from the train west towards the Rocky Mountains is gorgeous.  By eastern Montana and North Dakota, you are in the high plains, oil fields, and badlands.  It’s easy to see wildlife along the train that includes fox, pheasants, deer, and antelope.  In Minnesota, the train runs along the western side of the Mississippi River.  Waterfowl and Bald Eagles are common sights.  The full journey takes about 45 hours.

Canadian Rail Trips and Journeys

White Pass & Yukon Route, Alaska, United States to Yukon, Canada

Lake Bennett in British Columbia, Canada

This is the shortest train journey in my collection, but the beauty is surreal, and it is an easy way to vary the scenery you get from your Alaskan cruise.

We took a ride on the White Junction Railroad from Skagway, Alaska as part of a port day on our Alaskan cruise. The narrow-gauge train completed in 1900 brought us above the Chilkoot Trail and through the White Pass trod by miners during the gold rush. On the journey up to 2,888 ft, we saw remnants of the miners’ perilous journey, glaciers, gorgeous mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. At the summit, we got off for a kayak in an alpine lake in the peace of rural Canada.

Book your trip on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway now. This is an affiliate link, which helps support this website at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure below for more information.

Rocky Mountaineer, the Canadian Rockies

from Carol Perehudoff  of Wandering Carol

best train journey in Canada

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey – or so the saying goes. This is certainly true in the case of Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train tour through the luscious Canadian Rocky Mountains and the Canadian West. From the spectacular coastal destination of Vancouver (and you can now do a leg from Seattle, too), to pristine mountain destinations such as Banff and Jasper in the province of Alberta, this high-end train trip is an all-inclusive experience with gourmet meals, drinks, and commentaries on the major attractions and historical insights. And let’s not forget the views: silvery blue water, dramatic mountains of grey and green, steep canyons, waterfalls and every type of landscape you can think of, from pine-scented forests to the austere beauty of the Fraser Canyon – depending on which Rocky Mountaineer route you choose.

Traveling by day and staying in hotels at night means you won’t miss a thing, and there are plenty of fantastic destinations to add on to your trip’s beginning or end such as Vancouver, Lake Louise, Banff, Jasper and Calgary.

I hope this collection has inspired you to enjoy the beauty North America has to offer, sitting back to relax and enjoying the scenery as it goes by. Where will your next train journey take you?

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3 thoughts on “The Best Scenic Train Rides in North America”

  1. We love to travel by train. I did not realize there were so many interesting train routes in the U.S. We missing going inland when we did a cruise in Alaska. So a train trip to the interior is a great idea. I would definitely snag one of those big window seats. The trip from New York City to Albany is an easy one for us to take. Leave the car in Albany and do a return trip to the city. Great thing to put on my travel plans. A few new things just went on my travel planning list. Thanks.


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