Experience America As It is Meant To Be Seen:15 Most Scenic Train Rides in the US

Imagine gliding through majestic landscapes without the hassle of driving. Scenic train rides offer a unique and relaxing way to witness America’s natural beauty. Whether you’re traversing towering mountains, lush forests, or picturesque coastlines, these journeys provide an unforgettable travel experience. This guide explores the top 15 scenic train rides in the US, each offering breathtaking views and unique experiences. Ready to embark on an adventure?

Planning Your Train Trip

woman on train.
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Generally, spring and fall offer mild weather and beautiful scenery, but this can vary.

Many long-distance train rides include dining options, but it’s best to check with the specific train service.

Most scenic train rides allow luggage, but there may be size and weight restrictions.

It’s advisable to book in advance, especially for popular routes, to secure your seat and get the best rates.

Some routes like the Napa Valley Wine Train and certain Amtrak services offer luxury experiences with gourmet dining and premium seating options.

1. California Zephyr

CA Zephyr.
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Route: Chicago, IL to Emeryville, CA

Duration: 51 hours

The California Zephyr takes you through the heart of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, offering stunning vistas of rugged mountains and sprawling plains. This journey is perfect for those looking to experience the vastness of America’s landscape​.

2. Coast Starlight

Mt. Shasta. Coastal Starlight.
Image credit Tony Edwards Photo via Shutterstock.

Route: Los Angeles, CA to Seattle, WA

Duration: 36 hours

Travel along the Pacific coast and enjoy panoramic ocean views, charming coastal towns, and lush forests. The Coast Starlight is renowned for its luxurious amenities and scenic beauty​.

3. Empire Builder

Empire Builder.
Image credit Ian Dewar Photography via Shutterstock.

Route: Chicago, IL to Portland, OR/Seattle, WA

Duration: 46 hours

This route follows the path of Lewis and Clark, passing through the stunning landscapes of the northern US, including the Mississippi River, Glacier National Park, and the Cascade Mountains​.

4. Grand Canyon Railway

Train Grand Canyon view.
Image credit Jean C Hebert via Shutterstock.

Route: Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon, AZ

Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes

Experience the Grand Canyon like never before. This historic train ride offers spectacular views of the canyon and surrounding forests, making it a must-do for nature lovers​.

5. Pacific Surfliner

Image credit Oak City Drone via Shutterstock.

Route: San Diego, CA to San Luis Obispo, CA

Duration: 8-9 hours

Travel along Southern California’s coastline with unbeatable ocean views. The Pacific Surfliner is ideal for a relaxing trip through some of California’s most beautiful beach towns​.

6. Alaska Denali Star

denali train.
Image credit FloridaStock via Shutterstock.

Route: Anchorage, AK to Fairbanks, AK

Duration: 12 hours

This journey through Alaska’s wilderness offers views of Denali National Park, caribou, and stunning mountain landscapes. It’s a quintessential Alaskan adventure​.

7. Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa train.
Image credit Andrew Zarivny via Shutterstock.

Route: Napa to St. Helena, CA

Duration: Full-day

Combine scenic views with gourmet dining on this luxurious train ride through California’s famous wine country. It’s perfect for wine enthusiasts and those seeking a leisurely, indulgent experience​.

8. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Great Smoky.
Image credit Bob Pool via we can actually useShutterstock.

Route: Bryson City, NC

Duration: 3.5 hours

Explore the dense forests and stunning waterways of the Smoky Mountains. This route is especially beautiful during the fall when the leaves change color.

9. Mount Washington Cog Railway

NH train.
Image credit Michaela Pettinelli via Shutterstock.

Route: Bretton Woods, NH

Duration: 3 hours

Ascend to the peak of Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast, and enjoy panoramic views. This historic train ride is both a thrilling and scenic adventure​​.

10. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

GA train.
Image credit Sally Masters via Shutterstock.

Route: Blue Ridge, GA

Duration: 4 hours

Travel through the Appalachian foothills and enjoy the quaint towns and stunning landscapes of North Georgia. This ride is particularly beautiful in the fall​.

11. Southwest Chief

Southwest Chief.
Image credit Michael Rosebrock via Shutterstock.

Route: Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA

Duration: 43 hours

Journey through the deserts and canyons of the Southwest. This route offers a mix of natural beauty and cultural experiences, with stops in Albuquerque and Flagstaff​​.

12. White Pass & Yukon Route

Image credit Izabela23 via Shutterstock.

Route: Skagway, AK

Duration: Varies

This historic route, built during the Klondike Gold Rush, offers stunning views of glaciers, waterfalls, and mountains. It’s a unique glimpse into Alaska’s rugged beauty​​.

13. Skunk Train

Skunk train.
Image credit photosgenius via Shutterstock.

Route: Willits, CA

Duration: 2 hours

Travel through the ancient redwood forests of Northern California. This historic train ride offers a peaceful journey through some of the most majestic trees in the world​.

14. The Sunset Limited

woman on train.
Image creditLana Iva via Shutterstock.

Route: New Orleans, LA to Los Angeles, CA

Duration: 48 hours

Experience the diversity of the southern US landscapes, from bayous to deserts, on this transcontinental journey​.

15. Amtrak Cascades

Image credit Ian Dewar Photography via Shutterstock.

Route: Eugene, OR to Vancouver, BC

Duration: 8 hours

This scenic route offers views of the Pacific Northwest, including the Puget Sound and Cascade Mountains. It’s a picturesque journey through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the region​.

The Takeaway

train in alaska.
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Scenic train rides offer a unique way to experience the beauty of the United States. From the towering peaks of the Rockies to the serene coastlines of California, these journeys provide unforgettable views and experiences. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or looking for a new adventure, there’s a scenic train ride perfect for you.

Plan A Trip To The Top Botanical Gardens In The U.S.! An Unforgettable Journey Through America’s Finest Flora

Atlanta Botanical.
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Visiting botanical gardens is a delightful way to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, learn about diverse plant species, and find peace in meticulously designed landscapes. The United States boasts some of the most impressive botanical gardens, each offering unique experiences and horticultural wonders. In this guide, we will explore the best botanical gardens across the country, highlighting their distinctive features and must-see attractions.

READ: Plan A Trip To The Top Botanical Gardens In The U.S.! An Unforgettable Journey Through America’s Finest Flora

Bucket List Item: Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary

Image credit DarkSky.org

Hopefully all of you have had the experience of gazing into the night sky in dark surroundings, so that you could take advantage of the stars, planets and cosmos. Unfortunately, manmade lights often interfere – it is called light pollution for a reason – but did you know that the U.S. can now claim the largest international dark sky sanctuary? You will have to travel to Oregon to take advantage, but it is worth the trip. READ: Bucket List Item: Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary

Your Guide To Landing Refreshed: Best Red-Eye Travel Strategies

Woman enjoying traveling.
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Where are you traveling to? Somewhere exotic, or a favorite place you return to again and again? Are you taking an overnight “red-eye” flight? There is a reason why they call it a “red-eye”! 

We asked some travel experts and frequent flyers for their best tips.Read: Your Guide To Landing Refreshed: Best Red-Eye Travel Strategies

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  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

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