Train travel in the United States has an ethereal allure. Comfortably travel across the grasslands of the Midwest, through the skyscrapers of the Northeast, along rushing rivers, and over the mountains and deserts of the West.
Historic stations are time capsules that give a look into the glitzy locomotive past and serve as entryways to the various national parks and cultural treasures the nation has to offer.
These stations are characterized by their enormous windows, marble pillars, chandeliers, and terrazzo flooring.
Life in the nation altered irrevocably on the day in 1869 at Promontory, Utah, when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads were officially joined.
The 1,912-mile Transcontinental Railroad revolutionized the fledgling country and stimulated the economy, making it simpler to travel and transfer commodities out west.
Despite the speed of jets having supplanted the golden era of railway travel, there is still romanticism in taking the train.
Grand Canyon Railway
Ride the historic cars of the Grand Canyon Railway to one of the nation's grandest national parks on a Grand Canyon Railway Adventure excursion. The train line debuted in 1901 and presently functions on recycled waste vegetable oil from restaurants in Williams, Arizona and the South Rim.
The train has six levels of service, including First, Coach, Pullman, Observation Dome, Luxury Dome, and Luxury Parlor. The Pullman class harkens to 1923 trail journeys, with bench seats and windows that open to fresh air.
Before going on your tour in Williams, enjoy a Wild West gunfight play at an outdoor theatre. On the full-day round trip, take in the breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon while being entertained by Western music and reenactments by railway characters and cowboys. Traverse through pine forests, huge meadows, and the San Francisco heights to reach the famed park.
Once there, choose from a choice of activities, including a motor coach rim tour of the Grand Canyon with stops at attractions such as Hermits Rest, Mohave Point, the Abyss, and Pima Point. Upgraded First Class passengers get a buffet lunch at the Maswik Lodge at the Grand Canyon.
Amtrak Coast Starlight
Travel beside the jaw-dropping Pacific coastline and see western urban areas aboard the famed Amtrak Coast Starlight.
The Starlight, complete with Superliner sleeping, sightseer lounging, and dining cars carries you on a 36-hour voyage from Seattle to Los Angeles.
The route stops at Portland, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Santa Barbara, travelling via magnificent coastal cliffs, Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains, and Puget Sound.
The train offers a bi-level coach class providing long-distance comforts including increased legroom, foot and leg rest, and curtains. Sit on the west side on the upper level for the greatest views.
Upgrade to a private room for amenities, including priority boarding, premium dining, and turndown service. Family rooms are offered, each seating up to four people and offering private toilet and shower facilities; all private room rates include onboard meals.
Amtrak Empire Builder
If long rail odysseys across the country are up your style, then the Amtrak Empire Builder travels the steps of Lewis & Clark through the heartland, from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.
The one-way, 46-hour trek gives breathtaking views of the Great Plains, Mississippi River, Glacier National Park, Gassman Coulee Trestle, and Montana's Big Sky Country.
The train contains a sleeping car, a leisure car, and a dining car to make your travel as comfortable as possible. Family accommodations and accessible rooms are offered, and there is a range of onboard dining options; unfortunately, there is no Wi-Fi connectivity.
Each station stop can last anywhere from five minutes to over half an hour, so at times there may be opportunities to get out and grab a bite to eat, but passengers should be aware that the train will leave at its scheduled time, with or without ticketed passengers.
During warmer months, a volunteer from the National Park Service through the Trails & Rails program boards the train between Shelby, Montana, and Seattle, delivering information on the landscapes, wildlife, and history.
Trains run daily to Spokane; upon arrival, you can choose to proceed to Seattle or along the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.
The Rockies to Red Rocks experience is significantly different from others, giving a unique approach to train travel focused on sightseeing between Moab, Utah and Denver, Colorado.
The first thing travellers will notice is the train carriages, custom-designed to enhance views for everyone on board.
Standard class vehicles are one storey, boasting wide windows that reach up into the roof, enabling passengers to see every aspect of the environment.
The second distinctive component of these train journeys is the overnight lodging and the chance to see places along the route.
Unlike passenger trains that go from one stop to the next on a strict schedule, the Rocky Mountaineer stops in a city each evening, when passengers disembark and spend the night at a hotel.
In addition to being a significantly more pleasant choice, it ensures that all train travel is done during daylight so that passengers don't miss a thing.
"Gold Leaf" passengers are treated to a two-level vehicle with all seats on the top level, which boasts windows that stretch up and over, with just a thin band hiding the centre of the ceiling.
The bottom level is a distinct eating space, which offers all meals to order from an a-la-carte menu. Standard ticket travellers also enjoy all meals as part of the package, provided at their seats.
The base trip package includes all meals, hotel accommodations, and narration throughout the train journey by professional guides. It lasts two days, beginning in Moab with an overnight in Glenwood Springs and then on to Denver.
Longer packages are also available, including a round-trip sightseeing tour with four days on the train, two full days in Moab, and plenty of time to see Denver.
Other packages include sightseeing flights and time in Las Vegas before a longer stay along the train route, as well as an opportunity to add motor coach segments and a guided tour of Bryce Canyon.
Amtrak California Zephyr
Using a mix of Transcontinental Railroad lines and new rails, Amtrak's California Zephyr brings passengers across America on an incredible two-day journey.
The 2,300-mile, 51-hour-long drive, described as the most picturesque in the nation, starts in Chicago and concludes in Emeryville, California, situated just outside San Francisco in California.
Going via the boundless expanses of Nebraska, the magnificent Rocky Mountains outside Denver, the harsh red rock region in Utah, and the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas, the train excursion retraces the paths of the early pioneers who established the Wild West.
The train has dining, a sightseer lounge, and Sleepliner carriages that come with roomettes and bedroom suites (some that can comfortably seat up to six people). Major destinations include Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City.
The train doesn't have Wi-Fi, and cellphone connection is intermittent, so pack your own downloaded material, novels, and board games for amusement. Amtrak lets passengers carry a small cat or dog with them for a separate fee.
Verde Canyon Railroad
Soar over the natural majesty of Verde Canyon in the American Southwest on a rebuilt rail car aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad on a 3.5-hour, 20-mile round trip from Sedona, Arizona.
Savour an awe-inspiring landscape while comfortably ensconced in a climate-controlled and carefully designed automobile.
pThe train includes three classes: coach, first, and elegant caboose rentals for groups, featuring both historic railway carriages, as well as an open-air observation car to make the most of your time aboard.
Whether you decide on an organized trip or board the train on your own, make sure to visit the cliff dwellings of the Natural American Sinagua people and the historic mining sites, and keep a watch for native animals like bald eagles and antelope.
The Verde Canyon Railroad Adventure includes train tickets, as well as entry to the John Bell Railroad Museum, situated near the station, which showcases relics and exhibits linked to not just rail travel, but the area's Indigenous inhabitants.
White Pass & Yukon Railway
Whether you find yourself at Skagway on a cruise or by way of the Alaska and South Klondike Highways, don't miss the unique chance to ride the historic narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route Railway across beautiful scenery.
A marvel of engineering, the track was constructed in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush and continues as a tourist attraction to transport passengers on an amazing, narrated trip.
The railway chugs up to a height of 2,885 feet via tunnels, past towering cliff sides, and flowing waterfalls. Breathe in the fresh Alaskan air as you shoot magnificent landscapes of snowcapped mountains, verdant valleys, and glaciers.
The summit expedition takes two-and-a-half hours, briefly travelling into Canada's Yukon Territory, and includes stops at attractions such as Bridal Veil Falls, Tormented Valley, and the Skagway panoramic viewpoint.
Experience stunning autumn foliage in New York's Hudson River Valley on the Amtrak Adirondack. This high-speed train takes you through Upstate New York on a 10- to 12-hour ride through the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, past mansions, woods, and farmland, to Gare Centrale Station in Montreal, Canada. Stops along the road include the towns of Poughkeepsie, Saratoga Springs, Whitehall, and Ticonderoga.
The Amtrak Adirondack leaves from New York's Penn Station in the morning and arrives in Montreal in time for supper. Immigration might take between one to two hours - have your passport and immigration form ready for the official.
Amenities aboard include a Cafe Car and Wi-Fi (but not the finest) (albeit not the best). Keep in mind that there is no reserved seating, so allow yourself additional time to acquire the desired place. Seats recline and come with tray tables, more legroom, and a footrest.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Travel back in time aboard a historic coach car on the coal-fired and steam-powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad journey from Durango to Silverton, Colorado. This train excursion is one of the best things to do in Colorado.
Built during the silver mining boom, the rails have been in continuous service since 1882. When the boom receded, the train became a chance for interested tourists to experience the path of the miners and frontiersmen. Today, it is among the remaining narrow-gauge steam railways in the nation.
This three-and-a-half-hour adventure from Durango to Silverton winds its way down the gorgeous Animas River on train lines particularly suited to manage bends over steep mountainsides.
The rock cliffs look only inches away from the windows at some point, and the deep gorges create picture-perfect views, with the steam whistle ringing across the landscape.
Passengers may also arrange a hybrid package that combines the train trip in one way and a luxurious motor bus excursion return, enabling travellers to enjoy the countryside from multiple angles. The coach is merely 1.5-hour travel.
The railroad offers numerous seasonal packages, including a shorter ride through the winter splendor of the San Juan National Forest in the luxury of heated coaches on the Cascade Canyon excursion. Passengers may glimpse elk and bighorn sheep that make the area home.
If you are eager to explore more of Colorado, try Colorado Rail Adventure from Vacations By Rail, which carries you through the Colorado Rockies on five standard and narrow gauge trains, including the Durango & Silverton line.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Families and train fans appreciate the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which provides trips to visit the isolated scenery of Western North Carolina and areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The train excursion, lasting 53 miles with 25 bridges and two tunnels, crosses valleys, via tunnels and carved-out mountains overlooking magnificent meadows and river gorges. The train leaves from Bryson City, and travels run anywhere from three-and-a-half hours to a full day.
Book the 44-mile Nantahala Gorge Excursions for a round journey to the Nantahala Gorge, via the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers. The 32-mile Tuckasegee River Excursion travels along the same river and goes through beautiful valleys and ancient villages.
Passengers can choose from First Class cars with private attendants or the Open Air Gondola, and they can opt to pre-purchase boxed lunches to be enjoyed on the ride. Premium ticket holders are served from a different menu of fresh foods produced aboard.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad also runs special event trains throughout spring (The Bunny Hopper Express) and winter (The Polar Express Train Ride) (The Polar Express Train Ride).
The US is filled with fantastic rail rides, with lines that pass breathtaking scenery and stop at magnificent towns, historical monuments or natural marvels. From California to New England, these are some of America's finest train rides.