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A photo of the a train along snowy cliffs in the San Juan National Forest
Photograph: Anthony D’Amato

The 10 best winter train rides across America

Take the scenic route on these dreamy winter train rides—all from the comfort of your window seat

Written by
Emilee Lindner
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Ah, the relaxing rhythm of a winter train ride. With snow-capped mountains and snow-laden boughs rushing past your window seat in a flurry, is there anything more idyllic? Believe it or not, wintry excursions like this aren’t limited to the Hogwarts Express—we’ve got scenic train rides right here in the U.S.

Unlike other forms of travel (who wants the stress of an airport this time of year?), trains allow you to sit back and fully let go. There’s more freedom to walk around, grab a bite, and stretch out your legs while watching America’s most magical scenes unfold. Book a trip up north on a touristy Polar Express (yes, just like the movie), or strap in for a cross-country ride with a sleeper car on Amtrak's Zephyr. Whether you’re looking for family fun or a day to rest, these magical winter train rides across America will have you smack dab in the middle of a snow globe.

RECOMMENDED: the best winter vacations in the USA

Winter train rides across America

Trip length: 3 hours

The views from Pikes Peak are too good to be limited to a few adventurers who’ve climbed to the top. The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which made its first summit of “America’s Mountain” in 1891 (don’t worry, the equipment has been updated), aims to keep those views accessible to the masses. It’s the longest and highest cog railway in the world—and the highest railroad of any kind in the Northern Hemisphere—but even without the accolades, it would still be worth the trip. The nine-mile trek up the 14,000-foot Colorado peak offers breathtaking sights year round, especially during the winter months when snow blankets the landscape.

Trip length: 2 hours

Recreate the classic Polar Express tale and hop on the Adirondack Railroad where they’ll serve you hot cocoa and cookies on this two-hour trip. Cruise the evergreenery of New York’s north country until you get to the “North Pole.” Upon arrival, Santa commandeers the train to meet with every family and grants each child with a silver bell—just like in the movie. Kids are encouraged to wear their PJs for extra dreaminess. In the 19th century, the Adirondack Railroad was used by loggers, trappers, hunters, and wealthy families who had “great camps” in the mountains. Now, it is used by families looking to learn about the past… and to meet Santa, of course.

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Trip length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

The best train trips take you to places you can’t reach by car, and The Cascade Canyon Winter Train does exactly that—the journey glides through areas of the San Juan National Forest that are completely inaccessible by roads. Departing the historic town of Durango, Colorado, the train follows the Animas River through the forest to Cascade Canyon. At the end of the 26-mile scenic ride, there’s a 60-minute layover for lunch by the fire or walks by the river before the return trip. If there’s a railway enthusiast in your crew, check the calendar: you can choose between diesel-powered and vintage steam train trips for your Rocky Mountain adventure.

Trip length: 12 hours

Trains aren’t necessarily the quickest way from point A to point B, but the scenic route certainly has its perks when it comes to views. This 12-hour train between Anchorage and Fairbanks is the most picturesque way to see the winter landscape of the Alaskan backcountry while staying warm inside the train car. If the weather is clear, you’ll see Denali, the tallest mountain in North America (and maybe, if you’re lucky, a moose along the route). For an even better view, Alaska Railroad also offers Denali in a Day—it’s a weekly excursion from Fairbanks that allows you to spend the day in the park and catch the train back.

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Trip length: 1.5 hours

There’s no better way to take in the beauty of the Northern Pocono Mountains than to see them by train. Get comfy sitting in the train’s heated cars as you gaze out the window, eyes peeled for wildlife—passengers have been known to spot bald eagles soaring over the Lackawaxen River. Beyond the beautiful, wintry scenery, there’s something really special about the Stourbridge Line: it was the first commercial railroad. In 1829, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company performed the first trial run of a steam engine (named the Stourbridge Lion) in front of a crowd of wide-eyed, skeptical onlookers, and the rest is history.

Trip length: 51.5 hours

If you’ve got a cool 51.5 hours to kill, why not hop aboard the California Zephyr, Amtrak’s longest daily train, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco? Ride the entire length, or stop at any station in Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. If you’re traveling in the winter months, you’re sure to see a winter wonderland; book a sleeper car and wake up to stunning views in Denver or the Great Salt Lake, and watch snow sweep across the Illinois prairies or the majestic Ruby Mountains in Nevada. The journey, which travels through the heart of the Rockies and runs along the Sierra Nevada, is what Amtrak calls “one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America,” and we happen to agree.

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Trip length: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Nestled right on the edge of northern New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Conway Scenic Railroad gives passengers a taste of the past. Its classic Victorian station, freight house, and roundhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offering an authentic 19th-century New England railroad excursion. If you’re keen on a ski trip, the Snow Train will actually drop you off at the Attitash Whistle Stop where you can access the slopes. When available, check out the Mountaineer train—it’ll take you even further, deep into the White Mountains.

Trip length: 35 hours

If you don’t like your winter train rides quite so wintry, the Coast Starlight is probably for you. Watch the snow disappear from giant windows in the observation car as you travel south from Seattle. Book a sleeper and do the whole ride at once, or take your time and explore stops in Portland and Oakland before arriving in Los Angeles. Or, head north from LA if you’re craving a winter escape. Catch views of Olympic National Park, the Cascades, the San Francisco Bay, and much more on your west coast journey.

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Trip length: 2.5 hours

Feeling outdoorsy? The Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway will deposit you right into a snowy paradise. Bring snowshoes or cross-country skis for self-guided exploration of the fields and forest around Alna Center, and catch one of their hourly trains back. Take the train a bit further to Top of Mountain where you’ll then board a sleigh or wagon for a trip to SeaLyon Farm. Once you’re there, shop around (their famous lavender products are divine), get toasty by a bonfire, and indulge in hot beverages and tasty food from local vendors.

Trip length: 5 hours and 30 minutes

Escape the Big Apple and explore the small-town charm of New York’s Hudson Valley and Vermont’s Green Mountains. Depart Penn Station and enjoy the scenic Hudson River views between Manhattan and Albany while chatting with your travel buddies over a steamy cup of tea from the train’s Café Car. Look for wildlife along the riverbanks and take in the quiet calm of the snow-covered towns along the way. Oh, and don’t forgert to pack your skis—you can hop on the shuttle to Killington Ski Resort when you get to Rutland.

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