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Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
Photograph: Courtesty Amtrak

The best train rides in the USA for seriously gorgeous views

From coastal routes to journeys through the mountains, these train rides spotlight all of America's most stunning scenery.

Clara Hogan
Written by
Kelly Lack
Clara Hogan

From redwood groves to sprawling desert landscapes to miles of picturesque countryside, America has no shortage of stunning scenery across its 50 states. One of the best ways to take in all the beauty is by hopping aboard a train. 

While a road trip through America is always a great choice to see the country's sights, we'd argue train travel is even better. Not only is riding on a train a timeless experience with notes of romance and nostalgia, but there's no airport stress or need to be at attention behind the wheel. Instead, you can sit back, relax and simply stare out the window as you take it all in. 

Below, you'll find the best and most scenic train rides across the country. On the West Coast, take in ocean views aboard the Coast Starlight (from Los Angeles to Seattle) or the Surfliner, which hugs the California coast for miles. On the East Coast, the Mount Washington Cog Railway takes you through the Mount Washington area in New Hampshire. Looking for something even more adventurous? Head to Alaska to catch the Denali Star’s 350-mile trek from Fairbanks to Anchorage.

Whether you're looking for a multi-day adventure or a route that only lasts a few hours, these train rides won't disappoint.

Best train rides in the USA

1. Rockies to the Red Rocks

Denver, CO to Moab, UT

Trip length: Two days

The first U.S. offering from luxury Canadian company Rocky Mountaineer, the 'Rockies to the Red Rocks' trip takes passengers on a two-day ride from Denver to Moab—passing through stunning Rocky Mountains and southwest scenery along the way. Best of all? Passengers will witness all that gorgeous nature from the train's glass-dome top! That's right, we're talking about unobstructed views of some of the most gorgeous scenery in the USA. The 2024 season runs from April 14 through October 9.

2. Coast Starlight

Los Angeles, CA to Seattle, WA

Trip length: 36 hours

Traveling by train instead puts a spin on the classic left-coast road trip. The advantages? There are zero wrong-turn fights and way more photo ops. The 1,377-mile Coast Starlight route hits the best of the West: Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, and more. On the 36-hour trip, bounce from your seat to the dining car and the 'sightseer lounge car,' where all the seats face the panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows. 


3. Pacific Surfliner

San Diego, CA to San Luis Obispo, CA

Trip length: 8-9 hours

If you're looking for a train ride with ocean views, you can't beat Amrak's Pacific Surfliner, which travels along a 351-mile route, many of the trip is directly along the California coast. The route starts out in San Diego before meandering up through Anaheim, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and other stops before ending in San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state. 

4. The Grand Canyon Railway

Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon, AZ

Trip length: 2 hours 15 minutes

Sure, you may have been to the Grand Canyon already, but have you ever admired Grand Canyon country by train? On The Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll depart from Williams, Arizona, and roll through pine forests and prairies, spotting pronghorn and bald eagles, before arriving two hours and 15 minutes later at the epic South Rim. All of the historic cars of the Grand Canyon Railway have fascinating former lives and some have glass-dome ceilings for unstoppable panoramas. 


5. The Empire Builder

Chicago, IL to Portland, OR

Trip length: 45–46 hours

There is only one word to describe this journey: epic. The Empire Builder runs daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, mirroring much of Lewis and Clark’s original expedition. It passes through a greatest-hits list of must-see sites, from the urban (St. Cloud and Minneapolis) to the great outdoors (big-sky country and Glacier National Park). The trip totals 46 hours, which warrants booking at least a roomette with seats that convert to beds so you can fully stretch out once you’ve gotten your fill of landscapes under the moonlight. 

6. The Alaska Denali Star

Anchorage, AK to Fairbanks, AK

Trip length: 12 hours

This 350-mile stretch through the heart of Alaska highlights the state's beautiful, rugged wilderness. Between the birch forests, rushing rivers, caribou- and bear-spotting, views of Mt. McKinley and a stint through Denali National Park, there’s a reason this is the Alaska Railroad’s flagship sojourn. If you can swing it, splurge on a GoldStar upgrade and take in the spectacular scenery from an open-air viewing car, with absolutely nothing between you and the wild. 


7. Skunk Train

Willits, CA

Trip length: 2 hours

Hopping aboard Skunk Train is like traveling back in time—this historic train has been traversing Mendocino County in California since 1885. Today, you can choose from a variety of routes and experiences. The most popular journey is Wolf Tree Turn. This 16-mile route will take you through old-growth redwood groves within Noyo River Canyon, over trestle bridges, and under tunnels, ending with a stop in Crowley, where you can take in the majesty of one of the oldest trees in the area, the Wolf Tree. Enjoy snacks and beverages (including alcoholic ones) before heading back toward Willits.

8. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Bryson City, NC

Trip length: 3.5 hours

It may be pint-size, but Bryson City, the departure point for this rail-riding adventure, is rich with local gems like barbecue joints, a soda fountain and a brewery. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has various routes, but the four-and-a-half-hour Nantahala Gorge excursion is a scenery-serving star, snaking along the forested Nantahala River and crossing the Fontana Lake by bridge. Foliage lovers, take note: The leaves here are breathtaking during the fall.


9. The Mount Washington Cog Railway

Bretton Woods, NH

Trip length: 3 hours

Like the Little Engine That Could, this antique train chugs daily up Mount Washington, depositing its passengers at the 6,288-foot peak, the highest in the Northeast. A working museum of sorts (the track dates to 1852), the Cog has the elevated feel of a gondola, only you’re in a sturdy little train. At the top, take in the sweeping views of Canada and the Atlantic on a clear day. 

10. The Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley, CA

Trip length: 3 to 6 hours on average

On this California Wine Country track, you can get intoxicated by the scenery alone: picture-perfect wineries and hills carpeted in lush rows of vines. But you’ll have a little help, what with all the vino you’ll be sipping alongside your onboard multicourse meal—both lunch and dinner are options. The roving restaurant aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train comprises a collection of vintage Pullman railcars complete with mahogany panels and brass hardware. So go ahead and soak it all up—you’re not behind the wheel, after all.


11. California Zephyr

Emeryville, CA to Reno, NV

Trip length: 6 hours 45 minutes

At more than 2,400 miles long, the California Zephyr—stretching from San Francisco to Chicago—is Amtrak's longest route. While we don't recommend you do the route in its entirety (unless that floats your boat), we highly recommend the route stretching from the Bay Area (hop on in San Francisco or Emeryville) to the Lake Tahoe area (get off in Reno or Truckee). This scenic journey is an ideal way to get to Tahoe, beat the traffic, and take in dreamy views.  

12. The Hawaiian Railway Society

Oahu, HI

Trip length: 1.5 hours

Train travel takes a turn for the tropical on this 90-minute jaunt across Oahu in an old sugar-cane hauler traveling at the lickety-split speed of 15 miles an hour. The ride aboard the Hawaiian Railway Society shows you a rarely-seen version of Hawaii, filled with old sisal plantations and ghost towns. Time your trip for the second Sunday of the month and you can book a seat in the elegant 1900 parlor car that was the personal ride of Oahu Railway & Land Co. founder Mr. Dillingham. It's worth noting, however, that reservations are now required to ride the train. 


13. Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango, CO to Silverton, CO

Trip length: 3.5 hours

One of the most scenic ways to experience one of the most scenic states; a ride on the Narrow Gauge Railroad isn’t merely photo fodder, but a full immersion into the wild, wild west. The train has been rolling between Durango and Silverton since 1882, when it was tasked with transporting silver and gold out of the San Juan Mountains. The 45.4-mile route runs in both directions along the Animas River, crisscrossing it five times, and passing by old stagecoach trails and long-deserted mining camps as it winds between 14,000ft high peaks.

14. The Ethan Allen Express

New York City, NY to Burlington, VT

Trip length: 7 hours 35 minutes

While the destination is a major draw, getting there is half the fun on this five-and-a-half-hour journey from New York City to Vermont. On the Ethan Allen Express, you’ll cruise through the postcard-perfect towns of New York’s Hudson Valley; hit Saratoga Springs, as famous for its horse races as its hot springs and snake around Vermont’s fittingly named Green Mountains, before landing in charming little-big city Rutland, with its historic downtown and one helluva farmers' market.

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