Get us in your inbox

An orange and purple train crosses over a small but rapid river, against a backdrop of vivid foliage.
Mount Washington Railway Company

The 15 best fall foliage train rides

Mother Nature puts on her most colorful show during these fall foliage train rides across the US

Erika Mailman
Written by
Erika Mailman
Advertising

Autumn’s a time for slowing down – and what better way to appreciate the coming of winter than indulging in a train ride through the beautiful landscape of leaves that have given up their green to turn brilliant red, yellow and orange? For many, a fall foliage train ride in the US is an annual pastime to mark the changing of the seasons (just make sure you time it right with this fall foliage map).

It’s nice to sit back while someone else does the driving and fall into a reverie while watching the foliage go by. Many fall foliage train rides include wine or a meal (or feel free to board with your own pumpkin spice latté or other fall treat). Some of these railways offer specially themed foliage rides; others just happen to ride through some of the best fall foliage in the US. Here are a few of our favorite foliage train rides throughout the US. We hope you will choo-choose one (apologies to Lisa Simpson for stealing her joke).

Are trains really not your thing? Shift gears to a fall foliage road trip

Best fall foliage train rides

This daily route through some of the nation’s best and most profuse foliage begins near the Canadian border in St. Albans, but you can pick it up at any of the 10 other Vermont stops and then ride it through seven other states to ultimately wind up in Washington, DC if you wish. Stop in Montpelier to see where maple syrup is made at a sugar shack, or hop off in Waterbury to visit the Cold Hollow Cider Mill where you can snag a hot, fresh-baked cider doughnut off the bakery treadmill. Along the way, enjoy views of charming towns nestled in the wooded hills of the Green Mountain State.

The Fall Colors ride lasts about 1.5 hours and lets you enjoy foliage in the St. Croix River Valley including views of the St. Croix River, one of only eight rivers declared as a National Wild and Scenic River by the US government in 1968. Pick up your boarding passes in the nearby city of Osceola, Wisconsin – tickets are still available in September and October – and consider Box Lunch Sundays to add an easy meal to your journey. When you deboard the train, look for one of several apple orchards and pick-your-own pumpkin patches open nearby seasonally.

Advertising

Mount Washington’s a big deal – so steep that cars that summit get a bumper sticker crowing about the feat. The rail ride up there is also a breathtaking trip through three climate zones to reach 6,288 feet (and you’ll see a marker commemorating the 1855 death of a young woman who died near the summit, exposed during a September storm). The Cog is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world and you can choose between a custom-built biodiesel train or a seasonal coal-fired steam locomotive, both of which provide a three-hour roundtrip (or chicken out and take a one-hour trip that doesn’t reach the summit). Perhaps best of all, there’s a CogCam live webcam to confirm lots of ochre and gold foliage before departing!

The aptly-named Autumn Splendor Fall Foliage train brings you to lush and fragrant colors displays in Pennsylvania’s Secret Valley. (Use the ‘Fall15’ code for 15 percent off September excursions right now.) There’s a purely scenic tour version, or a brunch, lunch and dinner versions that let you enjoy a meal while drooling over the fall colors. The dining car is described as a “rolling Edwardian party” with white glove treatment, while the Garden Cafe Car is ADA compliant with a gorgeous hanging garden vibe. There are also open-air cars for inhaling the best aromas of fall, as well as deluxe coach options and a first class lounge where you can have tapas and light hors-d'oeuvres.

Advertising

Choose between the one- or two-hour Fall Foliage Train ride that goes through the colorful woods past Unity Pond towards the Sebasticook Bridge and then back with a complimentary beverage included. This fun, historic rail line often does themed rides like a ‘cider and doughnuts train,’ a ‘Lobster Roll Express’ (yes, for a mild $33 you get a train ride and a box lunch including a Maine lobster roll) and a ‘boxcar book sale.’ It’s a nonprofit volunteer run preservation railroad with coaches and open air cars, and the refreshments are usually local: Maine root sodas, whoopie pies and apple cider.

The two-hour Fall Colors Tours ride goes through beautiful Michigan foliage, with a halfway-through stop at Clinton Station for a cup of locally-made apple cider. Board in downtown Tecumseh and relax with views of northern Lenawee County’s forested wonders. Tickets are available now through the end of October – passengers are encouraged to wear costumes during the last weekend of tours, right before Halloween. The railroad crews of this nonprofit do their best to time the schedule to capture the best of temporary but glorious foliage.

Advertising

While not necessarily titled as a foliage train, the Hood River Valley Train Excursion takes you through jaw-dropping autumnal scenery at this time of year. For two hours, you’ll ride along the Hood River’s lower main fork and then undertake a three percent grade that incorporates one of only five switchbacks remaining in the US. As you train along, you catch dramatic vistas of Mt. Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak.

Although this outfit offers several train tours, the Fall Foliage Special is a seasonal train in late September and October. This four-hour roundtrip excursion goes through the White Mountains of New Hampshire past Lake Waukewan and Winona Lake where foliage is reflected in the lake waters. After several stops, you pause at an historic inn in Plymouth for a hot buffet lunch, then begin the return trip with a stop at the restored Ashland station where attendants dress in period attire. You can ride coach, first class, or President’s class with windows that slide open for taking photographs or just capturing that incredible autumn fragrance. Bonus: this rail line offers turkey dinner trains throughout October!

Advertising

You’ll begin at a historic depot in downtown Blue Ridge, then embark on a four-hour roundtrip along the Toccoa River, pausing for a layover before entering the forest with its autumnal array. The layover includes a visit to two quaint towns: McCaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN. They sit on either side of the Blue Line, so you can even have a foot in each state at the same time in an Insta-worthy straddle. Fun lore: an earlier arrangement of the tracks entailed a horseshoe-shaped curve so tight that it was said the conductor could light his cigar by leaning out the window of the caboose to get a flame from the engineer at the front of the train.

The Fall Flyer ride whisks you through beautiful landscapes with fallen leaves dusting the railroad tracks; the train even has golden yellow and red coloring to match! Wind your way through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on this two-hour sightseeing excursion with views you can’t get any other way. The park consists of almost 33,000 rural acres along the Cuyahoga River, with deep forests and open farmland alike. It’s the only national park in Ohio, and according to its website, peak color for this valley usually happens in the third week of October. Bonus: you may get to see eagles, deer, beaver and herons as you chug along.

Advertising

There are several routes to choose from, but the Cass Scenic Railroad Bald Knob Trip sounds a little dirty and involves climbing Cheat Mountain. This is a 1901 logging route you can still ride on a four-hour roundtrip as you climb 2,390 feet to see incredible vistas of the Appalachians. The altitude/climate difference is the same as driving 800 miles to Canada, reports the railroad’s website. Along with your roofed but open sided ride, you get a free King of the Road hobo lunch. We’re in.

The city name alone would make you think this is a great place for a train to be rolling along with all of his friends coming along... and you’d be right. This railroad organized by the Railroad Museum of New England runs an Autumn Colors Limited (as well as similarly themed Harvest Festival Express and Pumpkin Patch Trains) which runs for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The rail line follows the river, crossing it several times for beautifully reflected views of the foliage of the Litchfield Hills. The train also goes over the Thomaston Dam for an extra thrill.

Advertising

This historical train route on the Kentucky & Tennessee Railway leads to the turn of the century Barthell Coal Camp which you can tour on a two-hour layover, while along the way enjoying views of the Daniel Boone National Forest and the rivers and vista points of the Big South Fork. The total trip takes three hours. You can also pay extra to ride up front with the engineer! Add a Coal Miner’s Lunch to your ticket so that you feel like you’re really just commuting to your job in the mines. Or within the depot, you can eat at the Whistle Stop Restaurant, which just makes us want to go hug Mary Stuart Masterson (yes, fried green tomatoes are on the menu!).

The Fall Foliage Adventure train takes place in September and October (and the railroad’s website helpfully includes a link to the New York State Fall Foliage Report so you can time things well). These are flat train cars with canopies that travel along the former Ulster & Delaware Railroad lines with lovely views of the Catskills. The roundtrip ride lasts about an hour and a quarter. If you take the Pumpkin Express train instead, you can choose a pumpkin to take home with you.

Advertising

This one-hour roundtrip ride takes you on a former branch line of the Chicago & North Western Railway to see the Baraboo Hills foliage, riding in restored steel coaches from a century ago. It’s super authentic here: an appropriately-attired conductor shouts “All aboard!” as the train departs the 1894 wooden depot. There’s also an on-site museum as well as historic train cars to explore. You can make sure you narrow your focus by buying a ticket for the Autumn Color Weekend train.

Recommended

    More on Fall

      You may also like
        Advertising