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

The best fall foliage train rides in the U.S. for beautiful autumn colors

Book a seat and sit back and relax as the season's best show appears in your train window

Erika Mailman
Advertising

We all want to plunk down on a train seat this time of year and just wistfully watch the trees go by with their red, gold, and orange foliage. As the season winds down and the weather turns colder, we crave a Hallmark moment with the trees, the sky, and the gentle rocking of the train. Sighhhh. So if there isn’t a fall foliage train excursion near you, should you be booking your trip to one? We can’t tell you what to do, but the answer is yes. Treat yourself and enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature’s yearly art installation. Ride that train!

RECOMMENDED:  The ultimate fall foliage road trip 

Best fall foliage train tours in America

This daily route through some of the nation’s best and most profuse foliage begins near the Canadian border in St. Albans. Still, 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, D.C., 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 the 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 U.S. government in 1968. Pick up your boarding passes in the nearby city of Osceola, Wisconsin. 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 shorter 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 color displays in Pennsylvania’s Secret Valley. You can ride simply for the foliage, but there's also an option to add on wine-tasting to your ticket. 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, deluxe coach options and a first-class lounge where you can have tapas and light hors-d'oeuvres.

Advertising

Choose between the 1 or 1.5-hour Fall Foliage Train ride that goes through the colorful woods past Unity Pond towards the Sebasticook Bridge and then back. 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. The railroad crews of this nonprofit do their best to time the schedule to capture the best of temporary but glorious foliage. At the time of this writing, the Fall Colors Tours tickets have not been released yet; check with the website and the Facebook page for updates.

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 2.5-3 hours, you’ll ride along the Hood River’s lower main fork and then undertake a three percent grade incorporating one of only five switchbacks remaining in the U.S. At a 45-minute layover, you can purchase lunch or bring your own picnic. As you train along, you catch dramatic glimpses 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 a 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 capture 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 visiting 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 simultaneously 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.

For 2023, the Fall Flyer ride has been suspended, but you can take the National Park Scenic train, which follows the same route, offering a full view of autumn leaves in the park. You’ll ride in a vintage rail car on a leisurely, two-hour excursion. The park has almost 33,000 rural acres along the Cuyahoga River, with deep forests and open farmland. It’s the only national park in Ohio. Bonus: You may 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 railroad's website reports that the altitude/climate difference is the same as driving 800 miles to Canada. You get a free King of the Road hobo lunch along with your roofed but open-sided ride. 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.

Well, you can’t have a more “fall foliage” sounding train than the Maple Leaf, and this Amtrak route goes from Penn Station up to Toronto through the Hudson River Valley, wine country and the Finger Lakes region with its spectacular gorges. Excellent reason to get off the train: the Niagara Falls train station on the U.S. side is less than two miles from the falls, and the Canadian station is 2.5 miles from the falls, which are considered prettier on the Canadian side. Bring your passport, and expect to deboard with your belongings at border control on both sides.

Advertising

Pulled by a 15-ton “iron horse” locomotive, you’ll steam through Cripple Creek over a reconstructed trestle, past historic mines, including a deserted one in Anaconda, then back in a 45-minute excursion. There are many impressive foliage views to be viewed and photographed through the open-air cars—and in Echo Valley you’ll get to hear the whistle blow (and blow).

The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum puts together these pretty Fall Foliage Train rides and includes a one-hour ride through the scenic Berkshire mountains on 100-year-old coaches, which have been lovingly restored. The Berkshires are part of the Appalachian Mountains range and were named one of the 12 Last Great Places by The Nature Conservancy.

 

Recommended
    More on Fall
      You may also like
      You may also like
      Advertising