The 6 Most Beautiful Train Trips You Can Take in the U.S.
Travel experts weigh in on the best train trips for great views and service.
While planes and cars are two of the most popular ways to get from place to place in the United States, traveling by train is a fun way to see different parts of the country in a more unique way. Another train trip bonus is they are often more economical than flying or driving thanks to high gas prices and a pilot shortage.
Train rides through places like California's wine country or through Denali National Park are just some of the best and most beautiful trips you can take. Travel experts have shared their favorite train trips so you can pick which one you want to book for your next getaway. Keep reading to find out where each train goes and why it's worth experiencing.
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Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
If you're traveling through California and want a convenient and beautiful way to get from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is a fantastic trip. The almost six-hour journey takes travelers along six coastal regions of southern California with views of rocky cliffs and coastlines.
"The Pacific Surfliner has double-decker cars that offer a beautiful vantage point of the outside scenery, with the business class being one of them," says Marquita Wright, travel blogger at The Traveling Twin Mama. "The views are spectacular: On one side is the ocean and the other side is the mountains. [It's] best of both worlds!"
Wright also explains that there's a dining car onboard for those who want more food options, and the train is equipped with wifi so you can work if you need to or post about your trip on social media as you go. "The business class was only $16 more each way, and the additional space, service, and cleanliness were worth it. Plus it includes a drink and a snack," she tells Best Life.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Wine enthusiasts will want to step aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for a day of tastings and sightseeing through one of the most famous wine regions in the world.
"The scenic train ride starts near downtown Napa and travels by 33 different Napa Valley wineries while you make your way up to the beautiful town of St. Helena," says wine writer Mark Fang. "Depending on the experience, you can stop and have a photo opportunity at the famous Napa Valley sign, as well as wine-tasting experiences at Charles Krug, V Sattui, or Grgich Hills Estate."
The train has a variety of different experiences for guests, including an open-air car where travelers can step outside to enjoy the views and take in the fresh air. There are three different dining cars, the most unique is the Pullman Dining Car, which dates back to 1915, where you can have a gourmet meal. There's also a domed dining car where you can see the scenery whiz by while you eat.
"Their 1017 Lounge car is where guests can sip on coffee or tea, while enjoying their desserts, with seats facing the picturesque views of Napa Valley," says Fang.
Rocky Mountaineer Rockies to Red Rocks Train
One of the newer train routes for the Rocky Mountaineer is the Rockies to Red Rocks trip. "The excursion offers travelers a two-day train journey from Denver, Colorado, to Moab, Utah. [They will] travel through the breathtaking Rocky Mountains and southwest landscapes along the route," says Martin Betch, co-founder of Hi-Van and travel blogger.
Even though the train trip is only two days, the entire experience is four days, with a pre-night stay in either Moab or Denver on day one, then two days aboard the train including stopping each night to sleep in a hotel. The journey ends on day four when you check out of your hotel at the final destination. The trip goes eastbound and westbound, so travelers can choose where they want to start and end on the train.
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Alaska Railroad's Denali Star
Alaska is a bucket list trip for many people. One way to see a large portion of the state without a rental car is the Alaska Railroad Denali Star. "The route runs north and south between Anchorage and Fairbanks," says Denisha Rawlings, owner of Sojourn Alaska. "The trip takes about 12 hours one way with stops including Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali National Park."
Many passengers choose to disembark at Denali National Park, where they stay for a few nights and then continue to either Fairbanks or Anchorage. "If you're lucky and the weather cooperates, breathtaking views of Denali and the Alaska Range can be seen from the train," Rawlings continues.
Travelers who want a slightly elevated experience can purchase the Gold Star Service, where they will ride in glass-domed train cars and have access to an open-air viewing platform at the back of the car. Guests will also have access to a private bar and two complimentary drinks. "The Denali Star has something for everyone—a touch of luxury mixed with adventure. Tour guides narrate the trip, sharing the rich history of the railroad, pointing out landmarks, and telling stories about life in Alaska," Rawlings tells Best Life.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
For a day trip through the mountains, consider the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina. The round-trip journey allows travelers to see the glittering waters of Fontana Lake, views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the beautiful views of the Tuckasegee River.
The trains offer a variety of seating options. First-class passengers ride in a climate-controlled car that has large picture windows. Each passenger gets a meal, souvenir tote bag, and travel mug for free refills of non-alcoholic drinks. Open-air gondola passengers will feel the wind on their faces and have spectacular views thanks to the half-height walls.
Adults who want a more unique experience can enjoy the Nantahala Gorge Excursion and its Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience. It's an adults-only escape on the first-class moonshine car where guests can enjoy samples of moonshine, along with indulging in a few cocktails that utilize the spirit, and a southern-inspired meal to go along with the drinks.
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Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Another single-day round-trip train journey is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The four-hour trip starts in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and goes through the countryside to Tennessee before returning. In the middle of the trip, there is a two-hour period where guests can disembark the train to enjoy the sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. There is also a two-hour trip that does the same route but without the city exploration time.
Passengers can choose from coach train cars, which are enclosed and climate-controlled, or open-air train cars, which have bench-style seating that face the scenery. Larger families may want to consider renting the entire caboose, which can accommodate up to 10 people. The caboose has its own private bathroom and open-air vestibules that can be used to view the countryside as it passes you by.