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12 Breathtaking Train Trips

  • Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

    Trackside Delights

    En español | For travelers who want to sit back and soak up eyefuls of captivating scenery, nothing beats a scenic train trip. We asked die-hard rail fan Jim Loomis — author of All Aboard: The Complete North American Train Travel Guide — to help us compile this whistle-stop tour of train rides that will have you glued to the window.

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  • Marc Adamus/Aurora Photos

    Canadian

    On the Canadian, Via Rail Canada’s flagship train, the 2,775-mile journey between Toronto and Vancouver sweeps across broad prairies and through deep forests; skirts rushing rivers, plunging waterfalls and placid lakes; and snakes through the towering Rocky Mountains. Single out a particularly gorgeous segment to ride, such as the run between Vancouver and Jasper, or sign on for the entire three-day, four-night extravaganza. Either way, rail expert Loomis says, you’ll find that the meals on board rival the views outside.

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  • Pat Canova/Getty Images

    Grand Canyon Railway, Arizona

    A stirring Southwest landscape of mountains, forests of ponderosa and piñon pine, and open stretches of mesquite and manzanita unfolds on this legendary train’s two-hour run from Williams, Ariz., to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Wildlife sightings may include peregrine falcons, coyotes or antelope. Return the same day (after a three-hour interval) or stay overnight in one of the park’s historic lodges.

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  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Napa Valley Wine Train

    Essentially a gourmet restaurant on rails, this Northern California train trundles its leisurely way through one of the world’s most famous wine-growing regions. On three-hour, 36-mile round-trip excursions from downtown Napa to the charming small town of St. Helena, the vintage dining cars pass historic wineries and luxuriant vineyards. Savor their colors — from lush greens in spring and early summer to brilliant yellows and oranges in late fall — as you sup and sip.

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  • Lance King/Getty Images

    Denali Star, Alaska

    On clear days, majestic views of the tallest mountain in North America — Denali, nearly four miles high — greet passengers on this daily summertime-only train between Anchorage and Fairbanks via Denali National Park. Whether you take the northbound or southbound leg, the 356-mile, 12-hour journey offers plenty of other sights: rushing backcountry rivers, dramatically deep gorges and entire fields of fiddlehead ferns. You may even spot a caribou or moose grazing on the subarctic terrain.

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  • Charles Briscoe-Knight/Getty Images

    Bernina Express, Switzerland

    Of Switzerland’s many alpine rail excursions, this one may offer the most spectacular ride. On a journey of about four hours, the train leaves the valley town of Chur (elevation 1,946 feet) and zips through 55 tunnels and across 96 bridges as it climbs past snowy peaks and glaciers. After reaching its astonishing high point of nearly 7,400 feet, the Little Train That Did descends to the picturesque Italian town of Tirano (1,447 feet).

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  • Robert Sabo/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

    Ethan Allen Express

    Leave the frenetic pace of Manhattan far behind on the daily northbound route of this 241-mile scenic jaunt from New York’s Penn Station to Rutland, Vt. Small farms and quaint villages punctuate the 5½-hour run up the Hudson River Valley. And, of course, it’s almost impossible to get a bad view of bucolic Vermont: The Catskill and Green mountain ranges look particularly stunning when fall cloaks their trees in vivid colors.

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  • Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

    Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado

    Originally built to haul gold and silver ore down from mines in the San Juan Mountains, this historic 45-mile-long railroad has been in continuous operation since 1882. Coal-fired steam locomotives pull passenger carriages on sinuous excursions through remote canyons, completing the 3,000-foot climb from Durango to Silverton (elevation 9,305 feet) in under four hours. At the train’s top speed of 18 miles per hour, riders have plenty of time to marvel at the grandeur of mountain landscapes unreachable by car.

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  • PaintedWorks/Getty Images

    California Zephyr

    “This is Amtrak’s most scenic route,” says train buff Loomis. With daily service in each direction between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area, it’s a two-day, 2,438-mile odyssey across seemingly endless prairies and deserts. But the Zephyr also hugs the Colorado River beneath the colorful cliffs of Ruby Canyon and winds up and over both the snowy Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. Near the start of the eastbound run and the completion of the westbound, a treat awaits: a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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  • imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

    Bergen Railway, Norway

    Providing a seven-hour, 300-mile link between Norway’s two largest cities (Oslo and Bergen), this is northern Europe’s highest mainline railroad; the summit point exceeds 4,200 feet. Completed in 1909 and negotiating 182 tunnels and 300 bridges, the Bergen Railway crosses one of Europe's loftiest mountain plateaus. Ride it for the staggering panoramas of waterfalls, snowy glaciers, lakes, rivers and the country’s famous fjords. 

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  • National Geographic Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

    Cass Scenic Railroad

    A former logging line now protected by a West Virginia state park, this unassuming 1901 route packs a wallop of Appalachian scenery into four-hour round-trip excursions from May through October. Pulled by a chuffing steam locomotive, trips leave Cass — a preserved turn-of-the-century company town — and dive into deep woods before climbing 11 miles up to Bald Knob. Once there, you’ll find a 4,700-foot-high overlook that offers sweeping vistas of the valley below — and, on clear days, all the way into neighboring Virginia.

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  • Peter Essick/Getty Images

    Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

    This is one of the last commercial railroads in the United States to run both freight trains and passenger excursion trains on the same stretch of track. Its most scenic round trip is the three-hour, 70-mile run from Van Buren to Winslow, Ark. Operating from April into November, it winds through a beautifully rugged section of the Ozark Mountains that puts on a splendid display of autumn color from about mid-October.

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  • Matt Dayka / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

    Cascade

    The Amtrak Cascades route between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia, passes through both Portland and Seattle, but the daylong journey boasts ever-changing countryscapes as well. Feast your gaze on everything from conifer forests, fields of springtime tulips and the waters of Puget Sound to craggy mountain ranges, distant islands and the mighty Columbia River. Dotting the entire trip are peekaboo views of signature Northwest peaks such as Mount Hood and Mount Rainier.

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    Also of Interest

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