You may need to know the best train rides in the USA at moment, the best train ride in America right now is Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Similar to the resurgence of the classic American road trip, rail travel is seeing its moment in the spotlight.
However, the reverse of the Asian style of bullet-fast rail travel is the goal of these American journeys. The final stops at Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are impressive, but the small towns and scenic parks you’ll (very) slowly pass through on the route there are what make this trip worthwhile.
Here are some of the most breathtaking best train rides across American countries that are just as romantic as the Orient Express but much more affordable. Whether you’re looking for a quick trip through the mountains, a cross-country adventure through deserts, or a luxurious dinner with a view, there’s a route for you.
13 Best Train Rides In USA [Scenic + Luxury Train]
1. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight
- Amenities: Sleeping car, Dining car, lounge/cafe car, Pacific Parlour car
- Travel time: 36 hours (one way)
- Route: Seattle – Portland – Los Angeles
First, on our list of America, best train rides is Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. This scenic train ride along the West Coast attracts visitors from all around the world. Over 455,000 people rode the Coast Starlight each year, making it Amtrak’s busiest long-distance route.
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As you ride the Coast Starlight, you’ll get to see the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Northwest, including waterfalls, forests, the Cascade Mountains, and Puget Sound. Take a seat on the west side of the train to see the Pacific coast for far longer stretches than you would see driving.
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You can write about the best train ride in the US today without topping the list with Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. The Pacific Parlour Car, with its dome windows and evening wine and cheese parties, is available only to those who have upgraded from coach to a tiny private room with beds. Considering staying in San Diego for a longer period of time? Union Station in Los Angeles is where you can catch the renowned Pacific Surfliner.
2. Amtrak’s Empire Builder
- Amenities: Sleeping car, Dining car, lounge/cafe car
- Travel time: 46 hours (one way)
- Route: Chicago – St. Paul/Minneapolis – Spokane – Portland/Seattle
Coming the 2nd position in the ranking of the best train rides in USA today is the popular Amtrak’s Empire Builder. The Empire Builder is a wonderful way to travel across the United States since it follows the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from the country’s heartland to the Pacific Northwest. As you go through Montana’s Big Sky country and past Glacier National Park, you’ll find yourself across the Mississippi River.
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Spokane is a convenient jumping-off point for trips to both Portland, Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge, which leads north to the Puget Sound in Seattle, and the Cascade Mountain pass, which leads south.
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Tall trestles and lengthy tunnels highlight the mountain passes, while hydroelectric dams and salmon fish ladders dot the river sections. A volunteer ranger from the National Park Service travels with the tour throughout the spring and summer months to educate passengers on the area’s history and natural features. Breaks every 20 minutes allow you to walk out and stretch your legs or get a pizza on the way.
Near West Glacier, Montana, the Amtrak Empire Builder travels along the southern park boundary.
3. Amtrak’s California Zephyr
- Amenities: Dining car, sleeping car, lounge/cafe car
- Travel time: 51 hours, 20 minutes (one way)
- Route: Chicago – Denver – Reno – Sacramento – Emeryville (San Francisco)
Looking out the California Zephyr’s windows, you’ll see the same landscapes that captivated 19th-century prospectors on the first transcontinental railroad line west to San Francisco.
Through the heart of Gold Rush country’s mining and ghost towns, this historic line brings you to the original railroad’s halts at old stagecoach stations.
Read Also: 28 Best Train Journey In The World [Luxury + Scenic]
If you are planning your next vacation and thinking of the best luxury train to board in the US, you can have this train location in mind. Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River is characterized by sheer cliffs covered in aspens and evergreens and accessed via tunnels cutting through the Rocky Mountains. James S., a Vacations By Rail customer, said, “The view was my favorite part.”
The American eagle soaring above the Colorado River next to the railway was the highlight. The trip culminates with a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, a must-see destination.
The sights that captivated the 19th-century prospectors can be seen from the California Zephyr as well.
4. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief
- Amenities: Dining car, sleeping car, lounge/cafe car
- Travel time: 40+ hours (one way)
- Route: Chicago – Albuquerque – Los Angeles
Once upon a time, in the late 1930s, the first all-Pullman sleeping car train in the United States ran along these tracks, earning the moniker “Train of the Stars” due to the high concentration of famous faces among its patrons.
The current route of the Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago is identical to the original. Enjoy the Grand Canyon, the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, the Santa Fe Trail, the red cliffs of Sedona, and the pueblos and missions of Arizona all from the comfort of your sleeping car.
Hidden among the grandiosity of the American West is the beauty of simple, everyday life. Take in the sights of farmers reaping wheat from vast fields and dogs romping in backyards. It’s amazing to watch the regional differences in people’s daily lives from the comfort of a train.
5. Grand Canyon Railway
- Amenities: Cafe car, sleeping car
- Travel time: 8.25 hours including a four-hour stopover (round-trip)
- Route: Williams, Ariz. – South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park – Williams, Ariz.
To further push the list of best train rides in USA, Grand Canyon Railway come inaddy. Imagine how far away and difficult it was to get to the Grand Canyon once by taking the train to the park, just as tourists did in 1901 when the railway opened.
You can still take a trip back in time on the Grand Canyon Railway, with the help of the “French Fry Express,” a 1923 locomotive that has been rebuilt to run on recycled waste vegetable oil from South Rim restaurants.
It is possible to see antelope, the California condor, and wild horses as you travel through scenic pine forests and vast meadows en approach to the canyon. Passengers are entertained by colorful railway characters acting out scenes from the past, such as mock train robberies and cowboy musicians leading sing-alongs.
The Grand Canyon Depot, a rustic log cabin, is conveniently located near the heart of South Rim village, where many of the park’s most famous lookouts and historic structures can be reached on foot.
Williams, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon South Rim are linked by the Grand Canyon Railway.
6. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
- Amenities: Open-air gondolas, vintage coach cars
- Travel time: 3.5 hours (one way)
- Route: Durango, Colo. – Silverton, Colo.
This historic narrow-gauge railroad was constructed during the silver mining boom with rails that were spaced nearly two feet closer together than usual. This allowed the train to better negotiate sharper curves and tighter places on the mountainside. Along the Animas River, riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Some parts of the canyon have rock cliffs that are only a few inches away, making you want to stifle your breathing and shrink to a mouse. In some places, the abyss is so deep that you can’t even make out the canyon’s edge.
Bighorn sheep live on the cliff faces, and elk can sometimes be spotted wandering close to the paths. Starting in May and running through October, passengers on this moving National Historic Landmark will hear tales of the coal-fired, steam-powered engine and the mining history of Silverton.
Invigorating journeys along the Animas River can be had on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
7. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
- Amenities: Concession car
- Travel time: 6.5 hours including stopover (one way)
- Route: Chama, N.M. – Osier, Colo. – Antonito, Colo.
The Cumbres & Toltec was built to transport miners to and from the silver mines in southwest Colorado. At 64 miles in length, it is the longest and highest steam railroad in America. As it chugs up a 4% gradient in the San Juan Mountains, passing along the edge of a small valley ledge with vistas that drop 800 feet straight down, this picturesque train now carries only people.
Lee Bates, the marketing and communications manager for Cumbres & Toltec, describes the hotel as “Williamsburg on wheels,” or a genuine National Historic Landmark that can be moved around.
The open-air gondolas, which are particularly popular in the fall when the aspens shimmer their golden glow, parlor cars, and coach cars provide passengers with a unique perspective on the past. During the months of May, June, September, and October, the train operates. Interesting fact: the train has been featured in over 20 Hollywood films, with of the most notable being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
8. Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic
- Amenities: Dining car
- Travel time: 1.25 hours (one way)
- Route: Anchorage – Girdwood – Seward
You cant ride wrong with Alaska Railroad’s Coaster Classic as one of the best train rides in US today. Alaska’s summer is a time of long days, blooming flowers, and active animals; the Coastal Classic departs daily from mid-May to mid-September so that you can take advantage of this season.
Traveling from Anchorage to Seward, one will traverse the coast of Turnagain Arm, where mountains as high as 3,000 feet drop precipitously into the sea. Be on the lookout for beluga whales in the inlet, as well as Dall sheep on the cliff faces and bears and moose in the remote area further along the trek.
The train’s conductor stops the train so that passengers can take pictures of glaciers and other natural attractions. There is a seven-hour layover in Seward, during which time you can go on excursions like boat cruises, park tours, glacier treks, and sled dog rides before catching the nighttime train back to Anchorage.
9. Amtrak’s Adirondack
- Amenities: Cafe car
- Travel time: 10 hours (one way)
- Route: New York – Saratoga Springs – Montreal
A morning departure from New York City on Amtrak’s Adirondack will take you through quaint communities and down the scenic Hudson River Valley before depositing you in Montreal in time for dinner. Views of lush forests and vibrant vineyards can be had in the fall if you plan your trip well.
Mansions that have been lovingly maintained border the banks of the vast blue Hudson River between New York City and Albany. The beauty of this valley’s landscape makes it easy to understand why it spawned a whole school of painting.
The Adirondack Mountains, the Palisades, the riverfront stone battlements of West Point Academy, and the ruins of Bannerman’s Castle are among the other must-sees along the way.
Cass, West Virginia‘s water tower is seen from a passenger train on the Cass Scenic Railroad.
10. Cass Scenic Railroad
- Amenities: Ticket includes museum admission and logging camp tour
- Travel time: 4.5 hours (round-trip)
- Route: Cass, W.Va. – Whittaker Station – Bald Knob – Cass
A century after they were first used to transport timber from the West Virginia mountains to the Cass mill, steam-powered Shay locomotives are still in operation. The former logging flat carriages are now used to transport people between May and October.
The train chuffs out of the station with the pistons pulsing, black smoke billowing, and the whistleblowing. First, stop by Whittaker Station, a logging camp from the 1940s where you can roam around and have a snack.
After pausing at a spring to replenish its water supply for the steam engine, passengers on the four-and-a-half-hour round-trip to Bald Knob will carry on to the state’s third-highest point. You’ll get to enjoy lunch and the scenery from 4,700 feet above on this additional hike.
11. White Pass & Yukon Route
- Distance: 120 miles round trip
- Skagway, Alaska
It’s hard not to wonder who in their right mind would have built this narrow-gauge railway in 1898, during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, as it chugs along the side of terrifyingly sheer cliff-drops.
There are three train trips that leave from Skagway, and each one takes you up three thousand feet in twenty miles, past glaciers, mountain lakes, and roaring waterfalls.
The highlight of this excursion is a stop at a historic station house in Lake Bennett that was once used as a supply depot for miners en route to Carcross, Yukon. Or, you can take the train past Bridal Veil Falls and Dead Horse Gulch to White Pass Summit, a 40-mile round-trip journey across massive trusses that are not for the faint of heart.
Taking a trip on the Alaska Railroad is the best (and warmest) way to see the vastness of the Last Frontier. Anchorage-based since 1903, the Alaska Railroad has been bringing travelers through some of the state’s most spectacular natural landscapes for more than a century.
Just one ride on this magnificent route will convince you why it was named one of the “Top 10 Train Rides in North America” by National Geographic Traveler. One of the best day trips in Alaska can be had by traveling south from Anchorage to Seward, where you can take in breathtaking vistas of the Turnagain Arm and Chugach National Forest.
12. Mount Hood Railroad – Oregon
Living in Oregon, a state renowned for its stunning scenery, can make it easy to take for granted the extraordinary nature of your surroundings. We could all use a gentle nudge to remind us to take a moment to savor the simple pleasures in life every once in a while.
Indeed, the Mount Hood Railroad is the ideal location for such an adventure. Traveling on this picturesque passenger train will transport you back in time to a more innocent and carefree era. Even though riding on a train is wonderful in and of itself, it is the sights you will remember most from these journeys.
When the cherry blossoms bloom each spring, they paint the landscape around beautiful Mount Hood in shades of white and pink. However, the Mount Hood Railroad is a wonderful opportunity to take in the splendor of the Pacific Northwest at any time of year, since it features some of the most stunning scenery in the country.
13. Mount Washington Cog Railway – New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s majestic Mount Washington is one of the region’s most recognizable landmarks. It is the highest peak in the Northeast, at 6,288 feet, and one of the most stunning.
You can reach the peak of Mount Washington in a number of ways, including by driving or hiking, but the Mount Washington Cog Railway is an experience unlike any other.
There is a lot of history behind this railway; the first cog-driven train made the ascent on July 3, 1869, and it has been carrying daredevils to the summit ever since.
The journey into the skies takes about three hours and offers breathtaking views at every turn. As a matter of fact, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a National Historic Engineering Landmark and is an absolutely essential part of any visit to the area.
What Is The Most Scenic Train Ride In The United States?
Following are the most scenic train ride in America right now:
- Denver to Moab
- A. to Seattle
- Williams to the Grand Canyon
- Chicago to Portland
- Anchorage to Fairbanks
- Bryson City, NC
What Is The Most Luxurious Train Ride In The US?
The most luxurious train in America right now is the the Grand Canyon Railway. It takes around two and a half hours for the train to go from Williams Depot in Williams, Arizona (about 60 miles south of the canyon) through the desert to Grand Canyon Village, which is located right close to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Are There Any Luxury Trains In The US?
Yes! The Alaska Railroad has a first class that includes a glass-domed car with a panoramic view. Access to the world’s first outdoor, upper-level platform, is included with their GoldStar Service ticket.
Are There Any Sleeper Trains In USA?
Yes, there are sleeper trains you can board in America today. Amtrak has individual room accommodations on several lines around the country, making train travel an option for those seeking something other than the standard hotel stay. A private room in the Sleeping Car is ideal for clients who value their own space and comfort on shorter journeys or overnight trips.
Why Is Train Travel Not Popular In USA?
There are a number of factors that prevent the average American from taking a train trip. In terms of sheer size, America easily dwarfs most European nations. The population density is often not high enough to warrant interstate train travel in areas beyond the northeast corridor, the central Texas megalopolis, California, and the eastern Midwest.
How Much Does It Cost To Take A Train Across The US?
The least expensive fare on an Amtrak train from one coast to the other is $499. However, tours with more stops, attractions, and destinations cost between $3,499 and $6,649.
Maybe Ferris Bueller stated it best: “Life moves fairly fast. Take a break and look about every once in a while, or you might miss it. The spirit of our Bucket List articles is captured by this surprising piece of advice from a high schooler: they aim to highlight some of the most spectacular locations across the country that are just waiting to be visited and experienced.
And if you want to take your time and see the sights, there’s probably no better way to do it than on one of these incredible transcontinental train journeys. There’s just something beautiful about taking a train: kicking back to see the scenery go by, hearing the chug of the engine, and listening to the hum of conversation from other passengers, isn’t that interesting?
So, let me know via the comment section down below, which of these locations you have visited and which of the best train rides in America you have boarded before!