The 7 Best Train Rides In America Are Scenic And Historic

With thousands of miles between its shining seas, America has such a sprawling land mass that it can be overwhelming to see it all. Fortunately, train travel can take you to some of our country’s most remote—and most beautiful—places.

Trains aren’t just a relic from the past. In fact, you can board a steam engine to the top of a mountain or ride a train right to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The leisurely pace of trains, the historic stations and the plush seating all bring to mind an air of nostalgia and romanticism—something we’re all craving right now.

So this fall, ditch the car, let the train conductor do the driving and take in the scenery as it passes by. Here are seven of the best historic trains in America.

The Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway – Colorado

There is only one 14,000-foot mountain in the United States that you don’t have to climb to reach the summit: Pikes Peak in Colorado. You can take The Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway from Manitou, Colorado to the top. This iconic cog train is one of only two in the U.S., and the railroad cogs are engaged by a cogwheel on the locomotive to ensure its grip on the track as it climbs at such a steep grade. The train reaches a height of 14,115 feet, and upon arrival at the summit, travelers can explore and take in the incredible views—views that inspired the lyrics of “America the Beautiful,” composed atop Pikes Peak.

Originally built in 1891 and owned and operated by The Broadmoor hotel since 1925, this historic railway is a unique experience. A Ride & Stay package is also available via The Broadmoor, including accommodations at the luxury property, along with train tickets.

The Grand Canyon Railway – Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway has been taking people to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon since 1901, when it was completed by the legendary Atkinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF).

The pristine train, made up of railcars from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s—including luxury dome cars and an open platform observation car, as well as vintage coaches with windows that actually open—departs at 9:30 a.m. and returns at 5:45 p.m. Best of all: There’s a 2.5-hour layover at South Rim of Grand Canyon, which gives plenty of time to hike, tour, dine and enjoy the beauty of this stunning National Park.

Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from Williams, Arizona, on historic Rt. 66 to within steps of the Grand Canyon South Rim and the famed El Tovar hotel.

The East Broad Top Railroad – Pennsylvania

One of the true treasures in American railroading, the East Broad Top Railroad (EBT) is nestled in the rolling hills and farmlands in the central part of Pennsylvania in the town of Orbisonia. The 150-year-old narrow-gauge railroad has come out of hibernation and started train rides and historic railroad shop tours this year. It’s now open for one-hour train rides in the vintage caboose, passenger car or open-air car. The trip takes passengers on a nine-mile, round-trip ride from the historic roundhouse and shops in Orbisonia to Colgate Grove and back.

Fun fact: The Smithsonian considers the EBT to be one of the best-preserved examples of 19th century American narrow gauge railroads and it’s the only surviving three-foot gauge common carrier railroad east of the Rocky Mountains.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – Colorado

Dubbed “America’s Railroad,” the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad prides itself on providing a taste of authentic railroad history, just as it was in 1882 when the tracks connecting Durango and Silverton, Colorado, were completed and the train began hauling passengers and freight through the San Juan forest. During the height of its use, these trains carried $300 million in gold and silver ore between Silverton and Durango.

Today, passengers ride behind a historic engine chugging away through the ruggedly beautiful San Juan National Forest. The train takes you where no highway can go, like across a trestle spanning the Animas Canyon or up Molas Pass, for a chance to see some dramatic mountain vistas.

The Scenic Round Trip Silverton Train is one of the railroad’s most popular rides. Passengers depart Durango in the morning, enjoying a leisurely 3.5-hour trip each way, plus 2 hours in the historic mining town of Silverton to take in its sights, shopping, food and libations.

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad – Colorado and New Mexico

Take in some of the most stunning scenery in the Rocky Mountain West along the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. A National Historic Landmark, it’s the longest and highest steam railroad in North America, with 64 miles of track.

Board in either Antonito, Colorado, or Chama, New Mexico, then sit back and soak up the sights. The train crosses the states’ border 11 times, zig-zags along canyon walls, rolls through two tunnels and chugs across the 137-foot Cascade Trestle. You’ll see various ecosystems, from deep forests of aspens and evergreens to high plains dotted with wildflowers to a rocky gorge. Plus, the wildlife viewing is superb: Expect to see the likes of deer, antelope, fox, eagles and even bears.

Passengers can opt for first-class accommodations or coach, and everyone is welcome into the open-air gondola, where the view is unobstructed and fantastic and volunteers narrate scenic highlights.

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway – Alaska

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, a Gold Rush-era narrow gauge railroad takes passengers from Skagway, Alaska, into the heart of the Yukon, Canada’s northwest territory. The frontier is truly spectacular. Several trip options chug past glacial rivers, waterfalls, gorges and plenty of wildlife. You’ll get a taste of yesteryear on the authentic train that has parlor cars—some vintage—and enormous windows and viewing decks for panoramic views.

We recommend the 2.5-hour, round trip excursion to White Pass Summit. You’ll pull out of the Skagway train station and pass Inspiration Point, peering down on the Skagway Harbor and across to the Sawtooth Range. Before looping at the White Pass Summit, you’ll see the headwaters of the Yukon River. Photo opportunities abound, as the vistas just get better and better.

Not to go unnoticed is the railroad’s engineering marvel. From 1898 to 1900, fueled by the recent discovery of gold in the Canadian Klondike, some 35,000 workers helped carve this route through solid-rock mountainsides. Just 12 miles out of Skagway, the train follows a horseshoe curve. You’ll see Slippery Rock, a wooden trestle, a tunnel and the best perspective on the engineering feat it took to build this section of rail in the dead of the 1898–1899 winter.

The New York Transit Museum & Nostalgia Rides – New York City

Did you know that the New York City subway is technically a railroad? Indeed—and a rather large one at that, with 665 miles of track and 472 stations across Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.

Hop on the subway to the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, which has been telling and preserving the stories of mass transportation since 1976. There, you’ll learn about the subway system’s engineering feats, workers who labored in the tunnels over 100 years ago, communities that were forever transformed and the ever-evolving technology of a system that doesn’t sleep, running 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Housed underground in a 1936 subway station in Downtown Brooklyn, the Transit Museum is home to a rotating selection of 20 vintage subway and elevated cars dating back to 1907. But the museum isn’t static: These historic subway trains occasionally run “Nostalgia Rides.” Some go to Yankee Stadium, others to Coney Island or Rockaway Beach, and some transport passengers to historic cemeteries or decommissioned subway stations.

It’s a true throwback experience, complete with open windows, flickering light bulbs, strap-hangers and swaying cars. Even the rattan seats and advertisements take riders on a trip back through time.


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