The railway was the way to travel up until the advent of the automobile. Train travel is far less glamorous than it used to be, but even today there’s something romantic about the idea of train travel. When it comes to taking a train, travel really is about the journey as much as the destination.
Flying usually works out to be a better value than riding the rails when it comes to long-distance travel. That said, these seven short train trips promise adventure and excitement without breaking the bank.
Grand Canyon Railway
The Grand Canyon is a remarkable National Park, but part of the destination is the journey. This vintage train runs daily service from Williams, AZ to the famous Grand Canyon with ever-changing terrain.
The two-hour and fifteen-minute trip arrives at the South Rim with return service in the late afternoon, allowing ample time to appreciate the natural wonder. Don’t worry, the classic 1950s era passenger cars are air-conditioned – a must in the desert heat.
The only downside is the limited time at the National Park.
Three hours isn’t enough time for the hardcore backcountry adventurer to take in the magnitude of the Canyon, but it’s a great alternative for those who want a more laidback Grand Canyon experience.
$75 for adults and $40 for children, age 2 – 15 for roundtrip travel between Williams and the Grand Canyon in Coach Class. Rates do not include tax or National Park entry fee.
> Read about hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
Alaska Glacier Discovery Train
Waterfalls, glaciers, and black bears are just some of Alaska’s world-class scenery waiting to be experienced on this train.
Wind from Anchorage to Whittier via Portage on the Glacier Discovery Train, which provides an excellent introduction to the Kenai Peninsula area of Alaska with views of alpine meadows and colorful wildflowers set among a backdrop of glaciers.
The route travels down the Turnagain Arm flanking Chugach National Forest.
The train features an informative naturalist throughout the journey providing commentary on the geology of the land, history of the railroad, and more importantly great places to spot moose, bears, and birds. This Alaska Glacier Discovery Train only operates seasonally from mid-May through mid-September.
Fares vary depending on your route, but most are under $100. Check the website to see the correct fare for your chosen route.
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
This scenic train journey circumnavigates the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. The trip departs from Bryson City’s historic depot and traverses over 25 bridges, barrels through two tunnels and continues across fertile valleys.
You may feel déjà vu when riding these rails – this railroad was used in blockbuster features such as My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and Forces of Nature with Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock.
For the best pictures on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, choose the “open car” option with bench-style seating and open walls – optimal for getting scenic shots of the trees and mountains.
Cost for adult tickets range from $34 to $53 depending on the season and your chosen package. Peak season is in October, with the iconic fall foliage. Children’s tickets for ages 2 to 12 cost $19 to $31. Both prices are for standard seating in either the vintage coach or open car section of the train. Seating upgrades are available for a modest fee.
Skunk Train, California
Towering redwood trees, deer drinking from the Noyo River, and an isolated fisherman’s cabin are just some of the reasons why people are drawn to this authentic steam engine adventure.
The Skunk Train’s original purpose was to easily transport massive redwood logs through beautiful Mendocino County in Northern California. Today, it follows the original coastal “Wolf Tree Route,” which runs along Pudding Creek and the Noyo River before zigzagging through the majestic redwoods.
Travelers can depart from either Fort Bragg or Willits. Although the route boasts plenty of tunnels and bridges, the true beauty of this ride lies in the quiet stillness of the redwoods.
Fares start at $41 for adults and $22 for children. For reservations call 707.964.6371 between 9:00am to 3:00pm (Pacific) daily.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited
Considered one of the most scenic of Amtrak’s train services, this trip is punctuated at each end by the dramatic skylines of Chicago and New York. True to its name, the railroad travels along some of America’s most beautiful shorelines, passing along Lake Michigan, the Mohawk River, the southern shore of Lake Erie, and along the Hudson River.
This is the train for the small-town Americana feel. The train features a Dining Car, a Lounge Car, and sleeper cars, so there’s ample room to roam around during the long trip. However, bring some of your own snacks, as food on the Lake Shore Limited can be quite expensive.
While the published rail travel time is 19 hours for 959 miles, this train is known for being notoriously late.
Prices can start at $84 for adults and $42 for children age 2-15 for coach seating – check for the most updated pricing for your chosen route. Discounts are available for AAA members.
Silverton-Durango Narrow Gage
This vintage steam locomotive with impressive gold-colored Victorian coaches was originally constructed to transport gold & silver from the San Juan Mountains, but now serves passengers.
Also impressively, the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gage line has run continuously since 1881, hauling passengers instead of precious metal. Outdoor gondola open-sided cars feature padded bench seats that all face outward for unobstructed views and are the best deal in price.
The trains run from Durango to the Cascade Wye in the winter months and from Durango to Silverton during the summer, with several trains daily during the peak season.
For travel in the open-air gondola or coach seating, adults are $79 and children ages 4-11 are $49. Check the website for the most updated pricing and package rates.
The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad
Besides the great scenery of northwestern Arkansas and the Boston Mountains (an extension on the Ozarks), this railroad offers the rare experience of seeing a working freight railroad in action, as it is one of the few commercial lines left in the US to operate both freight and passenger service.
Ride in style in your choice between the First Class 1950’s Streamline Parlor Car or restored 1920s vintage passenger cars (with velvet seating!). The conductors provide entertaining historical commentary and allow an insight to a golden era.
The four-hour route travels over the Arkansas River Bridge, through the quarter-mile Winslow Tunnel, and provides dazzling views of the Boston Mountains.
Cost ranges from $40 to $90 for adults depending on the season and car class. Children, age 4-12, ride half price from April through September. Check their website for the most updated pricing information.
Read more about train travel:
- 11 of the World’s Coolest Train Stations
- BootsnAll’s Europe Rail Tool
- 11 Ideas for Amazing Train Trips Around the World