7 Best American Train Trips Less Than $100

The rails used to be the way to travel until the advent of the automobile. Even today, though train travel is far less glamorous than it used to be, there’s just something romantic about the idea of a train trip. On a train trip, it really is about the journey as much as the destination.

Unfortunately, it seems all too often that given the added time and expense, flying actually works out to be a better value than riding the rails. But, with the economy in a rut, making well…everything more expensive, these seven 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 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 is hardly time to take in the magnitude of the Canyon for the hardcore backcountry adventurer, but the Grand Canyon Railway offers a relaxing alternative for the whole family.

For Tickets: $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 and find hotels near the Grand Canyon

Alaska Glacier Discovery Train

Waterfalls, glaciers and black bears are only some of Alaska’s world-class scenery experienced on this train. As you wind from Anchorage to Whittier via Portage, the Glacier Discovery Train provides an excellent introduction to the Kenai Peninsula area of south-central 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.

For Tickets: $65 for adults and $33 for children for one-way travel between Anchorage and Whittier via Portage in the adventure class. Passengers returning to Anchorage can take a motorcoach.

>> Search for hostels in Anchorage

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, through two tunnels and across fertile valleys.

Of course, you may feel déjà vu when riding these rails as 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 best pictures on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, choose the “open car” option on the with bench style seating that is open from waist up – optimal for getting scenic shots of the trees and mountains.

For Tickets: Cost for adult tickets range from $34 to $53 depending on the season, October with the iconic fall foliage being peak. The bill of fare for children, age 2 – 12, is $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.

>> Find cheap flights to Nashville and look for hotels in Gatlinburg

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 “Redwood Route,” and runs along Pudding Creek and the Noyo River before zigzagging through the majestic redwoods.

Travelers can depart from either Fort Bragg or Northspur. With plenty of cliché tunnels and bridges, the true beauty of this ride lies in the quiet stillness of the redwoods.

For Tickets: Fares are $47 for adults and $22 for children. For reservations call 866-457-5865 between 9:00am to 3:00pm (Pacific) daily.

>> Book flights to Los Angeles and find hotels in California

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, and 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 is 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.

For Tickets: Prices start at $84 for adults and $42 for children age 2-15 for coach seating. Discounts are available for AAA members.

>> Plan your trip to Chicago and look for accommodations in New York

Silverton-Durango Narrow Gage

This vintage steam locomotive with impressive gold-colored Victorian coaches were originally constructed to transport gold & silver from the San Juan Mountains, but now serves passengers taking in the sweeping views.

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 Tickets: For travel in the open-air gondola or coach seating, adults are $79 and children ages 4-11 are $49. For reservations call 1-888-872-4607.

>> Book flights to Colorado Springs and read about things to do in Denver

The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

Besides the great scenery of northwestern Arkansas and the Boston Mountains (an extension on the Ozarks), this railroad will offer 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 of the First Class 1950’s Streamline Parlor Car, or restored 1920’s 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.

For Tickets: Cost range from $40 to $90 for adults depending on the season and car class. Children, age 4-12, ride half price from April through September.

>> Read our Little Rock travel guide and find campgrounds in Missouri

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Photos by: Glsims99, fotobydave, Timothy Wildey, lazytom, dr. snitch, bigweasel, MRHSfan

Filed under: featured, North America, Train Travel