Family Life Things to Do

9 Best Train Rides for Scenery Watching in the U.S.

As the summer heat gives way to crisp fall air and the leaves begin to change colors, there’s no better way to embrace the beauty of autumn and winter than by embarking on a scenic train ride through some of the most stunning landscapes in the United States. 

Each of these train rides promises a front-row seat to the spectacular display of fall foliage or snow-covered hills, among other natural wonders.

1. French Lick Scenic Railway, Indiana

Indiana’s French Lick Scenic Railway offers a charming journey through the Hoosier National Forest, showcasing the fall colors of the Midwest. Passengers can enjoy vintage train cars as they wind through forests, pass by limestone outcroppings, travel through the Burton Tunnel and cross over trestles. 

The gently rolling hills and serene countryside make for a delightful leaf-watching experience, making this an ideal fall excursion in the heart of the nation. The total 18-mile round trip takes about an hour and 45 minutes from start to finish.

2. My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Kentucky

For a unique leaf-watching experience combined with a gourmet meal, hop aboard the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. Departing from Bardstown, this train offers a leisurely ride through the Bluegrass State’s beautiful countryside. 

As you savor a world-class lunch or dinner, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of rolling hills and colorful landscapes, making it an unforgettable dining experience amidst nature’s splendor. If you really want a truly unique experience, however, you may want to consider joining the folks at Murder and Merriment on Murder Mystery Train night – where the audience is always part of the action!

3. The Little River Railroad, Michigan

There’s no way to ride The Little River Railroad without experiencing a certain sense of nostalgia. Climb aboard a train pulled by a historic steam locomotive and let the rails take you backward through time into rural settings − woodland and wetlands that look like they have been barely touched by mankind. 

This railway regularly has special events, including sunset flyers that are ripe for romance, fall “pumpkin trains” that will take you to a u-pick farm in the countryside and back, and the December “Holiday Express.”

4. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina

Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, this railroad offers a front-row seat to all the gloriously vibrant colors of fall. Or if you prefer, catch the Polar Express ride to recapture the childlike magic of Christmas. 

Passengers can choose from various excursions that wind through the dense forests and quaint Appalachian towns, all while taking in the mesmerizing sights of an ever-changing landscape. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is a favorite among leaf watchers, romantics and families alike, and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re looking to make memories you can cherish forever, this is a great place to start.

5. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado

Colorado’s San Juan Mountains are renowned for their stunning fall foliage and amazing winter landscape, and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad provides a unique opportunity to witness this natural wonder up close. 

This historic steam-powered train takes you through canyons, over bridges and along cliff sides where the breathtaking scenery makes this journey truly unforgettable. There are frequent “themed” events, including their famous “Wine and Rails” and “Cowboy Poetry” train rides. It’s certainly no mystery why this railroad has been voted the #1 Scenic Train Ride in America more than once!

6. Napa Valley Wine Train, California

While the Napa Valley Wine Train is famous for its wine tours, it’s also an excellent choice for nature watchers in search of a different kind of autumn delight. 

This train glides through California’s wine country, surrounded by vineyards and picturesque landscapes. During the fall, the grapevines are a deep red. The surrounding trees showcase their autumnal brilliance, creating a beautiful contrast that’s perfect for a relaxing and scenic day trip. Go as a couple with your significant other or hop aboard the train with a group of your besties – either way, you won’t regret a minute of this luxurious railway experience.

7. The White Pass and Yukon Route, Alaska

For those seeking a more adventurous journey into the wilds of nature, the White Pass and Yukon Route in Alaska offers a breathtaking ride through the rugged terrain of the Last Frontier. 

As you climb steep grades and wind through narrow mountain passes in the fall, you’ll be surrounded by a palette of red, orange and gold foliage set against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. This iconic railroad is a photographer’s dream come true, and the fall season only adds to the allure of the mountains, glaciers and gorges.

8. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, New York

New York’s Adirondack Park is a natural paradise at any time of the year, and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad lets you explore it in style. Whether you want to just appreciate the view or indulge in one of their special excursions, like the Haunted History Evening Excursion or the Princess Super Hero Train, this rail trip is a welcome addition to anyone’s bucket list.

On a two-and-a-half-hour ride through the heart of the Adirondacks, passengers can revel in the sight of stunning vistas, pristine lakes, dense forests and charming villages, all framed by the vibrant foliage. It’s a quintessential autumn experience in the Empire State.

9. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio

Nestled between Akron and Independence, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers a charming and immersive two-hour experience for nature-lovers everywhere. Passengers are treated to the sight of lush woodlands, rolling hills and picturesque meadows of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park – which, while always beautiful, can be particularly stunning in the fall.

This scenic railway offers both traditional coaches, lounge class seating and dome cars, so a comfortable ride can be had by all. The railway also offers special train rides with family programs, beer and wine tastings and more.

Train travel offers a unique and leisurely way to experience the breathtaking spectacle of nature and the fall foliage. So, pack your camera, don your coziest sweater and hop on board for an unforgettable adventure that will leave you with cherished memories and a deep appreciation for the wonders of nature.