'Tis the season for a beautiful fall foliage train ride.
As temperatures begin to drop, the colors of the leaves heat up. And one the best ways to slow down and soak in the crisp, cool weather and vibrant hues of the changing foliage is on a scenic train trip.
From organized experiences like fall foliage tours hosted by Vacations By Rail to the rural wonders of the North on the Alaska Railroad, there are seemingly endless opportunities to be immersed in the beautiful fall foliage via railway.
Here are 12 of the best train rides in the U.S. where you can sit back, relax, and take in the stunning autumnal scenery.
The Canadian luxury train operator Rocky Mountaineer takes passengers between Denver Union Station and the heart of downtown Moab, Utah, featuring an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
The trains only travel during the day, so travelers will never miss a moment of the ever-changing landscapes through the enormous, perfect-for-leaf-peeping windows. The route runs from April to October, with mid-September to early October being prime time for fall foliage viewing. Available in SilverLeaf Service, this Rocky Mountaineer rail route offers plenty of scenic highlights best enjoyed by train, including Ruby Canyon, Mount Garfield, and the crossing of the Continental Divide.
Amtrak California Zephyr
There’s a reason Amtrak's California Zephyr route is continually one of the most popular train lines in the U.S. This trip features thousands of miles of scenery, but riders don't need to embark on the entire 50-hour journey to get the best views. The stretch between Sacramento, California, and Reno, Nevada, treats travelers to colorful aspens, maples, birches, and oaks as they transform colors in the high altitudes of the Sierra Mountains and the Tahoe National Forest.
Amtrak Missouri River Runner
This Midwest route departs from St. Louis and travels across the state to Kansas City, offering scenic views of the Missouri River. The train stops at a number of charming destinations along the way, and each is steeped with rich history and a host of fascinating attractions. Be sure to hop off at the quaint, riverside city of Hermann to catch the free trolley that includes stops at local wineries and restaurants, as well as distilleries. Check out Stone Hill Winery, which dates back to 1847 and boasts numerous international accolades for its impressive wines. Or, explore Hermann Farm, an enormous property with tours showcasing the regal (and relatively rare) Shire horses.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
Just 45 minutes west of Denver, a trip on the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad feels like traveling back in time 200 years. This railroad route was originally built to connect the mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume (which are just a few miles apart) through a steep, narrow, scenic canyon. Corkscrewing up more than 600 feet in elevation and traveling across four separate bridges, it’s an 1880s marvel of engineering that survives today for guests to enjoy. Passengers can even elect to disembark and tour the historic Lebanon Silver Mine at roughly the halfway point to extend their exploration.
The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway
The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway is the world’s highest and longest cog railroad. It's also the highest railroad in North America. It’s one of just two cog railways in the country, carrying travelers to the summit of Pikes Peak while highlighting the changing leaves and gorgeous scenery below. This three-hour round-trip journey climbs nine miles up to 14,115 feet in altitude toward the peak of “America's Mountain.” At the top, stop at the Pikes Peak Summit House to grab one of their famously fresh 14er donuts, and admire the sweeping 360-degree views.
Amtrak’s Vermonter offers daily service between Washington, D.C. and St. Albans in northern Vermont, traveling through major metropolitan areas like New York City as well as countryside communities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire along the way. This route gives travelers the opportunity to appreciate autumn from both an urban and rural perspective. Hop off in cities like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware; explore smaller communities in New Haven, Connecticut; or get off at the Waterbury-Stowe stop in Vermont, which provides the chance to visit both Stowe and Waterbury — about 10 miles apart — for fabulous fall foliage and seasonal activities.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway begins at the historic depot in downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia, and takes riders on a two- or four-hour, 26-mile round-trip journey along the Toccoa River through the northern Georgia countryside. Passengers can experience this ride in open-air cars and breathe in the crisp mountain air while admiring the vibrant autumnal colors. The first leg of the adventure takes travelers on a one-hour trip to the quaint sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee, tucked deep in the mountains on each state’s line. On the longer, four-hour option, travelers can experience all that the towns have to offer with an added two-hour layover, before making the one-hour return trip through the scenic forest and back to the depot in Blue Ridge.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is nothing short of breathtaking as it traverses the diverse terrain of Colorado and New Mexico, winding through lush forests and across high plains. This route also holds the title for highest mountain pass reached by rail in the U.S. — hitting 10,015 feet as it crosses Cumbres Pass. Travelers can either begin their trip in Antonito, Colorado, or Chama, New Mexico, before the train snakes along for 64 scenic miles with fall foliage views. With the leaves transforming the landscape into a show of spectacular reds, golds, and oranges, this ride is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the country come autumn.
Amtrak’s Cascades route weaves through some of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful landscapes — made even more beautiful with the changing forest foliage come fall. Admire the rich golden hues of Oregon’s aspen trees, or the vibrant shades in Washington set against the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Along the entire route, riders are rewarded with gorgeous scenery. Upon arriving in Vancouver, Canada, there are fun fall activities, including a walk through Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen Botanical Garden to admire the changing leaves. Visitors can also take a gondola ride up Grouse Mountain for more spectacular fall foliage.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway
The Mount Washington Cog Railway gives passengers a unique perspective of the fall beauty as it travels to the summit of Mount Washington via the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. New Hampshire's famous array of foliage is on full display throughout autumn, and the stunning views that can be seen across Mount Washington (the highest peak in the northeastern U.S.) are open to those who embark on this three-hour journey.
Virginia & Truckee Railway
On the Virginia & Truckee Railway in Carson City, Nevada, railroad enthusiasts can immerse themselves in a historic tour aboard a storied train car that travels along a 150-year-old track. In the fall, passengers can enjoy views of vibrant foliage, including along the Carson River, which is lined with cottonwood trees that turn a bright shade of gold and yellow come autumn. There are even wild horses roaming the area — and lucky travelers can spot them from the rail cars.
Amtrak Empire Builder
Those who hop on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route can experience the wilderness of the American West from the comfort of a modern rail car. Departing from Chicago, riders can enjoy magnificent views of the Mississippi against the glowing skylines of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The route then crosses the North Dakota plains and travels over the scenic Gassman Coulee Trestle, circumnavigating the Missouri River and traveling toward Montana’s scenic Big Sky Country by way of beautiful Glacier National Park. In Spokane, passengers can choose to continue their journey to Seattle or head back down the Columbia River Gorge and toward Portland for some spectacular glimpses of Mount Hood.