Take the train to take in the beautiful fall foliage. (Photo: Necromaniacal Automaton/Flickr)
With leaf-peeping season at its peak and a mostly mild autumn thus far, people are taking long weekends to drive, hike, or bike into the woods. If you’re into extreme things, maybe you’re even climbing or hang-gliding to hard-to-reach areas. But for those who’d prefer to take in fall colors without simultaneously navigating windy roads or steep hillsides, we suggest you make tracks: Whether it’s a scenic loop of two hours, a sunset dinner ride, or a multiday adventure through remote territory, train rides are a great way to get front-row seats to Mother Nature’s annual autumn pageant.
Minnesota: North Shore Scenic Railroad
(Photo: North Shore Scenic Railroad/Facebook)
Foliage fans can hop aboard the Two Harbors Train at Duluth Union Depot for a fall colors tour of the north shore of Lake Superior. The six-hour journey cuts across rivers and through deep woods and includes a two-hour stopover in Two Harbors. This is peak time for the line, with trains running Friday through Sunday and often at capacity. A shorter 90-minute loop runs through the Lakeside neighborhood and up to Lester River.
New York: Metro North to Hudson Valley
This super-long pedestrian bridge can help you get a good look at the leaves in the Hudson Valley. (Photo: Walkway Over the Hudson)
For busy New York City residents who can spare only a day to check out what fall looks like outside the boroughs, Metro North makes it easy to go from Penn Station to the super-scenic Hudson Valley in just a couple of hours. Get off at Poughkeepsie Station and visit Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park for free. Walk the world’s longest pedestrian bridge over the Hudson, then have lunch in town, and spend the afternoon antiquing or jumping in leaf piles before heading back to the city.
New Hampshire: Notch Train
(Photo: Conway Scenic Railroad/Steve Patterson)
Spectacular New England scenery is the draw on what used to be the Mountain Division line of the Maine Central Railroad, but now it’s a five-hour sightseeing excursion with historic and folkloric narration. The train departs out of North Conway daily through Oct. 17, making a layover at namesake Crawford Notch. Seating options include an open car, classic first class, and dome car (upper and lower decks).
WATCH: Leaf-Peeping From Space: Fall Foliage Visible By Satellite
California: Napa Valley Wine Train
Relax and watch wine country go by in one of these comfy chairs. (Photo: The Napa Valley Wine Train/Facebook)
Switch up the maple leaves for grapevines when you take Napa’s sightseeing train through the heart of California wine country. And there’s no better time than the crush — that is, the peak grape-harvesting season. The vines are at their ultimate ripest, with crews hard at work bringing in the fruit and making that glorious grape juice that will turn into top-dollar Cabernet. The route travels from downtown Napa north to St. Helena and back. Seating, meal service, and winery tours all vary according to the ticket.
California: Skunk Train
Skunking through the redwoods (Photo: John Kay/Flickr)
A bit further afield in Northern California, the beloved old Skunk Train takes people through mysterious, lush, and awe-inspiring redwood groves. Although this is not leaf-peeping as East Coasters know it, redwoods are some of the most magnificent and distinctive trees — a California natural treasure and preciously protected. The Mendocino groves are basically off-limits except to local residents and Skunk Train riders. Excursions are typically a half-day (from Willits or Fort Bragg to Northspur Station, the midpoint, and back) but overnight packages are available. If you choose overnight, you’ll either stay at a partner B&B or a tent on the Noyo River.
Utah: Heber Valley Railroad
Better hurry if you want to see the fall foliage in the Heber Valley. (Photo: James Belmont)
Fondly known as the “Heber Creeper,” this short-line tourist railroad offers multiple routes through Heber Valley and up Provo Canyon to Mount Timpanogos. The foliage season started early this year in Utah, so the change of leaves is about halfway through. But you still have through October to bring the family onboard the Pumpkin Festival route or take your sweetheart onboard Provo Canyon Limited for a sightseeing date. Trains run year-round, and after the leaves have all fallen, there’s only a brief lull until the snows hit and the North Pole Express service begins.
Ontario, Canada: Agawa Canyon Tour Train
This is the place to see colorful leaves in North America. (Photo: Billy Wilson/Flickr)
In the Canadian province of Ontario, many train routes pass through prime leaf-peeping territory, but this one-day excursion is among the most popular. Not only in the province but in all of North America. Depart Sault Ste. Marie station, and very soon you’ll be passing through the wilderness known as the Canadian Shield. It’s a 103-mile climb through mixed forests, past lakes and granite formations, and then just a little more than 10 miles on the lip of the canyon before reaching Canyon Park. A 90-minute park stop allows people to picnic or climb to a lookout point before the return journey. There are only two more weeks of the fall 2014 season left, so book without delay!
Quebec, Canada: Le Massif de Charlevoix
(Photo: Le Massif de Charlevoix)
Just outside Quebec City is the outdoor wonderland of Charlevoix, set in an ancient enormous crater and known for its dramatic scenery, from mountains to river fjords. Quebec City dwellers consider it their all-seasons playground, but Canadian entrepreneur Daniel Gauthier aims to draw tourists from elsewhere with his new Le Massif de Charlevoix experience. The getting-there is one element — hop aboard a luxury train just outside Quebec City, and ride to La Malbaie. There, you stay at Le Massif’s new Hôtel La Ferme and partake in outdoor adventures: leaf-peeping in autumn, skiing in the winter.
The Ocean Train’s Sky car offers great views of the trees. (Photo: Martin Cathrae/Flickr)
VIA Rail Canada celebrated the 110th anniversary of the Ocean train, servicing the Montreal-Halifax route, this summer. You’ll see forests, coastline, wilderness, and city — a great array of Atlantic Canada scenery. If you ride from the start to the end point, it’s a 20-hour journey, and the train contains sleeper and sleeper-Plus cabins if you want to really enjoy the ride. As with many of VIA Rail’s long-haul routes, this one gets a good mix of destination travelers and sightseers who are just along for the ride.
Pennsylvania: Steamtown Fall Foliage
Get breathtaking views of the Poconos. (Photo: Bill Boock)
The Poconos is at a scenic peak through late October. Steamtown National Historic Site has been a departure point for passengers to go leaf-peeping for more than a century; and as part of the National Park Service, the experience now is a ride back into history. Excursions can be half-day (from Steamtown to Moscow or Tobyhanna) or full-day (to East Stroudsburg or Delaware Water Gap), but this is special service on select dates, so you should definitely book ahead. The system opened for 2014 reservations on Oct. 1. Several short excursions of 30 minutes to 45 minutes also run through October.