The Best U.S. Small Towns to Visit by Train — From California Wine Country to New York's Hudson Valley

·5 min read
Rolling vineyards surround the city of Paso Robles, California.
Rolling vineyards surround the city of Paso Robles, California.

Elizabeth Beard/Getty Images

The United States isn't exactly known for having the most robust train system in the world, but real train fanatics know that you can easily ride the rails between major cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and more. And for those particularly fond of slow travel, there are plenty of charming small towns worth hopping off the train to explore. These are some of the best small towns throughout the U.S. that you can visit by train from sea to shining sea.

Hudson, New York

Historic homes on lower Warren St in Hudson, NY
Historic homes on lower Warren St in Hudson, NY

Courtesy of Dan Region

Running multiple times a day between New York City and Niagara Falls, Amtrak's Empire Service gives passengers the chance to hop off in Hudson, a small town oozing with charm.

Warren Street is at the heart of all the action, with its quirky array of shopping and dining opportunities. Book and beer lovers shouldn't miss The Spotty Dog, a bookstore with a bar that serves up craft beer. And both coffee and motorcycle enthusiasts will be amused by Moto Coffee Machine, a cafe that doubles as a bike shop. Plant shops, record stores, and vintage clothing boutiques are also par for the course.

Straying away from Warren Street, a cruise on the town's namesake river is a must. There are several companies to choose from, offering sightseeing tours, lighthouse tours, and even themed experiences like a murder mystery dinner cruise. If you'd rather explore on foot, Henry Hudson Riverfront Park runs alongside the river and is the perfect place to admire the powerful waterway, take a breezy walk, or enjoy a picnic.

Greenville, South Carolina

The Eugenia Duke bridge over the Reedy River in picturesque downtown Greenville SC
The Eugenia Duke bridge over the Reedy River in picturesque downtown Greenville SC

Getty Images

With a downtown area that's consistently rated as one of the best in the U.S., Greenville is where Southern, small-town charm meets all the amenities of a big city. And it's only hours away from Atlanta on Amtrak's Crescent Route, which runs between New York and New Orleans.

Take a stroll down the tree-lined Main Street for a glimpse of what makes Greenville such a pedestrian-friendly place. The town also lives up to its name with plenty of relaxing green spaces like Falls Park on the Reedy, home of Greenville's most postcard-ready view over the stunning Reedy River Falls.

Meanwhile, appreciators of art and culture can keep busy at the Greenville County Museum of Art or the Peace Center performing arts theater. Science fanatics can also get their fill at the Roper Mountain Science Center, complete with an arboretum, planetarium, and more. When you've worked up an appetite, Greenville's growing culinary scene — with 110 restaurants in downtown alone — won't disappoint. For a taste of all the top highlights, sign up for a tour with Foothill Foodie Tours.

Paso Robles, California

Amtrak's Coast Starlight offers passengers the chance to go on a grand West Coast adventure with daily departures traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle and vice versa. Running through mountains, forests, and along the Pacific Coast for over 300 miles, the train stops in Paso Robles, where travelers can hop off for a taste of California wine country.

Follow the Downtown Paso Winery Trail with potential stops at more than 20 tasting rooms. The walkable experience is a great way to sample vintages from several local wineries, and once you've chosen your favorite, you can visit the vineyards themselves — most are only minutes away from downtown.

But there's more to Paso Robles than just wine. Explore the rolling hills on horseback, hop in a hot air balloon for stunning aerial views, wander through the local zoo, or spend the afternoon soaking in a natural hot spring. If the timing is right (especially in the summer), you can also catch a concert at the Vina Robles Amphitheater.

Whitefish, Montana

Whitefish, Montana
Whitefish, Montana

Traveling daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak's Empire Builder route follows along much of the Lewis and Clark Trail. For an experience as adventurous as the pioneering explorers that came before them, passengers should stop in Whitefish, Montana.

Located less than 30 miles outside of Glacier National Park, Whitefish is the perfect spot for hiking, biking, and generally exploring the park's alpine meadows, idyllic lakes, and glacier-carved valleys. With a name like Whitefish, it should come as no surprise that this small town also offers prime fishing spots for novice and expert anglers alike. However, there are even more ways to get outside in the winter with fat tire biking tours, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, and more. For family-friendly fun, head to Whitefish Mountain Resort for the Alpine Slide and Aerial Adventure Park.

While the great outdoors is a big draw for visitors headed to Whitefish, the town's quaint Central Avenue and historic Railway District deserve some attention, too. Whether you're window shopping or opening up that wallet, take a scenic stroll through these areas and pop into the locally owned shops and art galleries.

Moab, Utah

Panoramic scene near Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah
Panoramic scene near Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah

Getty Images

Though Amtrak is the biggest player in the American rail scene, a newcomer stepped onto the stage in November 2021. Already well known for its Canadian routes, the Rocky Mountaineer made its U.S. debut with its Rockies to the Red Rocks itinerary traveling between Denver, Colorado and Moab, Utah — a small town that packs a mighty punch.

Moab may have a population only slightly above 5,000, but it welcomes over one million visitors every year. Many visitors use this town as a home base for exploring two of Utah's Mighty Five National Parks: Arches and Canyonland. Both parks, with their impressive rock formations, arches, and views, are located just minutes away from Moab.

Beyond those icons of Mother Nature, visitors can enjoy the dreamy, Southwestern landscapes in state parks like Dead Horse Point or on an adrenaline-pumping experience like the off-road jeep tour with Outlaw Jeep Adventures. The low light pollution of Moab also makes it the ideal destination for admiring the night sky, with the experts at Moab Astronomy Tours offering comprehensive stargazing experiences.

Bonus: The Rockies to the Red Rocks itinerary includes an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, another noteworthy small town that's home to the world's largest mineral hot springs pool. Amtrak's California Zephyr also makes a stop in Glenwood Springs.