13 Best Scenic Railroads in The US (With Photos)

Many of the most beautiful places in the United States are unreachable by car, with a tough hike in one of the only options for accessing them.

But the good news for those of us who don’t want to miss out on the natural beauty of the heart of this country but want to do it from the comfort of a seat is that there is still one way to do so.

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That way is by scenic train ride, and there are plenty of scenic railroad options across the States.

This guide will highlight the 13 best scenic train rides in the US, which among them offer beautiful views of a wide variety of different terrains and landscapes from coast to coast.

So climb aboard and let’s have a look at the options and photos of some of the amazing scenery you’ll see along the way.

1) Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Train

Credit: Mark Kenton, Photographer

The Amtrak Southwest Chief Train embarks on a captivating journey between Chicago and Los Angeles, traversing the heart of the American Southwest. 

This historic route offers a window into the varied landscapes of the Midwest plains, the dramatic deserts of New Mexico, and the rugged mountains of Colorado and Arizona. 

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With its blend of natural beauty and cultural landmarks, the Southwest Chief provides an unforgettable rail experience.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Santa Fe Trail: Follow the historic trading route with views of vast plains and rolling hills.
  • Raton Pass: Spectacular mountain vistas at the Colorado-New Mexico border.
  • Painted Desert: Marvel at the striking colors and unique geological formations of this Arizona landscape.

2)  Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train

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The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a historic journey through the Colorado wilderness, connecting Durango to Silverton. 

This railroad is renowned for its steam-powered locomotives and tracks that carve through the San Juan Mountains, offering passengers a glimpse into the Wild West while surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery. 

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Its path along the Animas River through canyons and past old mining camps is truly a step back in time.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Animas River: The train runs alongside this river, providing stunning views of the water and surrounding wilderness.
  • San Juan Mountains: Majestic mountains offer a dramatic backdrop to this historic journey.
  • High Bridge: A thrilling crossing that showcases engineering marvels amidst natural beauty.

3)  Rocky Mountaineer’s Rockies to the Red Rocks Train

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Rocky Mountaineer’s Rockies to the Red Rocks route offers a luxurious rail experience through the heart of the American West, connecting Colorado and Utah. 

This journey features vast canyons, inspiring deserts, and towering rock formations, providing passengers with an unparalleled view of the region’s natural splendor. 

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The glass-domed cars ensure unobstructed views of the dramatic landscapes, making it an unforgettable adventure.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Byers Canyon: Dramatic views of the Colorado River winding through steep, rugged cliffs.
  • Glenwood Canyon: Spectacular scenery along the Colorado River, with its towering walls and verdant landscapes.
  • Moab: Gateway to the iconic red rock formations of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

4)  Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Train

Credit: Bryan Burton Photography

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, winding through North Carolina, offers a captivating journey through the lush landscapes of the Smoky Mountains. 

With routes that meander alongside rivers, through deep forests, and into historic tunnels, this railroad presents a unique perspective on the region’s natural beauty. 

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The journey is a perfect blend of adventure and tranquility, showcasing the serene wilderness and rich heritage of the Appalachians.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Nantahala Gorge: Spectacular river views surrounded by dense forest.
  • Fontana Lake: Stunning vistas of the lake with the Smoky Mountains in the background.
  • Trestle Crossing: Thrilling passage over a high trestle bridge, offering panoramic views of the landscape below.

5)  Alaska Railroad Denali Star Train

Credit: Pete Konefky Photography

The Denali Star Train, operated by the Alaska Railroad, offers an unforgettable journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks, with a pivotal stop at Denali National Park. 

This route is famed for its spectacular views of Alaska’s rugged interior, vast wilderness, and the awe-inspiring Denali itself. 

Credit: Rebecca Richardson, Photographer

Travelers can immerse themselves in the natural beauty and remote landscapes of the Alaskan wilderness.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Denali National Park: Majestic views of North America’s tallest peak.
  • Hurricane Gulch: Breathtaking bridge crossing over a deep gorge.
  • Broad Pass: Panoramic vistas of Alaska’s expansive tundra and wildlife.

6)  Amtrak’s Empire Builder Train

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Amtrak’s Empire Builder Train offers a breathtaking journey through the northern United States, connecting Chicago to Seattle or Portland. 

This route passes through diverse landscapes, including the majestic plains, the stunning Mississippi River, the untamed beauty of Glacier National Park, and the Cascade Mountains. 

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It’s a showcase of the vast, untouched wilderness and vibrant cities that define the American spirit.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Mississippi River: Scenic crossings with picturesque views of the river’s winding path.
  • Glacier National Park: Dramatic views of pristine forests, rugged mountains, and glacial lakes.
  • Columbia River Gorge: Awe-inspiring vistas of the gorge’s steep cliffs and the river below.

7)  Mount Washington Cog Railway Train

Credit: Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Mount Washington Cog Railway, a pioneering marvel in New Hampshire, offers an extraordinary journey to the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak. 

As the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, it presents unmatched vistas of the surrounding White Mountains and beyond. 

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This railway not only captivates with its engineering but also with the breathtaking landscapes it traverses, making it a must-visit for those seeking both historical insight and natural beauty.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Jacob’s Ladder: A steep, awe-inspiring trestle providing expansive views.
  • Mount Washington Summit: Panoramic vistas from the Northeast’s highest point, overlooking several states and Canada on clear days.
  • Great Gulf Wilderness: Majestic views of deep glacial cirques and rugged terrain.

8)  Cass Scenic Railroad Train

Instagram: @cassscenicrailroad

The Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia offers a nostalgic journey back in time, powered by historic steam locomotives. 

This remarkable trip takes passengers through the lush, densely forested landscapes of the Appalachian Mountains, showcasing the region’s natural beauty and rich logging history. 

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The railroad’s steep grades and sharp curves reveal breathtaking views and the enduring legacy of early 20th-century industry.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Bald Knob: The third highest point in West Virginia, offering panoramic views.
  • Whittaker Station: A recreated 1940s logging camp providing a glimpse into the past.
  • Greenbrier River: Scenic views along the river, highlighting the area’s stunning wilderness.

9)  Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Train

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The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, traversing northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, offers a journey through time aboard America’s highest and longest narrow gauge railway. 

This historic train winds through the breathtaking landscapes of the San Juan Mountains and the Chama Valley, featuring steep passes, deep gorges, and pristine wilderness. 

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The route’s dramatic scenery and engineering marvels make it a must-see for railway enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Cumbres Pass: The highest point on the railroad, offering spectacular mountain vistas.
  • Toltec Gorge: A deep canyon with stunning views of the river below and towering rock formations.
  • Chama Valley: Lush landscapes and the opportunity to see wildlife in their natural habitat.

10)  Grand Canyon Railway Train

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The Grand Canyon Railway offers a historic and scenic journey from the charming town of Williams, Arizona, to the awe-inspiring South Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

This iconic railroad provides a unique way to experience one of the world’s natural wonders, with vintage train cars that evoke the golden age of rail travel. 

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The route offers magnificent views and a comfortable, nostalgic ride through the stunning landscapes of the American Southwest.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Kaibab National Forest: Lush, expansive views of Ponderosa pine forests.
  • San Francisco Peaks: Distant views of Arizona’s highest mountain range.
  • Grand Canyon South Rim: Unparalleled vistas of the Grand Canyon’s vast, colorful expanse.

11)  Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic Train

Credit: Frank Keller Photography

The Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic Train is a jewel in the crown of American scenic railroads, offering an unparalleled journey from Anchorage to Seward. 

This route is particularly famous for its stunning vistas of Alaska’s untamed wilderness, including mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. 

Credit: Bruce Carswell, Photographer

A ride on this train offers a unique perspective on the Last Frontier’s natural beauty.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Turnagain Arm: Dramatic views of the waterway flanked by mountains.
  • Kenai Mountains: Towering peaks and pristine wilderness.
  • Spencer Glacier: Up-close views of a magnificent glacier and its surroundings.

12)  California Zephyr Train

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The California Zephyr is one of America’s most picturesque railroads, stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Emeryville, California. 

This iconic journey traverses the heart of the country, showcasing the diverse beauty of the United States over a 2,438-mile voyage. 

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Passengers are treated to breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, the vast plains, canyons, deserts and rivers.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Rocky Mountains: Experience majestic mountain vistas and alpine forests.
  • Colorado River: Follow the river’s course through canyons and valleys.
  • Sierra Nevada: Marvel at the dramatic mountain landscapes and lush scenery.

13)  Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Train

Credit: Amtrak

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight offers a mesmerizing journey from Seattle to Los Angeles, traversing the rugged Pacific Coast, lush forests, and the majestic Cascade Range. 

This route is celebrated for linking some of the West Coast’s most picturesque landscapes over its 1,377-mile track. 

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Passengers are afforded stunning views and unique perspectives on America’s natural beauty.

Scenic Highlights:

  • Pacific Ocean: Spectacular coastal vistas along California’s shoreline.
  • Mount Shasta: Awe-inspiring views of this towering, snow-capped volcano.
  • Columbia River Gorge: Breathtaking scenery along the border of Oregon and Washington.