The 8 Most Scenic Train Rides in America

We’ve gathered the best scenic train rides in the U.S., from the Great Smoky Mountains to Napa Valley. All are popular in the spring and fall but consider riding the rails during the holidays, when many railroads offer special themed rides the whole family will enjoy.

By: David Hollerith

Photo By: Steve Shaluta / WV Commerce

Photo By: Nicholas Bielemeier

Cass Scenic Railway, West Virginia

The origin of the Cass Scenic Railroad can be traced back to the bold, pioneering men and women of West Virginia who dedicated their lives to building a lumber empire. Originally built at the turn of the century, today the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park gives riders from far and wide the chance to experience the vast West Virginia wilds and ride on a steam-driven locomotive. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

Roll along on the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad to take a journey into the Ozarks and back in time to the nation’s Golden Age of travel. The railroad is one of the few commercial lines that still runs both freight and passenger cars, and it offers three popular excursions for passengers: Fort Smith to Winslow, Van Buren to Winslow, and Springdale to Van Buren. Photo by Dick Hovey courtesy of AM Railroad.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire

Beginning at Mount Washington’s western slope, The Mount Washington Cog Railway, also called "The Cog," climbs approximately 3,500 feet up to the highest summit in New England. It is history’s first mountain-climbing cog railway (so named for its added central rail and wheel) and the second steepest in the world. The railway runs both steam and biodiesel powered locomotives and takes a little less than three hours round trip to the summit, where the view spans the mountains and valleys of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean. Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Cog Railway.

Strasburg Rail Road, Pennsylvania

If you find yourself next to an Amish horse and buggy standing in front of a burgundy-red train station waiting for a steam locomotive, you are most likely waiting for a ride on America’s oldest shortline railroad. The Strasburg Rail Road steams deep into the Amish farmlands of Pennsylvania’s Dutch country, presenting riders with the opportunity to ride the rails and dine in America’s only wooden dining coach. Photo courtesy of Strasburg Rail Road.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina

Chugging across panoramic valleys, down bottomless gorges and into tunnels through the Appalachian Mountains, this premier scenic railroad is a one-of-a-kind experience. At the beautiful and remote corner of Western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad hauls 53 miles of track through two tunnels and over 25 different bridges. Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Durango & Silverton Railroad, Colorado

Construction for the Durango & Silverton line began in 1881. Originally intended to haul silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains, passengers soon realized the view was equally as precious. The passenger locomotive steam train has been in operation ever since, chugging from Durango, Colorado, along the Animas River up to the old mining town of Silverton. Photo courtesy of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Interested in a train ride through one of the most well known wine valleys in the country? How about adding a gourmet dinner plus a few bottles of Napa’s finest? The Napa Valley Wine Train is the only train on this list that offers passengers a movable feast and a riding experience that’s a bit more extravagant. Photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Mount Hood Railroad, Oregon

Departing from Hood River, Oregon, 60 miles east of Portland, the Mount Hood Railroad offers coach and first class seats and dining for a wide array of trips. In addition to incredible views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams, the railway also presents engaging on-board entertainment, from mystery dinner theaters and musical tributes to fictitious train robberies. Photo courtesy of Mount Hood Railroad.