10 scenic train rides that are perfect for US leaf peeping

Aug 17, 2021

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I’ll admit it: I’m basic when it comes to all things fall. From crisp air and crunchy leaves to football and Halloween, autumn is my favorite time of year. But, even if you’re someone who prefers summer weather and thinks pumpkin spice is, like, totally lame, it’s difficult not to appreciate the electric color display put on by the annual changing foliage.

I challenge you to find a cozier way to view the scenery of the season than snuggled up on a train with a hot beverage. So, in the spirit of hygge, here are 10 great train rides, right here in the United States, that are perfect for peeping leaves.

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In This Post

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway (Skagway, Alaska)

White Pass & Yukon Railway in Skagway, Alaska (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

These journeys depart from Skagway, a famous gold rush town spanning nearly 3,000 feet in elevation that cruise ship passengers often frequent, depending on the ride chosen. They’re a great way to catch stunning autumn hues, but you’ll have to plan your trip toward the end of the regular travel season.

There are several options, including 2-hour, 28-mile excursions and ones that run for 40 miles to the Canadian border and back, lasting nearly 3 hours. Others cross over into Canada, meaning passports are needed. The more extended options traverse bridges and pass through tunnels, but all offer breathtaking views and photo opportunities.

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway (Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania)

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania (Photo courtesy of Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau)

Known as the “Switzerland of America,” the tiny town of Jim Thorpe is situated in the Lehigh Gorge and draws thousands of visitors each year for its annual Fall Foliage Festival. Along the Lehigh River, which cuts through the mountains, run the tracks home to the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway — tracks that date from the days when the area’s coal industry was booming.

Operated by the Reading & Northern Railroad, these narrated train rides last about 70 minutes and run from downtown Jim Thorpe to Lehigh Gorge State Park and back. Passengers choose open-air or enclosed vintage passenger cars pulled by diesel engines, which feature spectacular views of the local foliage.

Adirondack Railroad (Utica, New York)

The Adirondack Railroad in Utica, New York (Photo courtesy of the New York Department of Economic Development)

There’s no better place in New York to witness the splendor of fall than in the Adirondacks. An outdoor lover’s dream any time of year, the area particularly comes to life when the leaves begin to change.

The Adirondack Railroad offers unique fall foliage train rides from Utica to Thendara, which last 5 hours and runs through streams and forests. The train also has a cafe car for refreshments during the ride.

Related: 14 of the most scenic train rides on Earth

Napa Valley Wine Train (Napa, California)

The Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa, California (Photo by 3Dsmills/Getty Images)

As if leaf-peeping isn’t fun enough, you can make it even more of a good time by ogling the colors while you sip your favorite varietals on the Napa Valley Wine Train. During the 3-hour, 36-mile ride from Napa to St. Helena and back, you’ll pass more than 100 wineries, many of which supply the beverages you can order onboard.

Equipped with four kitchens, the train also focuses on fine dining for lunch and dinner (although we recommend lunch if you’re hoping to see the foliage), which make these rides perfect for date night or a girlfriends’ getaway — especially in the fall. Dressing up is highly encouraged if you’re going for dinner.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (Cumberland, Maryland)

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland, Maryland (Photo by VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Pulled by historic diesel engines, restored vintage passenger cars offer rides on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, which has no shortage of jaw-dropping views during the autumn months. Rides run from Cumberland to Frostburg and last about 4.5 hours (including a 90-minute layover in Frostburg, allowing time to explore shops and restaurants in the town).

There’s a unique fall foliage dining option for lunch, but if a standard train trip isn’t enough, there are several attractive themed options from which to choose. These include murder mystery dinners, family pizza dinners and “hands-on the throttle” experiences, where passengers drive. A variety of service class types is also available at varying price points. Choices are coach, open-air, dome (which offers the best views) and first-class lounge.

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (Chama, New Mexico, and Antonio, Colorado)

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico (Photo by Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This 64-mile stretch of rail that crosses the border between New Mexico and Colorado is home to some of the loveliest autumnal colors you’ll find anywhere in the U.S., thanks to thousands of aspen trees that serve as a backdrop for your trip as steam engines pull you along.

Cumbres & Toltec is the longest and highest narrow-gauge railroad in the country, and it has been carrying passengers through the Rocky Mountains for more than 140 years. Considered a National Historic Landmark, the railroad offers rides in one of three fare types: parlor, deluxe and coach, all of which include lunch.

Related: 6 epic train trips to take this summer

Essex Steam Train (Essex, Connecticut)

Essex Steam Train in Essex, Connecticut (Photo by Jody Dole via the Connecticut Office of Tourism/Facebook)

These trains, pulled by steam locomotives, afford a fabulous look at the trees’ changing colors during the fall months. Several ticket types are available, including a 1-hour train-only ride in coach and two 2.5-hour combos that include a train ride (in either coach or first class) and a riverboat ride.

Several themed train experiences are also available throughout the year, both on the train and riverboat. Check the train’s website for upcoming fall events. Some staples that run consistently include a dinner train and a hands-on experience where you can drive the train. We recommend going during the day if your goal is to enjoy looking at the leaves.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Blue Ridge, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee)

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, Georgia (Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Scenic Railway/Facebook)

As the second interstate option on this list, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway transports passengers through the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia, along the Toccoa River, on a 26-mile ride. The 4-hour journey begins in Blue Ridge — the antique capital of Georgia — and transports riders to the border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee, where they have a 2-hour layover to explore before catching the 1-hour ride back.

A trip on this railway is an opportunity to experience autumn in two states simultaneously, and customers have a choice between open-air or enclosed, climate-controlled cars.

Mount Hood Railroad (Hood River, Oregon)

Mt. Hood Railroad in Hood River, Oregon (Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Railroad/Facebook)

Century-old Mount Hood Railroad, found near Portland, Oregon, takes riders on a trip through the Columbia River Gorge at the base of Mt. Hood, making for incredible, colorful views that will leave you in awe, particularly as summer makes its exit and fall settles in.

This short-line railroad conducts 1-hour, 3-mile rides on weekends, visiting one of just five switchbacks that remain in America today.

Green Mountain Railroad (Chester, Vermont)

Green Mountain Railroad in Chester, Vermont (Photo courtesy of Green Mountain Railroad/Facebook)

The Green Mountain Railroad offers unique seasonal fall foliage train rides. There are two routes, both departing from Chester, Vermont. One lasts 1 hour and travels to Rockingham and back; the other is 2 hours long and visits Ludlow.

Passengers will pass covered bridges and catch glimpses of the Connecticut River as they listen to the narrated tour. Refreshments are available for purchase onboard.

Featured photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images.

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