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Scenic Train Rides

It isn't clear to me why on scenic train rides you can have a beer, but you can't on a bus. In any case, this is just one of the reasons to take the train. Another one is that they go where the roads don't go, so you'll see scenery you'd miss if you were driving. They also don't have to stop at traffic lights. You can get up and walk around on a train. Finally, trains are very relaxing for all the reasons given and the rhythm of the rails.

Amtrak has its scenic sections, and you can get more information on their routes and fares at amtrak.com. There are also numerous dinner trains operating around the United States now. But the most scenic train rides are the classic ones, the ones that are not just moving restaurants or practical transportation. Below are a few to whet your appetite.

Royal Gorge Train Canon City Colorado
Royal Gorge Train Near Canon City, Colorado

The Most Scenic Train Rides

The Silverton-Durango Narrow Gage

You can catch this train in Durango, in Silverton, or as I did - in the middle of nowhere, far from any road. They stop in the Weminuche Wilderness Area, next to a footbridge over the Animas river, if there are any backpackers there to flag them down. Wherever you get on the train, it will be an experience you won't forget. You'll travel in a classic steam locomotive through the San Juan Mountains, along the Animas river. At times you'll be looking straight down the edge to the water, hundreds of feet below. In Silverton you can get good food, souvenirs, and get to see an old-west mining town that hasn't changed all that much with time. For more information, visit the official Silverton-Durango Train Homepage.

La Nariz Del Diablo

Train rides on this line from Riobamba to Alausi, Ecuador, are both scenic and adventurous. My wife stayed inside, but I rode on the roof for the first half of the ride, when we took this train. There were twenty other travelers up there with me, despite the occasional rain. For a dollar you can rent a pillow to sit on, which I highly recommend. The final destination is a valley where you get a view of a rock formation high above, called "La Nariz Del Diablo," or "The Devil's Nose."

Watch for tree branches if you are on the roof, and be prepared for a five-hour ride. You'll start in downtown Riobamba, in the highlands of the central Andes Mountains, then travel through "cloud forests" and finally down to a much warmer climate. Interestingly, the train descends some parts caboose-first. There is a stop in one of the small mountain towns for lunch. At the time we took the train (May 2004), it was limited to 40 passengers, and the tickets sold out quickly when they went on sale the day before.

Agawa Canyon Railroad

This is one of the more scenic train rides in the north. It starts and ends in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada, just over the border from Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. It is an all day trip that takes you through a rocky and heavily-wooded wilderness, along the Agawa River, to Agawa Canyon. Here you can get out and have a picnic in a beautiful meadow, or just relax and enjoy the scenery, before reboarding for the return trip.

Autumn is the most beautiful time of year to take the train, when the maples have all changed color. This is also the most difficult time to get tickets, so plan ahead - far ahead. They also run the route as the scenic "Snow Train," in winter. For more information, visit the website of the Agawa Train Tour.

The Thunder Mountain Line

The Thunder Mountain Line has scenic train rides along several routes in Idaho, starting both from Horseshoe Bend and Cascade. Depending on the route, you'll travel through narrow canyons, sagebrush-covered hills, mountain meadows, and pristine evergreen forests. The tracks follow the same scenic mountain trails as the settlers did a hundred years before. You are likely to see deer, fox, elk, blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles. Train rides vary from under three hours to five hours, depending on the route. For more information, visit the Thunder Mountain Line Website.

More Scenic Train Rides

There are more scenic train rides than we could cover on this page, but the ones above give you some idea of what's available. Other possibilities include the California Zephyr, Amtrak's train from Chicago to San Francisco, which passes through the beautiful Rocky Mountains and the more beautiful (in my opinion) Sierra Nevadas. The Coast Starlight travels from Seattle to Los Angeles, with views of snow-covered mountains, dense forests, and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. The Amtrak Auto Train is one of the more unique scenic train rides, allowing you to take your car with you from Lorton, Viginia, to Florida. In the future we'll have even more information on trains in other countries here.


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