5 most scenic train rides
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Plan your next vacation around one or more of these incredible rail excursions.
Though you may not immediately think of train travel when deciding where to spend your hard-earned vacation days, everyone from locomotive enthusiasts to adventure junkies should consider adding this mode of transportation to their next trip itinerary. After all, trains offer more than just a convenient way to get from point A to point B: They give you a front-row seat to viewing lush jungles, towering mountains and picturesque vineyards, among other stunning landscapes. To help you pick the perfect rail outing, U.S. News compiled a list of 15 train excursions known for their breathtaking panoramas. Read on to determine which scenic option is best for you.
If you want to visit multiple West Coast destinations by rail, consider booking a ride on Amtrak's Coast Starlight route. This 30- to 35-hour outing travels between Seattle and Los Angeles daily, passing through cities like Portland, Oregon, and Santa Barbara, California, among other charming locales. From the train's Sightseer Lounge Car, you can dine while enjoying views of the Cascade Range, Mount Shasta, the Pacific Ocean and more from panoramic windows. Plus, National Park Service volunteers lead two Trails & Rails talks about local protected areas during the journey. Exact one-way prices vary by travel dates, but standard coach seats start at $98 per person, while sleeper cabins with two to four convertible beds cost $351 to $1,405 per room.
History enthusiasts and film buffs will likely love exploring the Scottish Highlands on The Jacobite. This old-fashioned steam train departs from Fort William and makes an 84-mile, round-trip trek through Scotland's countryside. Noteworthy sights include Ben Nevis (Britain's highest mountain), Arisaig (a bayfront village that hosts an annual Highland Games competition) and the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct (which is featured in the "Harry Potter" movies). The train operates seasonally from mid-April to late September, with the ride lasting roughly six or seven hours. To reserve a standard seat on this iconic locomotive, expect to pay 37.75 pounds (approximately $50) per adult and 20.75 pounds (about $27.50) for each child 12 and younger.
For incredible scenery and unforgettable nature activities, hop on VIA Rail Canada's Winnipeg-Churchill train. This two-day, two-night outing starts in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and ends in the remote town of Churchill, where visitors can kayak with beluga whales during the warmer months and join a winter safari to look for polar bears in the cooler months. Travelers may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights while en route to Churchill. The more than 1,000-mile journey, which departs every Sunday and Tuesday, starts at 213 Canadian dollars (about $160) per person. Local excursions cost extra, but standard economy tickets include baggage service. Upgraded Sleeper Plus Class fares cover additional perks like complimentary meals in the dining car and access to a shower and a private cabin with a bed.
Visitors who want to have an unforgettable Grand Canyon getaway should consider riding the Grand Canyon Railway. Traveling between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon Railway passes through northern Arizona's section of the Colorado Plateau. The trip covers 65 miles and takes more than two hours to complete each way. While en route, travelers may spot wild animals like elk, bald eagles and mountain lions. Six cabin categories are available, including the standard Pullman Class (where tickets cost $32 to $67 per person, depending on age) and the upgraded Observation Dome (which boasts a raised dome with 360-degree views). Trains depart once or twice daily from each station.
Explore Sri Lanka's lush Hill Country via Sri Lanka Railways' Kandy to Ella train. As you traverse the colonial-era track, you'll discover dense vegetation and tea plantations, as well as the historic Nine Arch Bridge. Tickets for standard second- and third-class cars (which do not have air conditioning) are sold on a first-come, first-served basis at ticket offices for 125 to 230 rupees (or about $2 to $3) per person. Seats often fill up on this popular itinerary, so if you don't want to stand most or all of the six-hour ride, consider buying a guaranteed seat in the first-class cabin several months in advance. Travel agencies like 12Go and Visit Sri Lanka Tours sell tickets online for roughly $17 to $19 per person.