Travel via rail might not be the fastest way to get to a destination. Still, the winter season is the perfect time to ride a train. Instead of using the railroad to get to your vacation location, why not make a winter train ride your actual vacation? Not only will you be able to travel between cities, but you'll also have an experience unlike any other. Whether you're traveling with the whole family or escaping on a romantic getaway for two, going on any of these scenic train rides will allow you to explore gorgeous winter wonderlands. But with so many options for train travel, it might be challenging to decide which one is what you're looking for. If that's the case, then check out our suggestions depending on what kind of vacation you're planning this season!
The Best Winter Train Rides
Best Train Ride for the Whole Family
Although you can find the Polar Express train rides all over the country, the one presented by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a genuinely magical experience made for the whole family. Based on the award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg, this steam train recreates the famous classic Christmas story about a child who heads to the "North Pole" to pick up Santa. Running from November 19, 2021, to January 2, 2022, this winter excursion is great to book if you only have time for a day trip in Colorado. You'll only need two hours for the entire experience, but you can expect to have a wonderful time with the kids! Although they recommend you layer up properly to prepare for the cold, the train service recommends you and your family also wear pajamas to get into that holiday spirit!
Best Alaskan Winter Train Ride
This Alaska railroad takes you on a 12-hour journey through the state's breathtaking backcountry that sits south of the Hurricane Gulch Bridge. Running only on the weekends from mid-September to mid-May, this Aurora Winter Train explores all the cities between Anchorage and Fairbanks, stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Healy, and Nenana. You'll also see the magnificent snow-capped mountains, including an up-close and personal view of Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. The train service also offers several great itinerary packages that cater to all kinds of preferred travel, letting you choose whether you want to spend anywhere between two to six days on the rail.
Most Beautiful Winter Train Ride
According to the Amtrak website, the Amtrak California Zephyr is considered one of the most beautiful train trips in North America. Running between Chicago to San Francisco, this train route takes you through the plains of Nebraska and Denver, across the Rocky Mountains into Salt Lake City, through the Sierra Nevadas, and into San Francisco. Along with the Rockies and Sierras, you'll witness some of America's most gorgeous landscapes covered in snow, including Utah's Red Rock Country, Moffat Tunnel, Colorado's Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons, Winter Park, Truckee River, Donner Lake, San Pablo Bay, and the Carquinez Strait. The train ride runs for 51 hours and 20 minutes, and you'll have plenty of accommodation options to choose from for your experience.
Best Winter Train Ride for Romantic Getaways
If you're planning a romantic getaway for this time of year, then consider the Cascade Canyon Winter Train, also offered by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This fantastic excursion can take you and one other on a breathtaking adventure through the San Juan National Forest, offering the most incredible views of the Animas River and the Rocky Mountains. During the 26-mile journey, you can cozy up in one of the heated train coaches while witnessing the snow-covered landscapes and mountain peaks. You'll stop for a romantic fire-side lunch and have plenty of photo opportunities to commemorate your special time there.
Best Winter Train to Visit a National Park
One of the ideal times to visit Grand Canyon National Park is actually during the winter. There are fewer people because of the weather, which means more occasional views littered with people. So if you're interested in beholding one of the seven natural wonders of the world beautifully adorned in white, then consider this six-day trip by Vacations by Rail. Starting in Chicago, you'll board Amtrak's Southwest Chief headed to Flagstaff, Arizona. Then, you'll board the historic Grand Canyon Railway heading to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. By booking this trip through Vacations by Rail, your vacation includes train rides, hotel accommodations, and meals.
Have you ever been on a breathtaking winter train ride in the US? Share your experience with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.