Rail travel and family vacations just seem to be made for each other.
Train travel offers an intimate, leisurely way to spend time bonding while enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery in the U.S. It’s a slower pace than flying, and offers more opportunity for everyone—driver included—to interact than driving. Often, the locations are remote and provide views that can’t be seen from any other mode of transportation.
No traffic, no security lines, and you can get up and walk around whenever you like.
Here are seven stunning train rides that will leave the whole family in awe.
Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Canon City, Colorado
Maybe you’ve seen the Royal Gorge from above, but nothing compares to the majesty of getting close to the action on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. The entire family will enjoy the slow-moving and winding ride through the canyons of the Royal Gorge. Choose from four departures daily, starting approximately every three hours. Though the view is the star of the show, there’s also great food—choose First Class dining or the laid-back 403 Grill. Start the train ride at your seat, enjoy a freshly prepared meal alongside local microbrews, wine, and cocktails for the adults, then step out onto the open-air car to check out the rock formations along the rushing river. It’s an awe-inspiring 360-degree view that President Teddy Roosevelt described as “the trip that bankrupts the English language.” royalgorgeroute.com
All aboard for a journey like no other. Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery Train provides views of waterfalls, mountains, and (of course) glaciers that are accessible only by train. It’s some of the best scenery in Alaska. You can do a day trip to one of the stops, or ride the full route with a turnaround in Grandview. Adventurous families might want to consider wild side trips: get off the train in Whittier for a wildlife and glacier cruise, or at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop to enjoy a guided rafting expedition. If you choose to stay on the train the entire route, you’ll find plenty of leg room, a chance to explore between the cars, and light bites at the onboard snack bar. alaskarailroad.com
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief
The Southwest Chief gives travelers a wide-ranging view of America. It carries passengers across the Midwest, into a corner of Colorado, through New Mexico and Arizona, and arrives in Los Angeles, California. Ride the entire 43-hour route from Chicago to Los Angeles (or start in L.A. and ride the other way) and watch as the scenery changes from Kansas flat lands to the red rocks of New Mexico, and on to the beauty of California. If you want to sleep in coach, there are reclining seats. Or reserve an Amtrak Bedroom with twice the space of a Roomette. If you’d like to break up the trip, suggested stops include Trinidad, where you can rent a car and drive the Highway of Legends to the Spanish Peaks Country of Colorado; Albuquerque or Santa Fe, New Mexico to indulge in New Mexican food, the arts, and indigenous heritage; or a side trip with a stop in Flagstaff to ride the Grand Canyon Railway. amtrak.com
Grand Canyon Railway
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular family destinations in the U.S., and there may be no more relaxing way to see it than on the Grand Canyon Railway? Not only will the family take in the grandeur of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, you’ll enjoy entertainment from western musicians and cowboys while riding in vintage rail cars. Travel from Williams to the Grand Canyon on the train, then if you want to immerse yourself in the canyon a while longer, book a hotel inside Grand Canyon National Park. Otherwise, you’ll depart from Williams in the morning and arrive at the South Rim a couple hours later. At the Historic Village, enjoy three hours to explore the historic buildings and the canyon, before heading back in the afternoon. thetrain.com
East Broad Top Railroad
Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania
Central Pennsylvania is known for its rolling hills, farmlands, forests, and mountains. The idyllic scenery makes for a relaxing ride—and especially lovely fall foliage tour—on the East Broad Top Railroad. You’ll feel as if you stepped back in time in just a short while, as the trip covers nine miles round-trip in just one hour. Stay inside the enclosed car, or venture out to the open-air passenger car for fresh air and vibrant scenery. Afterward, take a trolley ride from the Rockhill Trolley Museum, or a guided tour of the belt-driven machine shop and roundhouse where steam engines wait for restoration. eastbroadtop.com
Pike’s Peak Cog Railway
Manitou Springs, Colorado
Colorado is known for its stunning views and the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, does not disappoint. The round trip takes two hours and offers stunning vistas as you climb Pikes Peak. At the summit, you have a 360-degree perspective of the region. It’s an exhilarating experience the entire family will love. cograilway.com
This is the newest route for luxury train company Rocky Mountaineer—and their first standalone route in the U.S. The modern, plush SilverLeaf Service takes two days to journey from Moab, Utah to Denver, Colorado passing deserts, archways and hoodoos. The ride includes views of Mount Garfield and Ruby Canyon, and crosses the Continental Divide. The itinerary includes an overnight in the family-friendly Glenwood Springs, Colorado, with its hot springs and abundant outdoor recreation. The kids will love the daring adventures at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park—Alpine Coaster, anyone? rockymountaineer.com