Photo: Russ Heinl/Shutterstock

9 Luxury Train Rides in the US That Are Worth Splurging On

United States Train Travel
by Eben Diskin Jul 2, 2021

When you think of luxury train rides, you probably think of something along the lines of a epic train route outside of the US that makes stops at a number of ornate and beautiful train stations. That’s understandable, as many parts of the world have a much stronger rail tradition than in the US. While there’s some catching up to do when it comes to train efficiency and accessibility, you don’t have to go all the way to Europe for luxury train vacations. From traversing the wilds of Alaska aboard the Denali Star to exploring the rugged West on the Colorado & Southern Railroad, there’s no shortage of luxury train travel options in the USA — the train tour company Vacations by Rail has you covered. They might not be cheap, but these luxury train rides are worth the splurge.

Alaska the Greatland

Luxury train travel USA: Alaska The Greatland by Vacations by Rail

Photo: Alaska Railroad/Facebook

The nine-day Alaska the Greatland tour aboard the Denali Star and Glacier Discovery is one of the most remote US train trips you can take. It brings you from Fairbanks to the heart of Denali National Park, then through Kenai Fjords National Park, and all the way to Anchorage. Along the way you’ll see wildlife in Denali, experience small town life in Talkeetna, visit the Chena Indian Village, and even go dogsledding. There’s also a glacier cruise aboard a catamaran through some of the state’s most dramatic scenery, and a riverboat tour along the Chena and Tanana rivers. The Denali Star is undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, taking visitors along the Alaska Railroad through rugged forests and mountain ranges. That includes views of Mt. Denali — the tallest mountain in North America.

Price: Starts at $4,995/person

America’s Great National Parks

Luxury train travel USA: Amtrak's Empire Builder for the journey titled America’s Great National Parks

Photo: Amtrak

National parks are usually synonymous with road trips, but you don’t necessarily have to load up a car to visit some of the country’s most beautiful national parks. The 14-day America’s Great National Parks train journey brings you through five national parks, including Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. You’ll travel by on Amtrak’s Empire Builder and deluxe motorcoach. Along the way, you’ll experience the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road across the Continental Divide; see bison, moose, and elk in Grand Teton National Park; and take in the mesas and buttes along the Colorado River.

Price: Starts at $4,995/person

Autumn train ride in New England

Luxury train rides in he USA: The Conway Scenic Railroad

Photo: Conway Scenic Railroad/Facebook

This eight-day luxury train vacation through New England is one of the most classic US train trips you’ll find anywhere in the country. And it’s certainly better than any self-constructed leaf-peeping itinerary you might try to cobble together yourself. Starting in Boston, this luxury train ride takes guests on Cape Cod Central Railroad’s Dinner Train, Green Mountain Flyer Scenic Railroad, and Conway Scenic Railroad. Every leg of the trip will introduce guests to some of the most striking leafy hues they’ve ever seen. Lest you get bored of leaves, the journey also features a tour of Boston, a trip to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Price: Starts at $2,395/person

California Redwoods and Wineries

Luxury train travel USA: Roaring Camp Railroad’s Redwood Forest Steam Train

Photo: yhelfman/Shutterstock

California is known for its towering redwood trees and its wineries, and this train journey allows you to see both in the same trip. At eight days total, the trip takes place on three separate railways. First, you’ll hop aboard the Roaring Camp Railroad’s Redwood Forest Steam Train to immerse yourself in California’s famous redwood forests. Then you’ll head to Yosemite National Park and take in the dramatic scenery aboard the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. The final leg of the trip is likely the part you’ve been most looking forward to. The Napa Valley Wine Train will take you through the vineyards of Napa, Sonoma, and Healdsburg, and herein lies the true beauty of train travel: you don’t have to find a designated driver.

Price: Starts at $3,595/person

Smoky Mountain Rail Adventure

A nine-day adventure through the Great Smoky Mountains means traveling through some of the most historic, soulful, and vibrant cities in Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as exploring the mountainous landscape. You’ll start in Nashville before moving on to Chattanooga, Pigeon Forge, and then into the wilderness of Great Smoky Mountains National Park before stopping in Asheville where you’ll have the opportunity to visit the historic Biltmore Estate and explore the city’s art galleries, and distinctive architecture. Train rides on this trip include the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s Summerville Steam Special, the Incline Railway to Lookout Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tuckasegee Steam Train.

Price: Starts at $2,695/person

Grand Canyon and the Southwest

The Grand Canyon is often at the top of travelers’ must-see lists, but it’s not typically associated with rail travel. This 10-day train trip brings you through Grand Canyon National Park aboard the vintage railcars of the Grand Canyon Railway. Beginning in Chicago, you’ll board the Southwest Chief train to Flagstaff, Arizona, before staying two nights in Grand Canyon National Park where you’ll ride the Grand Canyon Railway. You’ll see five national parks in total during this luxury train vacation: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches. Your journey will conclude in Grand Junction, Colorado, and by the end, you’ll feel like you’ve thoroughly explored the Southwest’s most stunning geographical features.

Price: Starts at $3,395/person

The Colorado Rail Experience

Setting out to explore the West is a long-held tradition for Americans, but these days you don’t have to settle for a covered wagon to do it. The Colorado Rail Experience is an eight-day expedition through the Rocky Mountains aboard six (that’s right, six), railways: the Georgetown Loop Railroad, the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, the Royal Gorge Train, and the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway. As you plunge deep into the Old West, you’ll hear from experts onboard about the state’s mining and railway history. The trip, which leaves from Denver, also includes a visit to the Garden of the Gods and historic downtown Durango.

Price: Starts at $2,795 per person

Great Lakes and Trains

Luxury train travel USA: rail excursion on the Algoma Railway’s Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Photo: Russ Heinl/Shutterstock

Thoroughly exploring the Great Lakes can feel daunting to those not familiar with the area. The 11-day Great Lakes and Trains tour is not only designed to make the Great Lakes region more accessible to visitors, but also to expose you to everything the Great Lakes have to offer. That includes local cuisine, natural beauty, and a hearty dose of good old-fashioned Americana. This luxury train ride starts in Chicago aboard Amtrak’s Hiawatha, and brings travelers to Milwaukee, where they’ll board a motorcoach for scenic Sturgeon Bay. From there you’ll stop at the historic Mackinac Island — where you’ll stay at the stately and famous Grand Hotel — Traverse City, and Dearborn, passing through forests, beaches, farmlands, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along the way. This luxury train ride also includes a rail excursion on the Algoma Railway’s Agawa Canyon Tour Train in nearby Ontario, Canada, and a visit to the Steam Railroad Institute in Owosso.

Price: Starts at $3,695/person

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta by Rail

Luxury train travel USA: California Zephyr

Photo: Let Go Media/Shutterstock

The Southwest is a classic American road trip destination, but one of the best ways to experience the region is by train. This nine-day train journey through the Southwest starts in Chicago or San Francisco (or anywhere along the California Zephyr route), and brings you first to the otherworldly red rock landscapes of Moab, Utah. Then, you’ll head to Mesa Verde National Park, and follow the Animas River through the Rocky Mountains to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where you’ll be immersed in the history of the Southwest. The journey ends with a bang at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, an annual event where hundreds of hot air balloons are launched into the sky.

Price: Starts at $2,795/person

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