Though it is often not the most expeditious means of travel, train rides are as much about what you see along the way as where you're going. During the autumn months, rail passage offers the perfect opportunity to experience the best foliage across the country, leaving you with nothing to do but admire the view. Here are ten great trips that will take you past some of the most spectacular autumnal scenes in the U.S.
By Abbey Chase
Mount Washington Cog Railway
WHERE: New Hampshire
The world's first cog railway to summit a mountain, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is celebrating its 147th birthday this year and takes riders on a three-mile journey up the side of Mount Washington to the highest peak in the Northeast. Riding in the historic cars is always a great experience, but the time to go is during the fall. Take the three-hour round trip (including an hour to take in the panoramic views from the top of Mount Washington) and enjoy the stunning New England fall foliage en route. The cog will continue to run until the end of November, though times will become increasingly limited through October and November. Check the excursion schedule.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New Hampshire Travel Guide
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Traversing the San Juan National Forest, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers riders the perfect way to see the beauty of the Western wilderness any time of year. As you follow the Animas River, keep an eye out for the abandoned mining camps, old stagecoach roads, and many of Colorado's 14,000 peaks along the way. The D&SNG will be offering several special events during the fall, including wine and beer trips in September and October, a fall photographer's train on September 26 and 27, and even Polar Express-themed rides beginning in November.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Colorado Travel Guide
Napa Valley Wine Train
Combine some of the world's best wine with stunning scenery on a trip aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Lunch/dinner are prepared onboard by award-winning chef Kelly Macdonald, and a sunset journey during the fall harvest season can't be beat. Enjoy the stunning views of the Valley on the three-hour tour or opt for one of the special events during the fall, including Murder on the Wine Train Express and evening trips on nights with a full moon, as well as special Thanksgiving and Christmas events.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Travel Guide
Adirondack Scenic Railroad
WHERE: New York
Climb aboard one of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad's historic cars for a journey between Utica and Lake Placid in upstate New York. Scenic stops in Thendara, Saranac Lake, and other small towns along the way give riders a chance to explore the historic hamlets that line the route. In addition to the gorgeous scenery, passengers can enjoy various fall events on a beer & wine tasting train, family Halloween train, and Christmas train in late November.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's The Adirondacks and Thousand Islands Travel Guide
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
WHERE: North Carolina
Home to more than 125 varieties of trees, 1,000 kinds of flowering plants, and more than 300 different animal species, the western mountains in North Carolina are the ultimate place to see spectacular fall colors in full bloom. Found inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the rail company of the same name offers passengers the unique opportunity to experience one of the country's most beautiful national parks from inside a train car. After exploring the Smoky Mountains Trains Museum, hop aboard for one of the fall foliage train rides or check out one of food-themed journeys or the masquerade train on Halloween.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Guide
Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad and Museum
The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad and Museum offers rides on Saturdays and Sundays, taking passengers through groves of black cottonwood, dogwood, red alder, and vine maple trees, as well as past thick coniferous forests. The MRSR is the longest continuously running steam train in the Pacific Northwest and offers chartered rides in addition to its scheduled list of offerings. History buffs can also sign up for the Civil War Train, complete with a battle reenactment, on September 12.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Washington Travel Guide
Hocking Valley Scenic Railway
Since 1972, this Ohio-based non-profit railroad has transported its passengers along the winding Hocking River and through the rolling hills in the Southeastern corner of the state. Cars from the 1920s, '30s, '50s, and '70s whisk passengers past the picturesque wilderness between Nelsonville and Logan, all managed and operated entirely by volunteers. After Labor Day, the company operates two trains on weekends, with special fall foliage trains beginning in October and Santa Trains at the end of November.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Ohio Travel Guide
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
For fall sightseeing that takes you over land and water, book a trip with the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. Before boarding the Becky Thatcher for a cruise down the Connecticut River, you'll glide past rural New England towns and the tidal wetlands at Pratt Cove aboard a steam locomotive. As one of the most pristinely preserved natural areas in the country, the Connecticut River Valley is the ultimate destination to see the untainted fall colors.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Connecticut Travel Guide
Cape Cod Central Railroad
Though this narrow stretch of land is primarily known as a summer destination, the Cape is also a perfect place to spend a leisurely fall day enjoying the stunning scenery. Beginning in Hyannis, the Cape Cod Central Railroad takes guests through the Cape's woodlands, sand dunes, salt marshes, and cranberry bogs, as well as past the Cape Cod Canal. Riders can opt for a lunch, dinner, or Sunday “Yankee Clipper Brunch” train, or get into the holiday spirit with the Train to Christmas Town, embarking on a special holiday route beginning near the end of November.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Cape Cod Travel Guide
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
Trace historic trails through the Yukon aboard one of the WP&YR steam engines as you explore the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. Transporting passengers through the rural Alaskan landscape and into Canada, the rail company combines sublime scenery with fascinating history and a delicious meal along the way. You'll have to hurry if you want to see the Alaskan wilderness this fall; the last train of the season heads out on September 26, though you can be sure you'll see some spectacular autumn scenery before then in the northerly climate.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Travel Alaska Guide