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Top 10 Fall Train Rides in the United States

2 December 2020

As the summer sun cools down and the leafy green trees give way to reds and oranges and yellows, Fall officially arrives. And what better way to celebrate the return of the harvest season than with a rail escape through the blustery, beautiful fall foliage of North America. Choosing how to best view this annual flurry of colors can be so overwhelming and consuming that by the time you decide, the leaves may have already fallen from the trees, so we at Vacations By Rail have compiled our Top Ten Trains to see the Fall Foliage so you can stop wondering and start traveling.

New River Gorge, West Virginia

1. Amtrak's Adirondack

The opulent splendor of the northeast is on full display as Amtrak's Adirondack makes its way from New York City through Albany and onto Montreal. This scenic journey winds through wine country and the Hudson River Valley and, of course, the Adirondack Mountains. Nature puts on a show as the foliage dresses in crisp crimsons and awe-inspiring ambers. Watch the sun dance and dazzle on the surface of the western shore of Lake Champlain and take in the season while aboard this international rail experience.

Plus, for a short time, catch a ride on Amtrak's Great Dome Car. Built-in 1955 by the Budd Company for Great Northern Railway, Amtrak's Great Dome Car is a unique, limited time service that operates several times a week on the Adirondack between Sep 28-October 29, between Albany and Montreal. This unique experience, typically not offered on Viewliner trains east of Chicago, provides autumn landscapes and incredible wildlife, due to the panoramic views in the domed roof. Hawks, bald eagles, and more are on display as you make your way through the foliage and past Lake Champlain, the St Lawrence River, and the Adirondack mountains. This particular Fall service allows you to actually delve into the heart of autumn and encompasses you in scenery typically unseen while on the New England rails.

2. Tennessee Valley Railroad

If history and southern culture is more your speed, then the museum on wheels that is the Tennessee Valley Railroad may be right for you. This scenic railroad takes you through the pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel along original routes in Chattanooga. The Cherokee National Forest and Hiwassee River Gorge set the stage for your eventual ascent up the spiraling slopes of the mountain tops and your spectacular view of the Smoky Mountains. The autumn leaves gloss over the peaks and valleys revealing a truly memorable Fall Foliage excursion.

3. Conway Scenic Railroad

This heritage railway in New Hampshire inspires passengers with its Victorian station, vintage trains, and unbeatable views. Experience some of the most dramatic scenery the east coast has to offer as you pass through bluffs and ravines, babbling brooks, and across Frankenstein Trestle and Willey Brook Bridge. The foliage blazes as you make your way past billowing mountains and unforgettable panoramas.

Conway Scenic Railroad

4. Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express

Making its way from New York City to Rutland, Vermont, the Ethan Allen Express winds past quaint farms and villages of Vermont with inspiring backdrops of the Green Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. This rail journey travels through miles of wilderness that displays Fall colors on an unforgettable palate.

5. Mount Washington Cog Railway

The world's first mountain-climbing cog railway, and the only cog east of the Rocky Mountains, climbs up the steep incline of the tallest mountain in the Northeast, Mount Washington. This New Hampshire scenic railway winds along the White Mountains Trail, a designated National Scenic Byway, and travels through some of the most beautiful scenery in New England. Add to the natural splendor, the autumn leaves in the mountain valley, and you've got a once in a lifetime journey that is sure to take your breath away.

Mt Washinton Cog Railway Foliage Panorama

6. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

cenic is an understatement when it comes to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Train aficionados delight over the backdrop to this rail excursion as it glides through the Allegheny Mountains over an iron truss bridge and on to some of the most photogenic rail locales. Helmstetter's Curve provides a half-mile horseshoe arch that allows the caboose to view the locomotive as it passes fiery reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing leaves. This one is not to be missed by those who want a picture perfect Fall venture.

7. Amtrak’s California Zephyr

The Rocky Mountains are breathtaking at any time of the year, but during the Fall, the mountainous landscape erupts with color. This daily train from Chicago to San Francisco guides you through the Colorado Rockies in all their grandeur. Late-September until early-October cause the mountains to flush with hues across the rainbow, and there's no better way to view them than aboard the rails.

California Zephyr

8. Algoma Central Railroad

The Canadian wilderness comes alive as you make your way past shimmering lakes, babbling rivers, expansive canyons, and verdant forests in this scenic trip through Ontario. The Autumn Foliage Train travels down into the Agawa Canyon providing a stunning tour through nature that is set ablaze by the foliage bursting with colors. This path that follows the early fur traders and settlers will make you fully appreciate all that inspired the explorers to continue their quests.

9. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

Often regarded to as the most spectacular train ride in America, the Coast Starlight notoriously travels through so many different terrains that the trip from Los Angeles to Seattle tickles your senses. As the train passes through Oregon and the Pacific North West, the autumn season truly comes alive. The colors dance through the Willamette Valley and on to Portland. "Leaf lookers" delight while passing the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount Shasta draped in harvest hues. This rail weaves past National Parks and forests full of nature at its finest.

Coast Starlight

10. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Servicing the scenic route between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, this 100% coal-fired steam-operated railroad, travels a track that is one of the most beautiful, especially during the autumn season. Passengers revel in the seasonal colors as the train makes its way by the San Juan National Forest which glimmers with golden radiance. The Colorado Rockies become alive as the autumn season tints the mountains spectacularly. There is no better way to see the Fall in style.

Durango Silverton Railroad