Steam train rides are an excellent opportunity to experience living history and view some of the most impressive scenery in the USA. Thoughtfully restored heritage railways offer scenic train rides between mining towns in the Colorado Rockies, through the heart of the Connecticut River Valley, into the Great Smoky Mountains and deep into the ancient redwood forests of California. These journeys travel back in time, giving passengers a sense of what it was like to travel when these routes were first built.
1. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the USA's last remaining narrow-gauge rail lines, operating on tracks that are just 3-feet wide, navigating tight curves and steep inclines in the Colorado Rockies with ease. Its original coal-powered steam engines climb nearly 3,000 feet in elevation during its 45-mile course between Durango and Silverton. This scenic journey is made at a leisurely pace of 20 miles per hour, great for observing the passing scenery and taking the perfect photo.
2. Redwood Forest Steam Train
The Redwood Forest Steam Train weaves through lush redwood groves and deep forests, crosses wooden trestle bridges, switchback turns and clings to the mountainside as the course becomes steeper on the route to the top of Bear Mountain. This scenic train excursion is one of the best ways to see ancient redwood trees, some of which have graced California's coastline for more than 1,500 years, and to learn the history of the trains, which date between the 1880s and early 1900s, as well as fascinating tidbits and stories that highlight the region's past.
3. Essex Steam Train
The tracks the Essex Steam Train traverses were first laid 150 years ago. The route was nearly destroyed in 1968 when the rail line was abandoned as vehicular and air travel overshadowed the railway industry. Thankfully, a group of concerned volunteers stepped in to save this significant piece of Connecticut history and formed the Valley Railroad Company. Since then, the Essex Steam Train has continued to delight visitors and railroad enthusiasts with historic train rides that offer a timeless experience recalling the heyday of railroading in New England.
4. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - Colorado Rail Experience
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was founded in 1880 to extend the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which connected Colorado, New Mexico and Utah at its peak. This historic train ride starts on a relatively flat course, then enters into the foothills and mountains, crossing Ferguson Tressel and then inching along the ledge of Toltec Gorge, with sheer cliffs plunging 800 feet. It passes through several tunnels, including Mud Tunnel and Rock Tunnel, then follows the course of the Los Pinos River. Stunning views of the Colorado Rockies and rich railroad history are the hallmarks of this incredible steam train excursion.
5. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has long been outsiders' key to accessing the natural brilliance of the Great Smoky Mountains. It dates to the late 1880s, when it provided thousands of landlocked mountaineers a path to reach the outside world. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad treats passengers to glorious mountain views with scenic highlights like the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Nantahala Gorge and the 125 species of trees, ranging from umbrella magnolias to short-needle pines preserved by surrounding national parks.
These are the top 5 steam train rides in the USA, but we also have trips featuring unforgettable heritage rail excursions worldwide, including the Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland, Germany's Brocken Railroad, the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway in Switzerland and Australia's beloved Puffing Billy Railway. Explore all of our trips featuring steam train excursions in our Steam Train Tours collection.