All aboard for fall foliage trips by train
Leaf peeping is traditionally a windshield tourism activity, but lots of folks believe that a train ride is even better. Fortunately, you have lots of options.
Options aboard Amtrak
Amtrak’s top fall foliage trip is the New York-Montreal Adirondack, especially the segment between Albany and Montreal through the valley that separates the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. Amtrak usually puts its one East Coast full-length dome car on alternate trips north of Albany.
Other trips with good fall foliage viewing during at least part of the trip include the Chicago-Emeryville California Zephyr, between Denver and Salt Lake City; the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited, between Pittsburgh and Washington; the Chicago-New York Cardinal, between Cincinnati and Washington; the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express, between Albany and Rutland; the Boston-Chicago Lake Shore Limited, between Albany and Worcester; the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh; and the St Albans-Washington Vermonter, between St. Albans and Springfield.
Dozens of tourist train systems around the country run fall foliage trips, including both regular runs through wooded areas and special excursions. Some operate daily; most of those that run less frequently offer special fall foliage excursions.
Many include lunch or dinner dining car service. Many operate vintage steam engines on some or all trips.
Here are some options generally favored by the travel press:
—Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (brscenic.com), Blue Ridge, Georgia, operates through the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia and Tennessee. Short trips.
—Colebrookdale Railroad, in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, (colebrookdalerailroad.com) operates through the “secret valley” in Berks County. Short trips.
—Combres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (cumbrestoltec.com), crisscrosses the Colorado-New Mexico border with vintage steam equipment. All-day trips.
—Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (cvsr.org), Peninsula, Ohio, runs between Akron and Independence, Ohio, through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Short trips.
—Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (durangotrain.com), operates through the Rocky Mountains with steam locomotives and heritage equipment on the famous narrow-gauge route. All-day and short trips.
—Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad operates several mountain routes from terminals in Cass, Durbin, or Elkins West Virginia (mountainrailwv.com/#), using a mix of diesel and steam power. All-day and short trips.
—Essex Steam Train (essexsteamtrain.com), Essex, Connecticut, operates trips through the Connecticut River Valley, with optional riverboat in one direction. Short trips.
—Grand Canyon Railway (thetrain.com), Williams, Arizona, runs excursions from Williams (Amtrak connection) to the South Rim of Grand Canyon, through some nice aspen stands. All-day trips.
—Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (gsmr.com), Bryson City, North Carolina, operates diesel and steam excursions on 53 miles of track through one of the nation’s most scenic areas. All-day and short trips.
—Green Mountain Railroad (rails-vt.com), Burlington, Vermont, runs between Burlington and Rockingham through the Green Mountains. Short trips.
—Mount Hood Railroad (mthoodrr.com), Hood River, Oregon, operates diesel service along the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. Short trips.
—Mount Washington Cog Railway (thecog.com), Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, operates both steam and diesel trips on one of the country’s best-known tourist railways. Short trips.
—Napa Valley Wine Train (wine-train.com), Napa, California, operates wine, lunch, and dinner excursions on an old line that runs right up the center of California’s most famous wine region. Short trips.
—Reading Blue Mountain & Northern (rbmnrr.com), Reading, Pennsylvania, operates fall foliage excursions on two subsidiary lines: The Reading and Northern, from Pottsville to Jim Thorpe, with stream or diesel options, and the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway into the Lehigh Gorge State Park. All-day and short trips.
—Tennessee Central Railway Museum (tcry.org), Nashville, Tennessee, operates excursions with diesel and occasional steam power over an 84-mile stretch of track through the Tennessee mountains. All-day trip.
Package tours featuring fall foliage are also available, and most last for a week or more.
Vacations by Rail (vacationsbyrail.com) runs a handful of fall foliage excursions, mostly in New England and the Appalachians. These tours stop at leading tourist railroads but involve very little intercity rail travel.
Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com/us/holiday-destinations/north-america) runs three tour options featuring fall colors in New England. As with Vacations by Rail, most of the travel is by tour bus.
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