The Most Beautiful US Train Journeys
All aboard for stunning scenery and luxurious comfort on the very best US train journeys.
Flying is quick. Cars are convenient. But you know what the absolute best mode of transport is? The humble train. While America doesn’t have the world-famous train network that Europe does, and the geographical logistics of traversing such an enormous country by train can mean that journeys are very long, it’s an undeniable truth that the building of the railroad once brought this country together. A journey by rail is undoubtedly one of the best ways to truly get to know this vast, varied collection of states. And of course, Plum Guide has the most luxurious, convenient places to stay wherever you’re starting out or heading to. Here’s our pick of the best US train journeys.
Amtrak's Coast Starlight
This is Amtrak’s most popular long-distance route, and is regarded as one of the most beautiful US train journeys out there. More than 455,000 passengers a year flock to experience the stunning scenery of this 36 hour route. While on the Coast Starlight journey from Seattle to LA, you’ll take in waterfalls, the snowy Cascade Mountains, lush green forests and even Puget Sound.
We have a couple of insider tips to make sure you get the most out of your US train journey. Firstly, make sure to book a seat on the west side of the train, as this is the side closest to the ocean and the lucky passengers travelling on this side of the train are blessed with views of the Pacific that you can’t get anywhere else, even from the highway. Secondly, we’re assuming that you’ll want to upgrade to a private room, which means you’ll have beds, upgraded dining and access to the Pacific Parlour Car, which has domed windows perfect for watching the sea as well as nightly wine and cheese parties.
Amtrak's Southwest Chief
While this route also ends in Los Angeles, the journey couldn’t be more different. This route was once called ‘the train of the stars’ thanks to the celebrity passengers who frequented it in the 1930s on their way to make their fortunes in Hollywood (or to escape the pressure of fame back in Chicago). If you’re more of a train nerd than a celeb gossip junkie (no judgement from us either way, our interests are many and varied) you’ll be fascinated to discover that the Southwest Chief US train journey was America’s first all-Pullman sleeping car train. How’s that for a fact to impress your travelling companions with over supper in the dining car?
We recommend that you upgrade to a sleeping car, where you’ll spend hours gazing happily out of the window as you trundle on a 40 hour journey past some of the nation’s most iconic sights. The Grand Canyon, the Santa Fe trail, the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide and Sedona’s red cliffs will all flash before your eyes.
If you want to devote slightly fewer hours to your US train journey (the better for spending more time luxuriating in your gorgeous Plum Guide house), this route leaves New York in the morning and will have you deposited in Montreal in time for dinner. Winding its way through charming towns and the stunning Hudson River Valley, you’ll get house envy when you speed past the sweeping lawns of the mansions lining the river – until you arrive at your accommodation and see how amazing it is, that is.
We strongly recommend riding this train route in the latter half of the year, as the fall colours are spectacular and passengers will enjoy views of woods and vineyards glowing red, orange and yellow under the autumn sun. Other unmissable sights along this ten hour route include the Palisades, the Adirondack Mountains, the ruins of Bannerman Castle and the majestic riverfront stone battlements of West Point Academy.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr
If you’ve ever entertained an idle fantasy of being one of the American pioneers who forged a path to California to make their fortune, this US train journey is the one your heart has been searching for. At 51 hours, it’s not an insignificant time commitment, but the sights that you see make the long journey very much worth your while.
The route is the same as the first transcontinental railroad line which headed west to San Francisco, and the train tracks wend their way through the heart of Gold Rush country. You’ll see the ghosts of mining towns and old stagecoach stations which were stops on the original railroad. Tunnels through the Rocky Mountains carry you through the Continental Divide, and you’ll also speed past the Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River. But it’s the last sight which might be the most splendid of all: San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate bridge.
Amtrak’s Maple Leaf
With a name as romantic as Maple Leaf, this is one of the top US train journeys for the lovers. Lovers of beautiful scenery, that is. Starting in the popular tourist destination of Niagara Falls and ending in New York City, the journey takes 12 and a half hours, with every moment a delight for the eyes.
The train travels through the Hudson River Valley, New York’s wine country and the Finger Lake gorges before pulling into the heart of glittering Manhattan. How many other days can you start with a cruise on The Hornblower and end by going out for martini and oysters in midtown Manhattan?