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Scenic Train Rides

Scenic Train Rides

I’m not sure why on scenic train rides you can have a beer, but you can’t on a bus. In any case, this is one of the reasons to take a train ride. Another reason is that they go where the roads don’t, so you’ll see scenery you miss when driving. Trains don’t have to stop at traffic lights, and you can get up and walk around. Finally, trains are relaxing for all the reasons above AND the rythym of the rails.
Amtrak has scenic sections, and there are also numerous dinner trains operating around the United States now. However, the most scenic train rides are the classics. Below are a few to whet your appetite.

The Silverton-Durango Narrow Gage

I first caught this train far from any road. I was in the Weminuche Wilderness Area, next to a footbridge over the Animas river, where they stop if backpackers there flag them down. More recently, my wife and I took the train from Silverton to Durango. Wherever you catch this train, it will be an experience you won’t forget.
It is a classic steam locomotive that goes through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, along the Animas river. At times you’ll look out the window, over the edge, to the water hundreds of feet below. In Silverton you can eat good food, buy souvenirs, and see an old-west mining town that hasn’t much with time.

La Nariz Del Diablo

Train rides on this line, which goes from Riobamba to Alausi, Ecuador, are scenic and adventurous. On our recent trip, my wife stayed inside, but I rode on the roof for the first half of the ride. Despite the occasional rain, there were twenty other travelers up there. I highly recommend you pay the dollar to rent a pillow to sit on. Your final destination is a valley with a view of a rock formation high above, called “La Nariz Del

Diablo,” or “The Devil’s Nose.”

Be careful of tree branches if you’re on the roof, and be prepared for a five-hour ride. It starts in downtown Riobamba, in the highlands of the central Andes Mountains. You’ll travel through “cloud forests” and finally down to a much warmer climate. Interestingly, the train descends some streches of track caboose-first. There’s a lunch stop in one of the small mountain towns. When we took the train (May 2004), it was limited to 40 passengers, and tickets sold out quickly.

Agawa Canyon Railroad

One of the more scenic train rides in the north, starts and ends in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada, just over the border from Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. It’s an all-day trip that goes through a rocky and heavily-wooded wilderness, along the Agawa River, to Agawa Canyon. At the canyon, you can have a picnic in a beautiful meadow, or just relax and enjoy the scenery, before reboarding for the return trip.
Autumn, when the maples have all changed color, is the most beautiful time to take the train. It’s also the most difficult time to get tickets, so plan far ahead. The route is also run as the scenic “Snow Train,” in winter.

The Thunder Mountain Line

Thunder Mountain Line has scenic train rides that take several routes in Idaho, starting from Horseshoe Bend and Cascade. Depending on the route you choose, you’ll travel through dramatic narrow canyons, sagebrush-covered hills, mountain meadows, or pristine evergreen forests. The tracks follow the mountain trails settlers used a hundred years before. You may see deer, fox, elk, blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles. Rides vary from three to five hours, depending on the route.

Amtrak’s Scenic Train Rides

The California Zephyr, Amtrak’s train from Chicago to San Francisco, passes through the Rocky Mountains and the more beautiful (in my opinion) Sierra Nevadas. The Coast Starlight goes from Seattle to Los Angeles, with views of snow-covered mountains, thick forests, and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. Amtrak’s Auto Train is a unique scenic train ride that allows you to take your car with you from Lorton, Viginia, to Florida.