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US and Canada Rail Trips That Can’t Be Missed

Grand Canyon Railway

It’s true, traveling by rail might be slower than air travel. It may even seem a bit old fashioned to some. But when you take a train, the journey can be just as great as the destination. You don’t want to miss out on these top U.S. and Canada rail trips.

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Grand Canyon Railway

Experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau on the Grand Canyon Railway, a 64-mile U.S. rail trip between Williams, Ariz., and Grand Canyon Historic Village, on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

“I think the Grand Canyon Railway is a unique way to see a beautiful part of our country,” said AAA travel advisor Marc Carlson. “The rail is a relaxing way to travel between locations, you get to see the area while traveling and don’t have to drive or go through an airport.”

You won’t just see the Grand Canyon on this trip – you’ll be able to see prairies, pine forests and the high desert. The railway also offers entertainment to its riders, from live musicians to attendants who can tell you about the region and its history. Another entertainment offering is a little more unique – an old-fashioned train robbery by wild west bandits! All in all, it’s a full-day adventure that you’ll never forget.

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Rocky Mountaineer: First Passage to the West

You can see some of the most breathtaking views in the world on Rocky Mountaineer’s classic First Passage to the West route. Over the course of two days, this trip will take you from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Banff, Alberta through the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Sights include Fraser Valley, the Coast Mountains, the Cascade Mountains, Kicking Horse River, the legendary Spiral Tunnels and a crossing of the Continental Divide. You’ll have an overnight stay in Kamloops, British Columbia, a small city with great views, and you can enjoy breakfast and lunch on the train for both days of the trip.

The ever-changing landscape of dense forests, soaring mountains, glaciers, canyons and rushing rivers are sure to enchant you. The best part? All Rocky Mountaineer trains feature glass-domed coaches, so you’re completely immersed in the experience.

There are many iterations of the First Passage to the West trip. You could go westward, eastward or tack it onto a longer trip. However you choose to experience it, it’s an unforgettable Canada rail trip.

rockey mountaineer morant's curve
Rocky Mountaineer train traveling along the First Passage to the West Route in Morant’s Curve, Banff National Park. (Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer)

Rocky Mountaineer: Rainforest to Gold Rush

On Rocky Mountaineer’s Rainforest to Gold Rush route, you can experience all the (literal) highs and lows of the Canadian wilderness. This three-day Canada rail trip will take you from Vancouver to Whistler and Quesnel, British Colombia, and Jasper, Alberta.

Along the way, you can see Howe Sound, the Coast Mountains, Fraser Valley, Cheakamus Canyon, the Cariboo Mountains and the glacier-fed Seton Lake. You’ll cross the sky-high Deep Creek Bridge, explore the Canadian Rocky Mountains and climb Mount Robson – its highest peak. Overnight stays in the ski resort town of Whistler and Jasper National Park round out the trip.

Like First Passage to the West, there are several iterations on Rainforest to Gold Rush from which to choose, whether you’d like to keep it short and sweet or incorporate it into an 11-day vacation.

Amtrak: Coast Starlight

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight route takes you along the coast from Los Angeles, Calif., to Seattle, Wash.. The full trip is 35 hours, so if you’re planning to stay aboard, you’ll need a sleeper car.  

Take in gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean as you wind up the coastline of California. If you’ve ever wanted to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, this is even better. Overall, the route features around 350 miles of coastline. Then, suddenly, you’ll be plunged into the verdant forests and mountain ranges of Oregon and Washington. Head to the observation car to get an even better view.

Amtrak: Adirondack

Looking for something a little closer to home? Amtrak’s Adirondack route, which stretches from New York City to Montreal, Quebec, resumed regular service in April 2023.

On this 10-hour train ride, you’ll be treated to views of the Hudson River Valley, the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain. A great time to take this train is during fall foliage season, when you can leaf peep to your heart’s content.

With its final stop in the historic city of Montreal, it’s almost like a European vacation – without the hassle of air travel.

Amtrak: Empire Builder

Follow the path of Lewis and Clark on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route that stretches from Chicago, Ill., to either Portland, Ore., or Seattle, Wash. (the route varies). The full trip between Chicago and Seattle is 46 hours and can be taken eastward or westward. If you plan on staying on the train for the entire time, book a sleeping car.

On this seven-state route, you can see sights like Glacier National Park, the Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains and the Mississippi River. If you want to see the Columbia River Gorge as well, take a train that starts or ends in Portland. For panoramic views, head to the domed glass Sightseer Lounge on the second level.

Have you ever taken any trips by rail? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to start planning a train trip with a AAA travel advisor today. Remember, our travel advisor services are included with your membership (that means no extra charge!).

Featured image: Grand Canyon Railway, courtesy of Xantera Travel Collection.

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7 Thoughts on “US and Canada Rail Trips That Can’t Be Missed

  1. Other scenic train trips to consider are Amtrak’s “California Zephyr” between Denver and Glenwood Springs and the “Durango & Silverton” trains in Colorado. Both trains run through Colorado’s mountains and provide fantastic views. I took both recently and enjoyed both immensely.

  2. The California Zephyr is a terrific train trip through the Rocky Mountains. I boarded the train in Denver, CO and took it to Reno, NV making an two day stopover in Salt Lake City. The views from the Domed Sightseer Lounge are breath taking, on both sides of the car. Highly recommended!

  3. The Adirondack is a scenic trip. Unfortunately, service north of Saratoga Springs is currently suspended (July 2023) due to a dispute over track conditions between Amtrak and the Canadian National Railway. New York officials are lobbying to get service extended as far as Plattsburgh, but it’s uncertain when or if that might happen.

  4. I suggest consideration of the Northeast Corridor trains between NY and Providence RI – sit on the south side to get many good views of the sea and salt marshes. In Rhode Island the train passes thru the Great Swamp and skirts Greenwich Bay. This summer there is a free shuttle from the Providence train station to the ferry that goes down Narragansett Bay to Newport RI. If you live in the Northeast Corridor, consider giving this a try, and, as a bonus, Amtrak is already electrified so it is one of the cleanest ways to travel

  5. The Empire Builder is unforgettably beautiful! Went on that route after going from Boston to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited (also fantastic!) for our first cross-country train trip! Not to be missed are the Crescent (New York to New Orleans) and the Texas Eagle (Chicago to San Antonio) which we were fortunate enough to have experienced!

  6. I traveled from south station Boston to east glacier. It was my fist time on a long train trip . And I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, next time I’d probably book a sleeper!

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