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13 Fall Foliage Train Rides for Prime Leaf Peeping

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Take New Hampshire’s Conway Scenic Railroad through the Crawford Notch pass in the White Mountains this fall.

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Take New Hampshire’s Conway Scenic Railroad through the Crawford Notch pass in the White Mountains this fall.

This autumn, take in beautiful fall colors from the Adirondacks to the Alps on these scenic train trips in the United States and abroad.

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Peak fall foliage season will be here before you know it in the United States and beyond. Instead of going on the same drive you do every year, consider ditching the car to take in the changing scenery from the comfort of a train. Here are 13 of our favorite fall foliage train rides to try for a new perspective on leaf peeping.

Conway Scenic Railroad Mountaineer

On the Conway Scenic Railroad Mountaineer’s 1950s-era streamlined passenger cars, you’ll pass through some of New Hampshire’s most scenic landscapes, including the famed Crawford Notch pass of the White Mountains that lights up in a riot of red, yellow, and orange foliage from mid-September to mid-October every year. During that same time, the railroad extends its regular Crawford trip one station farther to Fabyan, making it a 5.5-hour round-trip journey. For about $40 more per ticket, you can reserve premium seats in upper dome cars to maximize your views.

The historic Mount Washington Cog Railway celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019.
Mount Washington Cog Railway

  • Route: Marshfield Base Station to Mount Washington Summit, New Hampshire
  • Book Now: thecog.com

Ride the rails to the top of Mount Washington on this three-hour round-trip excursion that’s been an attraction in New Hampshire’s White Mountains since 1869. The railway still operates two vintage steam locomotives, but it introduced seven biodiesel locomotives along the route in an effort to reduce emissions. Visit by mid-October to see the fall colors at their peak.

On Vacations by Rail’s nine-day New England in the Fall tour, you can pair a ride on the Mount Washington Cog Railway along with trips on the Conway Scenic Railroad and Amtrak’s Downeaster.

Can’t wait to get your fall foliage fix? Head to Alaska.
Alaska Railroad Denali Star Train

The foliage changes early in Alaska, peaking in late August and the first few weeks of September each year. Besides seeing a variety of red, orange, and yellow leaves through the dome car windows on this 12-hour ride that runs through September 12, 2021, you can also catch a view of Denali and the northern lights in Fairbanks if the weather is clear.

The vintage steam train takes you through the spectacular foliage of western North Carolina.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tuckasegee Steam Train

  • Route: Bryson City to Dillsboro, North Carolina
  • Book Now: gsmr.com

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The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad operates several excursions throughout the year. Its Tuckasegee River Excursion on a vintage steam train is the most scenic in the fall. On the four-hour round-trip journey, you’ll get to take in the river valley views from the train’s panoramic windows and have a chance to explore shops and restaurants in the small town of Dillsboro during a 90-minute layover. For peak fall foliage, book one of the steam train excursions that leave at 12 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between October 5 and 28, 2021.

Looking for something more than a day trip? The steam train is part of Vacations by Rail’s nine-day Smoky Mountain Rail Adventure that takes travelers from Nashville to Asheville with additional stops for rides on the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s Summerville Steam Special and the Incline Railway on Gatlinburg’s Lookout Mountain.

National parks aren’t just for hiking—you can enjoy them by train too.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

  • Route: Independence to Akron, Ohio
  • Book Now: cvsr.com

You can take this scenic train ride throughout the summer, but go in October to see the sugar maples and dogwood trees turn various shades of red, orange, and yellow on a two-hour round-trip ride through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Trains depart on Saturdays at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from the Rockside Station in Independence, Ohio, and on Sundays at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. from the Akron Northside Station. Seats in upper dome observation cars are available to book for just $10 more than a coach car ticket—go ahead and splurge.

Southern Colorado is known for its abundant aspen trees, which turn yellow each fall.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Through October 24, 2021, this narrow-gauge steam train makes daily excursions between two small towns located right on the Colorado–New Mexico border. The ticket price includes lunch at the midway point in Osier, Colorado, plus access to the open-air gondola car for better photo opps of the aspen trees that turn bright yellow in autumn.  

The Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad makes its way through the colorful Susquehanna River Valley.
Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad

  • Route: Milford to Cooperstown, New York
  • Book Now: lrhs.com

After an 18-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad returned to operation in August 2021. Its fall foliage excursions are scheduled for September 19, 25, 26, and October 2, 3, 10, and 11, 2021. The vintage train will depart at 1 p.m. on those dates for a two-hour round-trip ride through the Susquehanna River Valley that is lined with red, orange, and yellow trees. All rides begin and end at the Milford Depot, about a 15-minute drive south of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is an easy day trip from both Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

  • Route: Blue Ridge, Georgia, to Copperhill, Tennessee
  • Book Now: brscenic.com

Between September 23 and November 7, 2021, take in the season’s colors on this scenic four-hour round-trip excursion along the Toccoa River in the Chattahoochee National Forest. You can book tickets for a seat in an enclosed climate-controlled train car or enjoy the mild autumn weather from an open-air train car. Trains depart at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., depending on the day of the week.

Skip the plane and take the scenic route to Montreal this fall.
Amtrak Adirondack

  • Route: New York City to Montreal, Canada
  • Book Now: amtrak.com

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Typically, you can take the Amtrak Adirondack from New York’s Penn Station through the Hudson Valley and up into the train’s namesake Adirondack Mountains before traveling along the shores of Lake Champlain and arriving in Montreal 10 hours later. In 2021, the train isn’t crossing the border yet into Canada even though air travel reopened from the United States in August. That could change soon though. In mid-August, Amtrak spokesperson Jason Abrams told the Times Union newspaper, it is “working closely with Canadian officials” on a procedure for resuming the line.

The scenery around this Canadian railway is at its best in fall.
Agawa Canyon Tour Train

  • Route: Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon, Canada
  • Book Now: agawatrain.com

This scenic train takes you on a daylong journey from the lakeside city of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario 114 miles north to the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park, where you’ll have 90 minutes to go on a hike or stop for a picnic near the Agawa River. Unfortunately, peak fall foliage tours (September 25 and October 11, 2021) are operating at 50 percent capacity this year due to COVID-19 and are already sold out.

However, there is still availability for the October 2 and October 6 departures on Vacations by Rail’s 11-day Great Lakes and Trains tour, which includes an excursion on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.

Pretend you’re heading back to school at Hogwarts on this fall train ride in Scotland.
The Jacobite

Harry Potter fans will recognize this vintage steam locomotive as the real-life version of the Hogwarts Express that crossed over the Glennfinnan Viaduct in the films. You may not be on your way to Hogwarts, but you’ll certainly take in some magical scenery along the 84-mile train ride, which ends its 2021 season on October 29.

Fall may be shoulder season in Switzerland but it’s no less scenic this time of year.
Bernina Express

  • Route: Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy
  • Book Now: rhb.ch

The Rhaetian Railway through the Albula and Bernina Passes in the Alps was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008 for its outstanding architectural and civil engineering achievements, which include hundreds of viaducts and bridges through high mountain passes. The train runs year round, but fall is particularly beautiful in this region of Switzerland.

Cherry blossoms may come to mind when you think of Japan, but fall foliage is just as scenic.
Sagano Scenic Railway

  • Route: Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station, Japan
  • Book Now: sagano-kanko.co.jp

Japan might not be open to international visitors just yet, but you can always plan ahead for fall 2022. Only 15 minutes outside of Kyoto, you can catch the Sagano Scenic Railway from the Saga Torokko Station. It will take you on a 25-minute train ride through the Hozukyo Ravine, which is lined with Japanese maple trees that turn red and orange every autumn.

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This article originally appeared online in July 2018; it was updated on August 26, 2019, and again on August 30, 2021, to include current information.

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