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.
1. Conway Scenic Railroad Mountaineer
- Route: North Conway to Fabyan, New Hampshire
- Book now: conwayscenic.com
- Round-trip duration: 5.5 hours
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 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 $100 more per ticket, you can reserve premium seats in upper dome cars to maximize your views.
2. Mount Washington Cog Railway
- Route: Marshfield Base Station to Mount Washington Summit, New Hampshire
- Book now: thecog.com
- Round-trip duration: 3 hours
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 has 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.
3. Alaska Railroad Denali Star Train
- Route: Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska
- Book now: alaskarailroad.com
- Round-trip duration: 24 hours
AFAR associate editor Bailey Berg describes the beauty of seeing Alaska’s fall foliage by train: “the blue of the fast-moving Chulitna River, the red of the shrubs along its banks, the yellow of the lower-level birch trees, and the emerald of the deciduous trees higher up the embankment. And in all directions, sweeping views of the grayish-purple Alaska Range, each peak blanketed by termination dust.”
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 the 12-hour ride that runs from May through September, you can also catch a view of Denali and the northern lights in Fairbanks if the weather is clear.
4. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tuckasegee Steam Train
- Route: Bryson City to Dillsboro, North Carolina
- Book now: gsmr.com
- Round-trip duration: 4 hours
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 Saturdays and Sundays in October.
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 Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain.
5. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
- Route: Peninsula to Akron, Ohio
- Book now: cvsr.com
- Round-trip duration: 2 hours
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 2-hour round-trip ride through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Trains depart from Wednesday to Sunday at 11:10 a.m. and 1:40 p.m. from the Peninsula Depot Station in Peninsula, Ohio, and at 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. from the Akron Northside Station. Seats in upper dome observation cars are available to book for just $5 more than a first-class ticket—go ahead and splurge.
6. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
- Route: Antonito, Colorado, to Chama, New Mexico
- Book now: cumbrestoltec.com
- Round-trip duration: 8 hours
Through October 21, 2023, this narrow-gauge steam train makes excursions every day except Monday 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.
7. Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad
- Route: Milford to Cooperstown, New York
- Book now: lrhs.com
- Round-trip duration: Around 2 hours
The Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad’s fall foliage excursions are scheduled for October 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15, 2023. The vintage train will depart at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on those dates for a two-hour round-trip ride through the Susquehanna River Valley, filled 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.
8. Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
- Route: Blue Ridge, Georgia, to Copperhill, Tennessee
- Book now: brscenic.com
- Round-trip duration: 2 or 4 hours
Between September 21 and November 6, 2023, 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 daily at 3 p.m., except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Travelers can book either a two-hour or four-hour ride. While the former is a quick trip that focuses on downtown Blue Ridge, the four-hour trip includes visits to the small towns of McCaysville and Copperhill.
9. Amtrak Adirondack
- Route: New York City to Montreal, Canada
- Book now: amtrak.com
- Round-trip duration: About 20 hours
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 2023, the train resumed complete service for the first time since 2020 and departs from Penn Station at 8:41 a.m.
10. Agawa Canyon Tour Train
- Route: Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon, Canada
- Book now: agawatrain.com
- Round-trip duration: About 10 hours
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. You should hurry if you’re thinking of booking this trip—tickets for its peak season (September 15 to October 10, 2023) tend to sell out quickly.
11. The Jacobite
- Route: Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland
- Book now: westcoastrailways.co.uk
- Round-trip duration: About 4 hours
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. The train is offering a morning service until October 27, 2023, as well as an afternoon service that ends on September 29, 2023.
12. Bernina Express
- Route: Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy
- Book now: rhb.ch
- Round-trip duration: About 9 hours
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.
13. Sagano Scenic Railway
- Route: Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokko Station, Japan
- Book now: sagano-kanko.co.jp
- Round-trip duration: About 1 hour
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, before finishing at the Kameoka Torokko Station.
This article originally appeared online in 2018; it was most recently updated on August 11, 2023, to include current information.