There are a myriad of scenic byways across North America that take leaf-peepers on remarkable drives through foliage-filled forests and autumn-hued mountain ranges. But there’s one catch to those byways: while the passengers revel in fall’s natural beauty, the driver misses out. Enter, fall foliage train rides, an easy way for the whole family to see the awe-inspiring fall colors without navigating narrow roads or traffic clusters around popular viewpoints.
For the foliage lovers ready to travel the scenic wilderness by steam train, these are our favorite fall foliage train rides across the U.S. and Canada:
Conway Scenic Railroad
The Conway area of New Hampshire is arguably one of the best-known foliage spots in the U.S. So it only stands to reason that Conway Scenic Railroad, which winds through Crawford Notch and Mount Washington Valley offers some of the most spectacular autumnal views in the country. You have three picturesque options on the Conway Scenic Railroad; the ‘50s-esque Mountaineer train, Conway Valley Train, or Bartlett Excursion Train. The round-trip Bartlett ride—perfect for West Wing fans—is just shy of two hours, and runs from North Conway’s 1874 Victorian train station through the Saco River Valley to Bartlett on a 21-mile journey brimming with fall colors.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina
New England gets a lot of foliage hype—for good reason—but the southeastern part of the country has impressive fall colors in their own right. The Great Smoky Mountains, which extend across North Carolina and Tennessee, produce vivid colors across the tree-trimmed mountain crests. You can take a stream train along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in North Carolina; the Nantahala Gorge Excursion is a four-and-a-half hour ride that departs from Bryson City and treks 44 miles of foliage-filled terrain, over Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers and Fontana Lake, to the scenic gorge.
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Colorado and New Mexico
Departing from Antonito Depot in Colorado, the trains on Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad trek the gold-trimmed Rocky Mountains in the fall. The 64-mile round-trip excursion glides along the Colorado-New Mexico border exposing guests to varied scenery, from high desert to mountain passages. This Rocky Mountain railroad dates back to 1880, celebrating the magnificent scenery and partnership between New Mexico and Colorado. Take this historic steam train, which typically starts running toward the end of September, for a hearty dose of fall in the American West.
Green Mountain Railroad
On this scenic Vermont railroad, New England visitors can embark from Chester or Burlington for an exceptional ride through quintessential northeast foliage. Ride from Chester to Rutland or Rockingham on the Green Mountain Railroad—we’d recommend setting your sights on Rockingham in the fall for prime leaf-peeping—or take the Champlain Valley Dinner Train where you’ll enjoy a three-course meal on your way from Burlington to Middlebury. While the three-hour dinner train is a lovely experience, the Wine Tasting Train is a nice alternative so you can enjoy the foliage views in broad daylight—along with vino from Shelburne Vineyard and a four-course brunch.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad
The central New York foliage is not to be overlooked, particularly in the Adirondacks, whose peaks are trimmed with autumnal hues all through October. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad is run by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society and aims to “preserve and restore rail service between the High Peaks region” while sharing it with visitors hailing from all corners of the globe. Rides through the Adirondacks depart from Utica, Thendara, or Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid Stations. In the fall, Thendara Station trains offer a Pumpkin Ride to Wally’s pumpkin patch, and the round-trip Thendara to Otter Lake journey is a perfect leaf-peeping journey in October.
The Rocky Mountaineer
The Canadian Rockies are just as foliage-filled as the American mountain ranges, though admittedly, the foliage reaches its peak early in the season. The Rocky Mountaineer’s famed First Passage to the West route brings passengers from Vancouver to Kamloops to Banff and Lake Louise. Late September and early October see the Canadian foliage transform Banff into a golden-colored national park. The two-day trip runs in both directions—you can also take the Rocky Mountaineer from Banff and Lake Louise back to Vancouver.
Mount Hood Railroad
Oregon’s lush greenery crowds around the majestic Mount Hood, making this area delightful to visit in the fall. Mount Hood Railroad takes visitors from Portland through the Hood River Valley, offering breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountain. The railroad’s Hood River Valley Excursion runs through the fall—typically until late October, and the route follows the Hood River’s lower main fork across the valley floor. Enjoy the views of orchards in full autumn swing and the Columbia River Gorge from the train’s vista dome car.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Traverse Appalachian country to see the best of southern foliage in Georgia. Northern Georgia, known of course for the Blue Ridge Mountains nestled within the large Appalachian Mountain Range, hosts an array of vibrant fall colors that peak later in the season (mid-to-late October into November). On the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, guests embark from Blue Ridge on a 26-mile round-trip ride that takes four hours. Riders venture along the Toccoa River to the bordering towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee, where they’ll spend two hours exploring before heading back to Blue Ridge.