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Best Scenic Train Rides Along National Rivers

Train rides are truly one of the best and most relaxing ways to see the beauty of an area or state in an easy, fun and efficient way. Whether you’re traveling or hopping on a train for a recreational ride, here are some of the best scenic train rides along rivers around the United States.

Charming Galena Experiences
Best For Up Close Mountain Views
A great option for a scenic ride along the river is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which offers several scenic train rides that run alongside and near the Animas River in Colorado. Originating as a railway for hauling silver and gold ore in the 1880s, a passenger locomotive steam trail was quickly put into operation due to the spectacular views going up and down the track. You can choose from the Scenic Round Trip Silverton Train, Cascade Canyon Express, and the Cascade Canyon Winter Train to find the perfect ride and then sit back and relax in the comfort of your seat as you take in the unparalleled scenery. Popular attractions to look out for include the Saun Juan Mountain vistas, the San Juan National Forest, and the rushing Animas River, which show off some of the best views of Colorado in the state.
Durango & Silverton Trip Tips
Season: All Year Round, Best Additional Package: Historic Silverton Mining Tour, Most Popular Scenic Attraction: San Juan Mountains, Nearby Cities: Durango, Silverton
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Best For Train Ride Excursions
Offering two scenic train trips through North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers unbeatable views of the mountains, gorges, and rivers near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and North Carolina’s green, rolling hills. You can choose between the Nantahala Gorge Excursion or the Tuckasegee River Excursion to see some of America’s greatest wilderness scenes. The 44-mile, four and a half hour long round trip Nantahala trip moves alongside the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers, over Fontana Lake, and through the stunning Nantahala Gorge. The 32-mile Tuckasegee River trip will take you through the Smoky’s green valleys before stopping in the historic town of Dillsboro for some exploring and shopping. To help choose your ride, you can look through the excursions for each train, including the Tarzan Train package, the Rail & Trail package, and the Rafting package.
Great Smoky Mountains Trip Tips
Season: All Year Round, Best Additional Package: Tarzan Train, Most Popular Scenic Attraction: Great Smoky Mountains, Nearby Cities: Bryson City, Dillsboro
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Scenic River Train Rides: Adirondack Scenic Railroad (New York)

Best For Viewing Picturesque Towns
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad will take you through the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York along the Hudson River Valley and Lake Champlain. This scenic ride will showcase the beauty of the area, especially during the fall when the Hudson River Valley’s fall foliage is on full display. You’ll also get to see quaint, picturesque little towns along the way, such as Saratoga Springs, historic Ticonderoga, and Poughkeepsie. Bannerman’s Castle ruins and the Adirondack Mountains are the two main scenic attractions, but the entire ride will be filled with beautiful scenery of Upstate New York. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad has many different packages to choose from, so you can also choose the ride that best fits your traveling schedule and interests.
Adirondack Trip Tips
Season: Summer and Fall, Best Additional Package: Utica to Thendara/Old Forge (Round-Trip with Layover), Most Popular Scenic Attraction: Adirondack Mountains, Nearby Cities: New York City, Ticonderoga, Saratoga Springs
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Photo by Amtrak

Scenic River Train Rides: Amtrak California Zephyr

Best For Travel With A View
Travelers from Chicago to San Francisco Bay and all the stops in between can enjoy this amazing scenic ride through the heart of America, whether they’re traveling for business or pleasure. The Amtrak California Zephyr has long carried passengers on the 51 hour journey through the Continental Divide and across the United States, its first inaugural run occurring in 1949. Starting out in Chicago, Illinois, you can choose how far you’d like to go until the final stop in San Francisco with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, the California Zephyr will take you through the Rocky Mountains near Denver, the Sierra Nevadas, along the Colorado River, by Utah’s majestic red rocks, and much more beautiful countryside. The ride is a perfect way to see a large amount of the country in a few days, while still getting to where you’re going. Also, the accommodations are hard to match with a dining car, lounge/cafe car, and sleeping car, with bedroom suites that can accommodate up to six.
California Zephyr Tips
Season: All Year Round, Best Additional Package: Superliner Family Bedroom, Most Popular Scenic Attraction: The Rocky Mountains, Nearby Cities: Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco

Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.

Maeve Miller

Writer, River Travel Magazine