There's something undeniably romantic about trains.
Traveling by train has always felt like an adventure into the unknown. Every minute feels new. Especially watching a sunrise slowly reveal a landscape that has transformed overnight.
Train travel gives your mind time to wander, beginning the moment you step into a station.
“There are no strangers on a train,” a New York Times piece observes. And they’re right. You meet retirees playing hearts, students with just a backpack, lifelong train enthusiasts, and budget travelers who barely leave the observation deck.
You find people who enjoy the journey more than their destination. I’d like to think I’m one of those people.
Sometimes I daydream about the trips I’ve taken while watching the train yard just past my office. And even though Nashville doesn’t have an Amtrak rail service, I often drift off to sleep to the sounds of the commercial cars blowing horns as they fly past the crossing in my neighborhood.
Lately, I've noticed Derek Low’s post, Across the USA by Train for Just $213, being shared by friends on Facebook. So, I thought it might be fun to revisit my North American list of bucket list train trips. Because, let’s face it, train travel is seriously underrated.
10 North American Bucket List Train Trips
The Grand Canyon Railway
Route: Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon, AZ (South Rim)
Duration: 8 hours, 15 minutes
Cost: $215.99 and up (includes Grand Canyon Railway Hotel room)
Riding the Grand Canyon Railway is like taking a step back in time. And since 1901, it's transported visitors into the heart of the majestic Grand Canyon. Enough said, right?
The Empire Builder
Route: Seattle, WA to Chicago, IL
Duration: 46 hours
Cost: $174 and up
A few years ago, I rode the Empire Builder from Pasco, WA to Minneapolis, MN. The highlights? The Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park. Here's a piece of advice: Don’t cheap out or procrastinate on booking a sleeper car! 46 hours is a long ride in coach.
The Coast Starlight
Route: Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA
Duration: 35 hours
Cost: $145 and up
Ever dreamt of traveling along the Pacific coast shoreline? The Coast Starlight links all of the West’s biggest cities through mountains, lush forests, and long stretches of ocean views.
The Rocky Mountaineer, First Passage To the West
Route: Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB
Cost: $1,733 CAD and up (includes hotel stay in Kamloops)
First Passage To the West travels through Canada’s Rocky Mountains, along Kicking Horse River, and past other historic landmarks. Note: This is the only high-end train on the list.
Route: Vancouver, BC to Toronto, ONT
Duration: 3 days, 10 hours
Cost: $443.10 CAD and up
I’ve always wanted to take The Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto. It may be the longest trip on my list, but what better way to really see Canada?
Route: Chihuahua, Mexico to Los Mochis, Mexico
Duration: 21.5 hours
Cost: $1,564 and up
One of Mexico’s few passenger railways, El Chepe connects its riders with the country’s ancient Raramuri culture. Passing through the Tarahumara Sierra, one of the main highlights is Copper Canyon. Did you know Divisadero’s Copper Canyon is four times larger than the Grand Canyon?
The Sunset Limited
Route: Los Angeles, CA to New Orleans, LA
Duration: 48 hours
Cost: $163 and up
What could be more peaceful than cruising through our country’s Southwestern desert? The Sunset Limited is Amtrak’s oldest continually operating train, dating back to 1894. The railroad offers a unique view of the Southwest and parts of the U.S. and Mexico border.
The Coastal Classic
Route: Steward, AK to Anchorage, AK
Duration: 4.5 hours
Cost: $92 and up
Winding through a stretch of Alaskan wilderness, The Coastal Classic is a local favorite. Where else can you see a string of massive glaciers?
The California Zephyr
Route: Denver, CO to San Francisco, CA
Duration: 33 hours
Cost: $138 and up
Arguably one of Amtrak’s most beautiful American routes, The California Zephyr climbs through both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. It also passes the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats.
The City of New Orleans
Route: Chicago, IL to New Orleans, LA
Duration: 19 hours
Cost: $127 and up
The City of New Orleans was my first long-distance train ride. And I loved everything about it — departing from Chicago at night, dawn in Memphis, and crawling through the Mississippi bayou before finally rolling into New Orleans. It’s a special trip. So special it even has a song about it!
Although the Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson’s covers of The City of New Orleans are best known, Steve Goodman wrote the original in 1971.
It’s hard to think of a more iconic opening chorus line than “Good morning, America, how are you?” Especially after ABC snagged the name of their morning show from it.
Readers: Are you a fan of train travel? What are your bucket list trips?