Traveling by Train — a Different Way to Go

Train travel is on the rise and there are many reasons why.  Sarah Schlicter in her article “Top Ten Reasons to Travel by Train” lists practicalities like cost and eco-friendliness as well as emotional considerations like charm and scenery to feast the eyes on.  Although air travel is usually a time-saver, traveling by train can be more relaxing, a great way to socialize or even a chance to spend quality time with the family.

It’s also a great alternative to driving.  Avoid long, tiring hours on the highway (Are we there yet?), negotiating bad weather and drive-thru fast food on the run.  In some instances taking the train can also be cheaper, as revealed in “10 Amtrak Train Trips Cheaper than Driving” on Frommer’s website.

But I think the best reason to travel by train is the romance and sheer scenic possibilities.  What better way to travel comfortably and see the country.  Or if you can’t, or don’t want to, spend hours on a train, how about a short excursion on a historical steam train or narrow gauge track?

The Durango & Silverton follows a Colorado stream.

National Geographic Traveler’s article “Top 10 North American Train Trips” rates trips in the Eastern and Western U.S. and Canada and Mexico ranging from 3 1/2 hours to 51 hours.  One favorite jaunt is in Colorado on the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  I’ve done this one with my family and even my 3-year-old granddaughter had a blast.  You get the romance of traveling in a restored 1920′s steam locomotive and fantastic mountain scenery all in one 3 1/2 hour trip.  Another short trip on the list is the Anchorage to Seward, Alaska Coastal Classic, 4 1/2 hours one way.  Besides gorgeous vistas of glaciers, you’re likely to see wildlife like Beluga whales, bald eagles and moose.

Zephyr's lounge car

If you want to make a whole vacation out of the trip, think about booking a spot on the California Zephyr traveling between Emeryville, California and Chicago, considered to be one of the greatest rail trips ever.  In 51 hours, you’ll travel through the farmlands of Iowa and Nebraska, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Sierra Nevadas of Nevada and Utah for an unparalleled array of scenery.  Or take the Rocky Mountaineer through the pristine wilderness of the Candian Rockies between Vancouver and Calgary, travel time: 2 days.

Check out these books and DVDs for more information:

All Aboard: the Complete North American Train Travel Guide by Jim Loomis (917.3 LOO)

USA by Rail by John Pitt (917.3 PIT)

Riding the Rails: Tourist Guide to America’s Scenic Train Rides by William C. Herow (917.3 HER)

America’s Great Railway Stations by Roger Straus (385.3140 STR)

High Country Rails (385.0978 HIG) – a DVD of the Durango-Silverton trip

Tracks Ahead and Tracks Ahead: Great Train Journeys (385 TRA) – two DVD’s on various train trips

Next month: Great train trips in Europe

Donna Casey

I work in Circulation as a senior library associate. I love mysteries, traveling, gardens and libraries. My favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell and Harlan Coben, but I enjoy any well-plotted mystery.

  • Nate

    I have always wanted to take a vacation by train. Thanks for pointing out some of these different trips and destinations that are possible, Donna! Definitely something to consider!

  • thartman

    We went to California by train this summer and it was a lot of fun. It was great not to have to worry about driving and a lot cheaper than flying.