“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” —David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
When the early settlers, businessmen, and explorers of America traveled far, they traveled by train. Although they were on the trains for days, they would use the time to write, observe the country and meet fellow travelers. In reality, they would engage in the kinds of activities that one does to meet themselves.
Americans travel, that’s undeniable, but we often miss out on the real traveling of our country because we hop on a train in one place and hop off in another. Don’t listen to those that call middle America a bunch of “fly-over states” because they have probably never enjoyed the country from a cross country trip on America’s native son, the passenger train.
I wasn’t convinced until I took a train for the first time, going from Paris to Berlin during a “year off” between high school and college. Nothing beat watching the scenery pass by with my travel soundtrack in my ear, a good book, and a drink. And that wasn’t even aboard one of the incredible vintage trains we found all over the United States.
The great part is you don’t even have to travel far for a memorable American railroad experience. We chose these ten trips from around the country for their use of vintage rigs, the cool destinations and the stellar (and sometimes retro, a la Pullman Rail Journey) service.
10. Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad takes passengers on a refined journey from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a three foot narrow gauge heritage railroad running between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. It runs over 10,015 ft Cumbres Pass and through Toltec Gorge, from which it takes its name. Tickets start at $29 for a child’s half-day ticket and go up to $195 for an adult ticket for the Parlor Car in the high season.
9. Cape Cod Central Railroad
See the Cape the way the original railway men wanted you to, aboard The Cape Cod Central Railroad in Massachusetts. Chug past marshes, cranberry bogs (stunning in the fall), hills and coastal forests. It’s probably the only way to travel that is just as romantic when it’s raining as it is in the sun.
Plus, every year around Christmas—guess what—the Polar Express comes to whisk children away into their favorite holiday story. Tickets for this special event start at $29/$39 for kids and adults in Standard Class, to $59/$69 for Diamond Class.
8. The Mount Washington Cog Railway
The Mount Washington Cog Railway from Bretton Woods, NH is both history and adventure wrapped up in one. The 3-hour train ride takes you to the highest peak in the Northeast and the mountain-top community which includes the Sherman Adams Visitors Center, Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Museum, and 1853 Tip Top House.
You’ll notice a whole different weather and ecosystem this high up. Panoramic views of mountains and valleys are visible for New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont and even north into Canada. Don’t forget to take your photo at the summit marker!