5. Mount Hood Scenic Railroad, Oregon
The Mount Hood Scenic Railroad offers two roundtrip excursions: the four-hour Parkdale Scenic Excursion Train, and the two-hour Odell Scenic Excursion Train. Pulled by diesel locomotives, the trains depart from Hood River, Oregon, and the tours include live narration as well as spectacular views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and the Hood River Valley’s fruit orchards. The Parkdale ride, offered throughout the year, travels 22 miles southeast and includes a one-hour layover in the historic fruit capital of Parkdale. Three types of seating are available: double-decker Dome Car Seating (with meal service on the upper level) and New Club Car Seating complete with a full-service restaurant and bar, live music, and dancing (if you can manage to balance yourself on a moving train).
4. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio
People don’t usually associate the words “Ohio” and “scenic railroad,” but the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is one of the oldest and longest scenic railroads in the country. The excursions, pulled by one of seven diesel-electric trains, depart from the Rockside Station in Independence and travel 51 miles south to the depot in Canton. The three-hour roundtrip tours travel along the historic Ohio & Erie Canal and through the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park with highlights that include the Cuyahoga River, the Pinery Narrows (white pine trees that line steep, 1,000-foot-wide narrows), and the Route 82 Bridge (a concrete bridge higher than the Statue of Liberty). The tours are offered Wednesdays to Sundays during the months of June through October but operate only on weekends during the remainder of the year. Best of all, passengers can disembark the train anywhere along the route in order to explore the national park or the historic cities of Akron and Canton.
3. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina
Departing from the historic depot in downtown Bryson City, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has offered rides on the former Murphy Branch line of the Western North Carolina Railroad since 1988. The two primary journeys include: the 44-mile roundtrip Nantahala Gorge Excursion (from March through December) and the 32-mile roundtrip Tuckasegee River Excursion (from January through October). The four-and-a-half hour Nantahala Gorge excursion travels along the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers and across Fontana Lake before entering the Nantahala Gorge. The four-hour Tuckasegee River excursion travels along the Tuckasegee River and past the location where a scene from the 1993 film The Fugitive was created. The trip culminates with an hour-and-a-half layover in the historic town of Dillsboro before returning to Bryson City. The popular open-air gondola includes outward-facing seats and for an additional memorable experience (and fee), passengers can also ride up front in the historic diesel locomotive.
2. Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire
Completed in 1869, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway, which is a train that is propelled by a series of toothed cog gears and rails that are approximately 4-feet wide. The fleet of coal-fired steam and modern bio-diesel locomotives pull passenger cars along a three-mile-long trestle with a maximum grade of 37 percent. The trip ends at the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington, which includes the Mount Washington Observatory Center and Museum in addition to the mile-high views of the White Mountains. The trips are offered from late April through early December with hourly departures during the summers. Each three-hour, roundtrip excursion departs from Bretton Woods and includes a one-hour stop at the summit. For those who prefer to climb the mountain on their own, one-way tickets are sold at the top.
1. Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado
Based in Durango at an elevation of 6,512 feet, this narrow-gauge railway (with rails only 3-feet wide) makes an elevation gain of approximately 3,000 feet before reaching its final destination of Silverton. The 45-mile journey travels along the same route that was used to transport silver and gold in the late 1800s. The steam locomotives are authentic 1920s coal-fired engines and guests can ride in several different classes of passenger cars as well as an open-air car for spectacular views of the 14,000-foot snowcapped peaks of the San Juan Mountains as well as the Animas River, which the railroad crosses a total of five times. The three-and-a-half hour trips depart once a day from May through October. Due to the usual winter conditions from late November through early May, the journey is shortened to 26 miles each way and ends at the Cascade Station. Passengers are urged to arrive one day early in order to acclimate to the rapid altitude change.