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Ten Best North American Train Journeys

19 January 2016

The arrival of the railway signalled a great shift in North American history. For centuries, pioneers and innovators had attempted to master the Wild West, to bend the nature of the New Frontier to man's will. Building the railway across such a great landmass is perhaps one of the most important and integral industrialisation processes in history; the arrival of trains on the rolling plains and sandy canyons of the US and Canada opened up the entire continent, making it possible to traverse in a matter of days rather than the months pioneers had spent dangerously tackling the wilderness by wagon train. Although its importance economically has waned somewhat, North American rail travel is still as epic an epic and enjoyable adventure, so here are ten of the journeys in North America that we believe are the best of the bunch.

Durango & Silverton Railroad, Colorado
Durango & Silverton Railroad

Stretching 45 miles across the expanse of Colorado, the Durango & Silverton line is stylized to resemble the Wild West era engines that would have once populated the route. The Silverton line has been in operation since 1881 and passes through some of the United States' most dramatic scenery, including the famous canyons of the Rio Grande, which can all be experienced from the comfort of the panoramic carriages.

The Rocky Mountaineer, Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mouintaneer

One of the continent's most spectacular rail journeys, The Rocky Mountaineer cuts a path through the snow-capped peaks of this famous titular mountain range. A regular winner of the "World's Leading Travel Experience by Train", the route has consistently been voted the best scenic journey in the world, passing between Vancouver and Alberta, with wonderful views of soaring mountains and unique wildlife.

Empire Builder, Chicago to Seattle

A fascinating long-haul journey between Chicago and Seattle, the Empire Builder is truly reflective of the colossus that is the United States and is one of the best ways to explore the American heartland. The route passes across the shimmering lakes of Minnesota, across rolling Bison country and through into the mountainous landscapes of Montana. Empire Builder is Amtrak's busiest long distance route and its popularity speaks volumes about the experience it provides.

The Adirondack, New York to Montreal

Passing through the eponymous mountain range, this popular route skirts along the beautiful shorelines of the Hudson River, linking metropolitan New York with the cultural hotbed of Canadian Montreal. The sights along this route are some of the best that North America has to offer, with views of shimmering lakes and regiments of pine trees all available as the train snakes through 380 miles of pure Alpine wilderness.

The Grand Canyon Railway, Arizona
Grand Canyon Railway

Explore one of the most famous natural landscapes in the world aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, traversing the desert of Arizona. This famous route marches on alongside the Grand Canyon, offering spine-tingling views of the rocky depths below.

California Zephyr, Chicago to Emeryville
The California Zephyr train

The California Zephyr runs through the iconic Utah Badlands, scenery made famous by the classic Hollywood Western. One of the longest routes on the continent at 2,438 miles, the Zephyr traverses the dusty red deserts of mid-America on its path from Chicago to Emeryville. The Zephyr also crosses the Colorado River Valley, the Sierra Nevada and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on its inspiring cross-country journey.

The Canadian, Vancouver to Toronto
The Canadian train

Any train boasting the name of the entire nation is likely to be an epic one. Ride from Vancouver to Toronto, on a near week long journey takes in some of the nation's most incredible scenery, from deciduous forests to looming mountains. The panoramic carriages provide stunning vistas of the passing scenery and a ride on The Canadian is a must for any looking for the ultimate rail experience.

Coast Starlight, Seattle to Los Angeles
The Coast Starlight train

Running along the West Coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight gifts any traveller some of the most breath-taking landscapes in the US as it crosses the everchanging expanse of the Pacific Northwest. The Amtrak train passes through famous locations like San Francisco and the glitzy Hollywood suburb on its journey to Los Angeles. 

Sunset Limited, New Orleans to Los Angeles

Historically one of the US' earliest transcontinental routes, the Sunset Limited is almost an encapsulation of the American Dream. Beginning in the vibrant atmosphere of New Orleans and running across the wide expanse of the United States to its finishing point in the glamorous West Coast paradise of Los Angeles, California - a true American rail roading. 

The Ocean, Montreal to Halifax

A shorter trip than some of the others on this list, The Ocean is an overnighter from Montreal to Halifax and is best explored in the early days of Winter, when a light dusting of snow covers the fantastic landscapes that make this route so popular with those seeking a more rugged and wild existence, with the possibility of bears, eagles and wolves to see on route.