The car might be king in the USA, but travel by train and you can experience some of the most breathtaking journeys across the country. Here's our pick of some of the best contemporary and historic railway journeys to experience in the USA.
Celebrate the first Transcontinental Railroad, Utah
Head to Utah and you can take part in the state’s ‘Year of the Train’
, to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad. The railway linked the Pacific Coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing Eastern US railway, when two competing rail companies, met near Ogden in Utah on 10 May 1869 - with President of the Central Pacific line ceremonially driving the golden ‘Last Spike’ train at Promontory Summit.
Celebrations start with the Spike 150 Sesquicentennial Celebration Festival
, a weekend of music, performances, storytelling, historical re-enactments and train demonstrations at Promontory Summit. Throughout the rest of the year, there are more than 150 events, exhibitions and tours planned across northern Utah. Stop off at Salt Lake City and visit Ogden, home to buildings from the boom town era including the railway station. At Promontory Summit, 50 miles northwest of Ogden, are the Golden Spike National Historic Site where you'll find 15 mile stretch of the original Transcontinental Railroad and Chinese dugouts, commemorating the role of Chinese railroad workers.
Hit the USA’s highest railway, Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Colorado
The highest train in the USA, Pikes Peak Cog Railway
takes passengers on a three-hour journey up 2,000 feet in less than a mile to the summit of Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs. The dramatic trip snakes across creeks, canyons and dense spruce and pine trees up to an altitude of more than 14,000 ft, where you can see across the old mining towns and sometimes, the skyscrapers of downtown Denver. Unfortunately it's closed for refurbishment right now, plan your visit for when it reopens in 2021.
Go coast to coast
For a truly epic railway journey, take the California Zephyr
from San Francisco, California to Chicago, Illinois, a spectacular route that runs across the Rockies to Salt Lake City and onwards through the plains of Nebraska to the Windy City. On your way through Colorado, you'll pass through remote Gore Canyon which is otherwise only accessible by kayak, and skirt the Colorado River for the next 235 miles, one of the most scenic tracks in America. Alternatively, start at Sacramento and end at Omaha - the starting points for the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railways.
Travel between US historic icons
Over ten days you can travel by train
between Boston, NYC, Philadelphia and Washington and take in spectacular views of all of those cities. Hop off to explore historic sites where the USA that we know today was established, including Boston’s Freedom Trail, the Statue of Liberty in New York, the US Constitution in Philadelphia and the iconic monuments in Washington DC.
Take a scenic route on the Rio Grande Railroad
Feel the fresh mountain air and discover inaccessible historic spots over the Southern Rockies on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
. Three stunning routes leaving from La Veta, Alamosa and Fort Garland, run along the San Isabel National Forest and Colorado mountain ranges. Completed in 1878, the railroad put the town of Alamosa on the map and carried passengers and freight until 1950.
Go back in time on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Go fully Old West on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
, a route that was once taken by miners, cowboys and settlers through the scenic Animas Gorge and San Juan National Forest in Colorado. The 1880s-era coal-fired, steam powered train passes through remote canyons and areas of wilderness, with views of flower-filled meadows, 14,000 foot peaks and herds of mountain goats.
Do a New York loop
Want to tour some of the USA’s most colourful destinations? Get on board a 17-day tour with Railbookers and you can do a loop that starts and ends in New York. You’ll get a taste of the country’s diverse cities with a tour that includes colourful New Orleans, artsy San Francisco and the stunning city of Denver, with its mountainous setting.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina
You can explore the famous Smoky Mountains in style on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which played a major part of the story of the development of the region. On board this period steam train, you'll travel through remote spots in mountains of Western North Carolina, through gorges along the Nantahala and Tuckasegee rivers, valleys and tunnels carved out of majestic mountains. across valleys and through tunnels.
Follow Indiana Jones’ track on the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad
Film fans can channel their inner Indiana on the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad
, which dates back to the 1880s, and features in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as it passes through the south of Colorado and over the New Mexico border. Passengers travel by coal-fired steam engine on this scenic 64-mile day-trip across the Rockies through the narrow Toltec Gorge and Aspen forests.