All aboard for a trip down history lane! What is it about trains that call up nostalgia for days of yore? Hearing the conductor shout as the engine chugs slowly as it steams its way back into time? Watching the kids become wild western cowboys and robbers? Or is it the fantastic scenery – the deserted depots fading into the distance, glorious rivers and trees stretching as far as the eye can see, or feeling the cars climb up, up, up to the mountain tops? Whatever it is, families can have a full day of exploration and excitement while riding. Read on to discover our picks for the country’s most dazzling train rides.

1. Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Narrow is right! The rails are only 3 feet wide and climb an astonishing 3,000 feet through the mountains, making for a spectacular experience. Originally built to carry gold and silver down from the peaks, this historic train now delights in carrying passengers behind vintage steam locomotives with bright shiny colors. Relive the sights and sounds of yesteryear for a spectacular journey.


Photo courtesy of snowpeak via Creative Commons

Insider Tip: The Prospector Car is the only enclosed family-with-wee-ones-friendly car. Other options include the open-air gondola and the vintage coach, which provide sweeping views of the mountains.

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
479 Main Avenue
Durango, Co

Dates: Runs Year Round
Prices: Kids 12 & Under $51, Adults $85, Kids 3 & Under Free
Phone: 888-872-4607

2. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Want to hop on a killer ride through the Carolina Mountains? The Tuckasegee River Excursion,  traveling 32 miles round trip through old railroad towns and scenic meadows, is a family favorite. From over 125 species of trees to the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, riders can revel in some of the most beautiful natural scenery in America. The little ones will go wild on one of the various specialty excursions, including Peanuts™ The Easter Beagle Express, The Lone Ranger™, Railfest, Peanuts™ The Great Pumpkin Patch Express, and The Polar Express™.


Photo courtesy of Timothy Wildey via Creative Commons

Insider Tip: From June – Aug., kids 2-12 years ride FREE every Tuesday on the Tuckasegee River Excursion Open Air Standard Coach Seating with the purchase of one adult ticket! Booking  available by phone or online.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
226 Everett Street
Bryson City, Nc

Dates: Runs Year Round
Prices: Varied, check out their website
Phone: 800-872-4681

3. Thunder Mountain Line
Idaho’s only scenic mountain train will take travelers through the beauty of Boise National Forest and along the lush waters of the Payette River. Beginning in historic Horseshoe Bend, the train will make a 30 minute stop in Banks, just enough time to explore the gold mining exhibit, take pictures of the stage coach, and visit the the station house. The kiddos will get a kick out of hangin’ with the Lone Ranger, dodging a shootout on the Wild West Train, or having an easter egg hunt with the conductor on the Easter Bunny Rail.


Photo courtesy of Thunder Mountain Line via Facebook

Insider Tip: Forgot to bring a lunch? Go with a Conductor Box Lunch for $8.

Thunder Mountain Line
Mill Road
Horseshoe Bend, Id

Dates: March – December
Prices: Varied, call for quote
Phone: 208-331-1184

4. California Zephyr
This legendary train has been bringing folks to the Golden State from Chicago since 1949. Why not enjoy a small portion of this historical ride? Leave the bay behind and travel through the great California agricultural valley, up and down Donner Summit and into Truckee. This 6 hour trip has stellar cliffside views of the Sierras and will remind travelers of the thousands of “49er’s” who set out looking for gold in the foothills.


Photo courtesy of SP8254 via Creative Commons

Insider Tip: This ride is not a historical day trip but rather a real mode of transportation. Plan your Tahoe getaway around riding the rails!

California Zephyr
5885 Horton Street
Emeryville, Ca

Dates: Runs Year Round
Prices: Varied, check out their website
Phone: 800-872-7245

5. Grand Canyon Railway
All aboard the train to the Grand Canyon! From 65 miles out, this adventure trip takes travelers to the edge of the canyon and back. Ride along the Colorado Plateau, from the open desert to the pine mountains. This fun jaunt includes a visit from historical characters from the Wild Wild West — just perfect for those excitable kids wanting to be cowboys and girls. The Annual Pumpkin Patch ride is also great fun, and everyone is encouraged to wear costumes and brave the haunted rail car to select pumpkins from the patch only accessible by train.


Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway via Facebook

Insider Tip: The extremely popular Polar Express Ride is now taking reservations for the Nov – Dec 2013 rides. Call 888-848-3511 or go online to make a reservation today.

Grand Canyon Railway
233 North Grand Canyon Boulevard
Williams, Az

Dates: Runs Year Round
Prices: Varied, check out their website
Phone: 928-635-4253

6. Mount Washington Cog Railway
This funky train is a one-of-a-kind adventure! It carries passengers up a 3-mile-long trestle on the steepest railroad tracks in North America, to the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington. Once at the top, jaws will drop at the awesome panoramic view, spanning the mountains and valleys of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, north into Canada, and east to the Atlantic Ocean.


Photo courtesy of archer10 via Creative Commons

Insider Tip: Be on the lookout for the service house defying the laws of geometry along the steep grade!

Washington Cog Railway
3168 Base Station Road
Marshfield Station, Nh

Dates: April – December
Prices: Kids 12 & Under $39, Adults $64, buy online
Phone: 603-278-5404

7. Strasburg Railroad
As America’s oldest short-line railroad, Strasburg Railroad is full of authentic family fun. This gigantic coal-burning steam train, complete with an old-fashioned conductor, was built to carry people and freight over 175 years ago and now travels through the scenic Pennsylvania Dutch Countryside and the state’s large Amish areas. The Strasburg Railroad holds several exciting events throughout the year for the little ones, like Day Out With Thomas™ and the Great Train Robbery. 


Photo courtesy of TruffShuff via Creative Commons

Insider Tip: For your littlest passengers, try the Cranky Cars. The kids can take control of these mini hand-propelled cars and crank their way around a track.

Strasburg Railroad
301 Gap Road
Ronks, Pa

Dates: Closed January
Prices: Varied, check out their website to purchase tickets
Phone: 717-687-7522

Have you and your family had a historic and awesome train ride? Where?! Share your picks with us below!

–Gabrielle Cullen