Travel by train—one of the oldest forms of transport—has a charm and nostalgia that engages even the smallest of passengers. For your next adventure, take your brood on a family rail vacation; it’s an indelible way to give kids a chance to be a part of the world around them. You’ll be able to move about the train, dine in a special car, listen to the conductor and view different cities and country landscapes out of the window from the comfort of your seat. To help you make a plan, we rounded up our favorite train vacations and Amtrak routes for families. Keep reading to find out more. 

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Explore the Last Frontier in Alaska

Go on a wild vacation to usurp all others and visit Denali National Park, which sits on six million acres in Alaska. You’ll explore some of the most rugged landscapes, dotted with moose, bear, mountain goats, and other wildlife as you travel through the park. Located between Fairbanks and Anchorage, the interior of Alaska is home to North America’s tallest and most majestic peak, Denali, which rises to 20,310 feet. Your adventure includes a ride on the Alaska Railroad via the Denali Star Train, which stops in the charming town of Talkeetna where a cat is a mayor. Really!

Good to Know: The experts at Pursuit can craft an Alaska Collection trip for your family, creating an itinerary that includes a stay at Denali Backcountry Lodge where your family can go on guided hikes, pan for gold, and enjoy delicious meals.

Online: pursuitcollection.com

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Experience Ultimate Luxury 

Choose from three different unique rail adventures on a luxurious train trip with Rocky Mountaineer. The First Passage to the West travels from Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise, the Journey Through the Clouds goes from Vancouver to Jasper and the Rainforest to Gold Rush goes from Vancouver to Jasper. You can also select a Circle Journey, which combines two of the rail routes to extend the trip.

Your family will travel in style and have access to some of the most stunning views in the world out of large glass-domed windows. You’ll ride the rails through some of the most remote nature-filled areas, some of which are inaccessible to vehicular traffic. The food is incredible, the onboard stewards are knowledgeable and entertaining, and the overnight accommodations in Kamloops, Quesnel, or Whistler are top-notch. 

Good to Know: Spring for the GoldLeaf service to make the most of the adventure aboard. You’ll enjoy panoramic views out of the top-level glass-topped windows, can dine in a separate lower car, and kick back in a super comfortable seat as you watch the world go by. Step out on the outdoor viewing platform to feel the wind in your face and take unobstructed photographs. 

Online: rockymountaineer.com

photo: courtesy Vacation by Rail

Urban Adventure

Explore the urban sights of Canda’s biggest and best urban areas on a nine-day journey that'll take you from Niagra Falls to Ottowa and Montreal and then, after traveling along the St. Lawrence River, land you in Quebec City, the only walled city in North America. The train ride is done in comfort, via first-class accommodations, and you'll have plenty of time to explore each city.

Good to know: Meals are included in your plan, and on long-haul trains, games and crafts are available for the kids.

Online: vacationsbyrail.com/canada/maple-explorer

See America's Great National Parks

You've always wanted to see the Big 5 when it comes to National Parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Arches and Canyonlands), so why not travel by train to them all? Start your journey in either Seattle or Chicago, and make your way to Glacier National Park. You'll travel the famous Going-the-Sun-Road, explore Upper and Lower Falls in Yellowstone, float down the Snake River, and spend a night exploring Jackson Hole. After stopping at what was once part of the Oregon Trail, you'll make your way to Utah to see the Landscape Arch, before making your way home on the famed California Zephyr, through the stunning Rocky Mountains.

Good to Know: You’ll travel on Amtrak and spend the night for one night and then sleep 11 nights in hotels in a variety of accommodations.

Online: vacationbyrail.com/americasgreatnationalparks

Get To Know Your Canadian Neighbors

Originating in Chicago or the Northeast, travelers venture across the Canadian border into Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island on this nearly two-week-long exploit. Live out your inner twelve-year-old-self at the Anne of Green Gables house or baffle your kids when your car rolls uphill at Magnetic Hill in New Brunswick.

Good to Know:
In Halifax, you'll have an evening for individual exploration. Make a reservation ahead of the trip at Stories for a memorable seafood dinner. You won't be disappointed.

Online: americabyrail.com/novascotia

Guided Trip Thru Colorado

Summit as high as 14,000 feet above sea level during this eight-day tour of Colorado's finest jewels.  Travelers will explore Pike's Peak, the Garden of the Gods, and board the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway.

Good to Know:
Talk your daredevil wild child into Bungee jumping off one of the highest Bungee locations on earth at the Royal Gorge suspension bridge (Or, if you've had too much family time, arrange your own plunge.).

Online: vacationsbyrail.com/coloradorailadventure

photo: courtesy AMTRAK

Ride the Rails at America’s Northeast Corridor

Amtrak has 19 different train routes, covering the northeastern territory, that are ideal for families. Tour through the cities that shaped American history, romp through nature or experience art and culture in a newfangled way. Travel from Boston to Washington D.C. on the Acela line, from Montreal to New York on the Adirondack line, New York to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited line, Toronto to New York on the Maple Leaf line, or Boston to Virginia Beach on the Northeast Regional line. 

Good to Know: Passengers aged 2 to 12 receive a half-off discount when traveling with fare-paying adults—one discounted ticket per one full-price ticket. 

Online: amtrak.com/home

By Way of Desert to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Do you have secret dreams of sailing the world in a hot air balloon à la Around the World in 80 Days? Imagine arriving by train to the early morning image of nearly six hundred balloons magically lifting off into the sky. This guided trip tours desert highlights like Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Santa Fe before ending at the highlighted 47th annual International Balloon Festival in New Mexico.

Good to Know:
While exploring historic downtown Santa Fe, fill your belly with the mole enchiladas at Cafe Pasqual's during lunch.

Online: vacationsbyrail.com/albuquerqueballoonfestival

 

Blaze Your Own Trail

For families who want to wing it, the California Zephyr is a great way to blaze your own trail. Following a nearly identical path as the original Zephyr train, the San Francisco to Chicago route covers several states including Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Imagine chugging by Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and down through the deserts of Utah. Be thrilled by spectacular views in Gore Canyon, CO, a place with sheer drop-offs on either side—it's only accessible by rail or kayak. You'll pass by the hometown of Western hero Wyatt Earp and consider stopping off in Princeton Il, near Chicago, to check out the home of abolitionist Owen Lovejoy—it was a major stop on the Underground Railroad and is now a National Landmark Site. A grand total of 2,438 miles, for one amazing journey, phew!

Good to know: Tickets for kids twelve and under are half off every day. Kids two and under are free.

Online: amtrak.com/california-zephyr-train

—Wendy Altschuler with Bethany Thomas Jordan

 

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