14 Unforgettable Winter Train Rides You Should Book Right Now

Chase the magic of winter aboard these enchanting, scenic train rides.

woman traveler sitting in train
Updated May 28, 2024
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Traveling by train is a great way to start traveling more through the gorgeous American countryside, especially during the winter months when the landscape is softened with fresh snow.

For those seeking the most romantic, cozy, and scenic train ride adventures, here are some of the most pristine American winter landscapes to admire while remaining toasty in your seat.

Editor’s note: Ticket prices are averaged based on train fairs in mid-January.

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Aurora Winter Train: Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska

Courtesy of Aurora Winter Train aurora winter train

This adventure takes you through 12 hours through the Alaskan wilderness.

It is replete with dazzling views of mountains and lakes — and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights. That includes Mt. Denali and wildlife like bears, caribou, and moose.

The total cost for a one-way ticket is $243, though you can recoup some cash booking the excursion with the best travel credit cards.

Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway: Manitou Springs, Colorado

Courtesy of Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway broadmoor manitou railyway

Ascend to the summit of Pikes Peak on the highest and longest cog railway on earth, surrounded by Colorado's winter beauty.

Take in gorgeous views as you climb 14,000 feet to one of the highest points in the Rockies in just about 3.5 hours.

Round-trip tickets start at $58.50 for a standard view, but if you're willing to fork over $81.00, you can snag the best spot: the engineer's view.

California Zephyr: Chicago to San Francisco

Bruce Leighty/Adobe amtrak's california zephyr

If you have 50 hours to spare, they’re best spent on the California Zephyr.

This epic journey crosses the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas, two of the country's most magnificent mountain ranges.

That's pure serenity in winter, with some great city stops along the way. A one-way ticket to “one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America” starts at $200.

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Cascade Canyon Winter Train: Durango, Colorado

Courtesy of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad cascade canyon winter train

This scenic ride through the San Juan National Forest along the Animus River is just over five hours roundtrip.

The vintage steam or diesel locomotive takes you up an old mining path with stunning vistas. During the one-hour stop at the canyon, enjoy a wintry lunch by a blazing fire.

Fares start at $89, but if you want to be treated like winter royalty, $200 will get you a presidential class ticket.

Coast Starlight Train: Seattle to Los Angeles

IanDewarPhotography/Adobe amtrak coast starlight

Experience the Pacific coastline transformed by winter as this trip takes you from chilly Seattle to balmy L.A.

Enjoy the contrast between the sweeping, snow-capped Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon and the deep blue Pacific Ocean as you head into Southern California.

Travel time is 35 hours, though you should make time to stop and enjoy the coastal cities on this trip. Fares start at $100.

Empire Builder: Chicago to Portland, Oregon

IanDewarPhotography/Adobe amtrak empire builder

The Empire Builder takes you on a 46-hour pioneer's journey.

Starting with the snow-covered landscapes of the Midwest, through the plains of the Dakotas, and then into Big Sky Country.

The trip culminates with unparalleled views of Beacon Rock and Mt. Hood as you arrive at your final destination, Portland. See all of the splendor starting at $200.

Empire Service: New York City to Niagara Falls

IanDewarPhotography/Adobe long distance sleeper train

Witness the beauty of winter in New York as you travel from Manhattan to Niagara Falls.

The metropolis quickly gives way to views of the rolling hills of the Hudson River Valley before veering through the long, snowy stretches of Western New York.

Your final destination is the world-famous Niagara Falls, a true natural wonder. Fares for this seven-hour trip start at a mere $59!

Ethan Allen Express Train: New York City to Burlington, Vermont

Country Gate Prod./Adobe amtrak train crossing potomac river

Like the Empire Service route, this winter adventure starts at Penn Station and leads you along the scenic Hudson River up to Albany.

However, instead of going west, you head north through upstate New York before venturing into the stunning Vermont terrain.

Once you arrive in Burlington, skiing and the gorgeous Lake Champlain await. A one-way ticket for this five-hour trip starts at $78.

Pocono Winter Wonderland Express: Honesdale, Pennsylvania

Courtesy of The Stourbridge Line pocono winter wonderland express

The Pocono Mountains are a famous summer vacation destination, but a dreamy train ride in winter has just as much charm.

The Winter Wonderland Express is a quaint, 90-minute round-trip journey along the scenic Lackawaxen River, home to bald eagles and other wildlife.

The round-trip fare is only $25. On your visit, you can also check out the history of the depot, “the birthplace of commercial railroad."

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Polar Express: Utica, New York to the "North Pole"

alpegor/Adobe black diesel locomotive

Inspired by the classic children's book, the Polar Express takes families on a fun journey to the "North Pole," albeit in the North Country of Upstate New York.

This Adirondack Railroad adventure includes hot cocoa, cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas for added fun. Tickets for adults start at $47 and for kids at $39.

Vermonter: Washington, DC to St. Albans Essex Junction (Burlington), Vermont

IanDewarPhotography/Adobe overnight passenger train

The Vermonter takes you on a 14-hour train ride through some of the best cities in the Northeast.

Watch the landscape transform from urban DC through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City before heading into the dreamy, snowy landscape of New England.

Once you've arrived in Vermont, disembark for some of the best skiing in the country. Fares start at $107.

Winter Escape to the Grand Canyon: Chicago to Williams, Arizona

FiledIMAGE/Adobe grand canyon railway arizona

If you're going to the Grand Canyon – one of the most breathtaking sights on the planet – taking the train there from Chicago promises to be epic.

The journey takes six days, transforming the landscape from the snowy Midwest to the colorful Southwest.

This trip is one of the more expensive on this list — it starts at $1,064 per person but is worth it.

Winter Park Express: Denver to Winter Park, Colorado

Courtesy of Winter Park Resort winter park express

The Winter Park Express is a short but sweet journey from Denver to the snowy slopes of Winter Park.

Perfect for sports enthusiasts, this train ride offers convenient access to a snowy playground for skiing, snowboarding, and athletic adventures.

The mountain and tunnel views on the way up should not be missed. Tickets start at $34 one-way and sell out fast.

Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

Courtesy of Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad Facebook Page wisconsin great northern railroad

Traverse the scenic landscapes of northern Wisconsin aboard the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad.

They offer a variety of trips, including a two-hour holiday wine train ride replete with hors d’oeuvres, holiday tunes, and a visit with Santa.

Tickets start at $60 per person, including all the bells and whistles. However, if you want to keep more money in your pocket, they also have pizza train rides as a family-friendly option.

Bottom line

Irina Schmidt/Adobe boy looking out train window

Traveling by train is a great way to step up your travel game and experience the vast winter beauty of the United States.

You also unlock a travel planning secret, as taking the train is much more climate-friendly than flying and driving.

Plus, you’ll make memories that will endure for years to come, a win-win.

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Cat Lafuente

Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.