Unique Ways to Experience National Parks by Rail

When most travelers think of traveling to their destinations, they think of flying or driving. There’s a tendency to forget about the most iconic way to travel across the country and discover the land we love, and that’s by rail.
Train on a bridge over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

The National Park System and railroads have a historic relationship as the America’s early railroad companies played a pivotal role in bringing awareness to our national heritage by actively promoting visitation to the parks and expanding the railroads to reach numerous gateway communities.

With decades of expansion and thousands of miles of railroads it is clear there is nothing more historic than engulfing yourself in desert landscape, peaks and valleys of mountain ranges, gorgeous sunsets and breathtaking sunrises all well on a train. Seeing the national parks by rail is not only an alternative to traditional travel options, but a unique way to have an immersive experience as you explore America’s heartland.

Amtrak train on a bridge going through a forest of evergreens

Grand Canyon National Park

Whether your journey begins in Chicago or Los Angeles, the Southwest Chief is a fabulous way to travel to one of the most iconic national parks in the country.

It may be hard to believe that this storied train was the first Diesel-powered and sleeping-car train in the United States, in addition to being known as the luxury choice of travel for celebrities and business travelers alike. Although that was then, the experience passing through the Ponderosa Pines of Williams, Arizona is even better now, with beautiful views of open landscapes and ridged rock lines. 

After the journey into Williams hop aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, another storied railroad line, that leisurely rides from Williams into the breathtaking South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. You'll get a chance to embrace the pastel desert views and take in iconic canyon overlooks as the journey into the park is one-of-a-kind.

Amtrak train going through the red canyons of Grand Canyon National Park

Once you arrive in the canyon, the possibilities are endless in this geographical wonder. If you are up for a hike, there are miles upon miles of trails just waiting to be conquered. If you like nature, there are over 1,500 plants, 355 birds, 47 reptiles, and 89 mammalians to admire, including mountain lions, elk, coyotes, and the endangered California Condor, just to name a few.

The South Rim also offers a variety of museums and information centers that house exhibits and provide fascinating park information.

Are you an early riser? If so, take full advantage of the views and catch the sunrise gently crawling over the South Rim canyon. There is truly something for everyone as the inspiring landscape of the Grand Canyon is erupting with unforgettable things to see and an infinite amount of things to do.

Glacier National Park

Established in 1910, Glacier National Park is an American gem and a must-see for the entire family. Whether it is a weekend getaway or an extended adventure, there are options for every itinerary and every type of traveler.

A trip to Glacier National Park gives you a chance to relish in this tranquil paradise while enjoying a scenic train ride. While riding along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail, this train ride provides majestic wilderness view as you follow the footsteps of early pioneers.

Glacier National Park Trail

While the train pulls into Glacier National Park station, you will be delighted to find that you’re practically at Glacier National Park Hotel’s front door. During your time at the park get up close and personal with the park’s pristine forests on a picturesque hike and take your pick from 700 miles of trails.

Take some time to take in the vast amount of wildlife the park has to offer. Keep a close eye out to catch a glimpse of the dozens of mammal species that roam the park, including mountain goats, wolves, and even grizzly and black bears – just be sure to keep a safe distance from all wildlife! During your trip, don’t forget to explore the hidden gem, Two Medicine Valley on a relaxing boat cruise. You’ll be fascinated by your tour guide’s narration of the Blackfoot Indian folklore surrounding the valley, while you enjoy breathtaking views of Sinopah Mountain and Aster Falls.

Glacier National Park

Hidden Lake at Glacier National Park

Other spectacular sites of your tour includes Going-to-the-Sun Road, Goat Lick, and the Lake McDonald Valley. Going to the Sun Road is one of the most beloved destinations in Glacier National Park. This 50-mile stretch spans the entire width of the park, crosses the Continental Divide, and offers some of the most astounding views of northwest Montana’s mountainside and wildlife. Make sure to have your camera ready!

Yellowstone to Yosemite by Rail

Are you looking to get up close and personal with two of the nation’s most beloved national parks? Both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks are the perfect destinations to discover by rail.

While in Yellowstone National Park, enjoy a tour of west Yellowstone's lower loop that will bring you to the park’s most famous sites, like Old Faithful Geyser, the Old Faithful Inn, and Isa Lake on the Continental Divide. If a deeper exploration is a fit for you, make sure to check out the Old Faithful Explorer tour where you will get to enjoy lunch at the famous Old Faithful Geyser.

Your trip is not over – it’s now time to experience the sights and serene sounds of Yosemite National Park. On your tour in, you will experience stunning scenery, like the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains and lush Central Valley. Once you arrive in Yosemite, breathe in the fresh forest air, take a nature hike, scope out the towering redwoods, or shop in Yosemite Village.

A snow-dusted Yosemite Valley at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley in the winter at Yosemite National Park

Whether you are looking to have a simple national park experience, short weekend getaway, or looking to immerse yourself in all of nature’s glory, traveling to parks by train provides a personable adventure for everyone and anyone who is looking to add another check to their bucket-list.

Want more ideas for getting to parks by train? Be sure to download your free copy of our Owner’s Guide, created in partnership with Amtrak Vacations, titled “National Parks by Rail.”


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