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How to Take a Train to All the Best National Parks

Visit 13 of America’s best-loved national parks on this cross-country national-park train loop


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The Great American Road Trip may promise national parks galore, but driving’s not the only way to visit America’s best idea. Numerous Amtrak stations lie within two hours—or closer—of the country’s top national park getaways. Some stops offer hiker shuttles, other visits require rental cars, and parks like Glacier and Gateway Arch let you stroll from the platform to the park entrance.

To inspire your train-to-park getaways, we pored over Amtrak routes, stations, schedules, and logistics. The result? This—the ultimate Amtrak-to-national-park loop, because there’s no better way to see the country than on a long train ride. The cross-country itinerary (and back again), which starts at about $1,200 total for train tickets (coach fare, as of October 2021), includes 13 national parks, ten days of train travel, and specific instructions for getting from platform to park at each stop. If you have time to do it all at once, it’s the trip of a lifetime. Or pick off one park at a time; they’re all worthy.

Stop 1: Olympic National Park | Port Angeles Gateway Transit Center

From station to park: under one hour.

Visit the snowy, sawtooth ridges and old-growth rainforests of Olympic National Park via Amtrak’s Thruway bus, which takes ticketed travelers three and a half hours from the Seattle Amtrak station up to Port Angeles, Washington, the gateway to some of the Pacific Northwest’s wildest landscapes.

Grab the Clallam Transit System’s bus route 14 ($1.50) from the Gateway Transit Center to one of Olympic National Park’s most popular destinations, Lake Crescent. The 40-minute bus ride leads to East Beach, just steps from the Lake Crescent Lodge and the trailhead up the steep switchbacks of the Mount Storm King Trail .

For a more flexible visit, grab a rental car from Enterprise or Avis (around $100 per day) in Port Angeles. Both are a few blocks from the station; from there, it’s around 20 miles up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the starting point for traversing numerous scenic Klahhane Ridge trails .

Stop 2: Crater Lake National Park | Klamath Falls Station

Cobalt-blue Crater Lake is the next stop on your national-park train loop. You have two transport options from the closest station, Klamath Falls, roughly 45 miles from the Crater Lake National Park Village Visitor Center. The seasonal Crater Lake Trolley ($40 roundtrip; includes park entrance fee) holds 25 people and runs two-hour tours through the park from July to September (it’s been closed for the past two seasons due to COVID-19 and does not have a reopening date listed).

For off-season visits, go the rental-car route. Enterprise is one mile south of the Klamath Falls Station, and the Rim Village Visitor Center is another hour to the north. From the visitor center, you can join popular hikes like the 3.5-mile Garfield Peak Trail , or grab a bite or room at Crater Lake Lodge .

Train from Port Angeles: 16 hours; one transfer

Stop 3: Yosemite National Park | Merced Station

From station to park: two hours.

Reach Yosemite National Park’s plunging waterfalls, soaring sequoias, and awe-striking Half Dome via Amtrak’s Merced Station in central California. From the station, take the YARTS Highway 140 Bus up to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and the Yosemite Valley Lodge, where you can reach trailheads to Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. If you purchase tickets to Yosemite through Amtrak (an additional $20), the YARTS bus fare is included.

Like at Crater Lake and Olympic National Parks, you can also rent a car via Budget or Enterprise in Merced. Both facilities are a 30-minute walk from the station; it’s another two hours driving from here to reach the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

Train from Klamath Falls: 12 hours, 35 minutes; two transfers

Stop 4: Channel Islands National Park | Ventura Station

From station to park: 10 minutes, plus one- to three-hour ferry.

Further down the national-park-packed West Coast is a string of five unspoiled and biodiverse islands known as the “Galapagos of North America.” To access Channel Islands National Park , take Amtrak to Ventura Station, just beyond Santa Barbara, then grab an Uber or taxi for the five-mile trip over to Ventura Harbor dock, where NPS-licensed concessionaire Island Packers Cruises’ vessels depart (trips start at $60). The Channel Islands ferry ride is anywhere from one to three hours, depending on your island of choice. Expect craggy coastal scenery and potential whale sightings along the way.

For the quickest day-trip option, head to Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. Its 16 hiking trails, including the two-mile Cavern Point Loop from Scorpion Beach, where Island Packer Cruises lets passengers off, showcase a dazzling palette of Pacific coast scenery.

Train from Merced: six hours; one transfer

Stop 5: Saguaro National Park | Tucson Station

From station to park: under 30 minutes.

Make your way inland, from Ventura to San Diego, then San Diego toward Amtrak’s Tucson station, for a quintessentially southwest U.S. stop: Saguaro National Park . Giant saguaros dot this rugged desert expanse, with some cacti standing up to 45 feet tall. The park is split into two, with one section east of the city, and one west. This, plus lack of public transit, means rental cars are the easiest way to get around. Enterprise is just over one mile north of the Tucson station; ZipCar is also available throughout the city.

Eastern Saguaro National Park’s Rincon Mountain Visitor Center and the western side’s Red Hills Visitor Center are each 15 miles from the station. Both portions of the park offer their own sky-high-cacti beauty, but for a truly immersive and humbling experience, admire the scenery and soaring saguaros on the 17-mile Douglas Spring Trail in Saguaro National Park East.

Train from Ventura *: Ventura to San Diego (5 hours, 21 minutes; direct), San Diego to Tucson: 16 hours, 35 minutes; one transfer

*(Note: Amtrak does not offer a straight route from Ventura to Tucson; you must book each leg separately)

Stop 6: Big Bend National Park | Alpine Station

From station to park: one hour.

Next stop along the southern U.S. border: the stark desert, deep canyons, and glittering night skies at Big Bend National Park . Alpine Station in western Texas is the closest Big Bend train stop. Rent a car through local agency Alpine Auto Rental ; when scheduled in advance, they’ll deliver vehicles to the Amtrak station.

It’s a surreal and remote one-hour drive from Alpine down into the heart of Big Bend National Park, where hikes like the dramatic five-mile Lost Mine Trail lead to views across the Chisos Mountains and beyond.

Train from Tucson: 10 hours, 20 minutes; direct

Stop 7: Hot Springs National Park | Little Rock Union Station

Continue eastbound for a serene dip or forested stroll at Hot Springs National Park , accessible via Arkansas’ Little Rock Union Station. The park’s 26 miles of hiking trails and namesake hot springs are a one-hour drive from the Amtrak stop at Union Station.

Rental cars are ideal for getting from points A to B and beyond, whether that’s a stroll along the three-mile Hot Springs Mountain Trail or a soak at the century-old Buckstaff Bathhouse . Enterprise is a one-mile walk from the Little Rock Union Station.

Train from Alpine: 26 hours, 46 minutes; direct

Stop 8: Gateway Arch National Park | St. Louis Gateway Station

From station to park: 10 minutes.

Enjoy a warm Midwest welcome as you enter St. Louis, Missouri, where Gateway Arch National Park awaits just minutes from Gateway Station. This is one of the country’s smallest national parks—a superlative that promises seamless car-free navigation. From the centrally located Gateway Station, stroll 30 minutes to hit the park by foot. Or, for a quicker trip, ride the St. Louis Metro ($1) ten minutes from the nearby Civic Center, to the Lacledes Landing Metrolink Station, next to the park.

Once you’ve reached Gateway Arch National Park, catch the tram to the top of the 63-story arch, visit the onsite museum, or board a Gateway Arch Riverboat , which offers a leisurely Mississippi River paddleboat tour.

Train from Little Rock: 7 hours, 45 minutes; direct

Stop 9: Shenandoah National Park | Charlottesville Amtrak Train Station

From station to park: 30 minutes.

Head further east to enjoy the undulating forests and rocky peaks of Shenandoah National Park , accessible from the Charlottesville, Virginia, Amtrak station. Shenandoah’s signature attraction, the 105-mile Skyline Drive that follows the park’s portion of the Appalachian Trail, is most easily enjoyed by car. Enterprise is two miles from the Charlottesville train station; use rideshare or Charlottesville Area Transit Bus Route 10 ($1.50 for 24 hours) to get there.

Beyond Skyline Drive, trails abound near the park’s southern terminus (closest to Charlottesville), including the ten-mile Riprap Trail circuit hike, which features sweeping mountain vistas with brief portions along the famed AT .

Train from St. Louis: 34 hours; two transfers

Stop 10: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve | Charleston Station

En route from Charlottesville to Charleston, West Virginia, Amtrak weaves right through New River Gorge National Park and Preserve . The park alone has three Amtrak stops: Hinton, Thurmond, and Prince. Each stop is a few blocks from the New River. Prince in particular is close to top park attractions like the dramatic Thomas Burford Pugh Memorial Bridge, one mile away from the train platform.

But public transportation and ride-share options are scarce near these in-park train stops. A rental car is the most seamless way to fully enjoy the expansive 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park —whether you’re whitewater rafting or hiking through deep canyons. To go the rental-car route, take the train just north of the park to Charleston’s Amtrak station, where Enterprise is a one-mile walk from the tracks.

Train from Charlottesville: 6 hours, 30 minutes; direct

Stop 11: Acadia National Park | Brunswick Station

From station to park: 2.5 hours.

Isolation is one of Acadia National Park’s main allures, but Amtrak gets within arm’s reach of this remote coastal-Maine beauty. Take the train up the east coast to Brunswick, Maine, then grab a rental car at Enterprise, a 1.5-mile walk, or a quick Uber ride, from the station.

At this point, it’s still a two-and-a-half hour drive to reach Acadia, but with 125 miles of hiking trails, including the four-mile Ocean Path along craggy cliffs and Maine’s pristine coastline, this park is well worth the drive. For trips from late June to early October, you can stow the car at your accommodation; the fare-free Island Explorer Shuttle Bus links neighboring hotels, inns, and campgrounds with Acadia’s main attractions.)

Train from Charleston: 29 hours; two transfers

Stop 12: Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Cleveland Station

Head back west-bound to explore the winding gorges and forest-fringed waterfalls in northeast Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park , just outside of Cleveland. Rent a car to easily access Cuyahoga Valley’s top attractions; Hertz is a one-mile walk from the station, and the park is 30 minutes driving to the south.

See Cuyahoga Valley by foot, with hiking trails like the two-mile Ledges Trail , which twists beneath towering sandstone cliffs. Or, grab yet another train, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad , to see the entirety of the park, from bald-eagle nesting sites to the crooked Cuyahoga River.

Train from Brunswick: 20 hours; one or two transfers (depending on the route)

Stop 13: Glacier National Park | East Glacier, West Glacier, or Whitefish Stations

To close the cross-country train loop, continue westward toward the sky-high peaks and teal lakes of Glacier National Park . The park has three Amtrak-station options. East Glacier Station, used from April to October, is the closest option. It’s walking distance from East Glacier Park Village, Glacier National Park Lodge, and the Mount Henry and Autumn Creek East trailheads.

West Glacier Station, open year-round at the southern end of Going to the Sun Road, is two miles south of the Apgar Visitor Center, with Lake McDonald just beyond that. Xanterra’s summer West Side hiker shuttle provides transportation between West Glacier Station and Lake McDonald Lodge and the Village Inn in Apgar; seats must be booked in advance (fares from $6 to $14, depending on route).

Whitefish, Montana, located just east of Glacier, is your best option for a rental car, ideal for full flexibility when exploring the park, or if you’re visiting in the off season. The closest Enterprise is a ten-mile drive south; take an Uber or taxi to get here. You can also book your own transportation through companies like Arrow Shuttle , which offers transit from Whitefish to Glacier National Park and other area attractions ($120 from Whitefish to West Glacier).

Train from Cleveland: A 40-hour, one-transfer ride completes this Amtrak-to-national-park adventure (although to fully close the loop, it’s another 20 hour, one-transfer train ride from Glacier National Park to Port Angeles’ Gateway Transit Center.) If you’re ready for a splurge after weeks of NPS adventuring, upgrade to a private sleeper car ($900 for up to two adults), with two beds, shower and restroom facilities, and complimentary onboard meals.

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  • Glacier National Park
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6 Beautiful National Parks You Can Explore Via Amtrak

Don't feel like driving to that beautiful national park? Take the train instead.

train trip national parks

Just like exploring America's bounty of national parks, train travel is romantic — so why not combine the two for your next trip? Consider this a PSA: Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations, many of them within or near national parks, and you can even bring your bike, fishing gear, or camping equipment on board if you plan to adventure into the parks.

Traveling by Amtrak, you can even book a private room in a sleeper car, which provides the comfort of a place to lay your head on a long route — seats convert into beds when you finally grow tired of the free Wi-Fi and scenic views out your window. All aboard for these six amazing Amtrak routes that you can take to national parks.

1. Grand Canyon National Park

When it comes to family vacations and national parks, it doesn't get much more iconic than Grand Canyon National Park . Get to America's most famous natural wonder by train aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, passing through eight states (and cities like Kansas City, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and more) along the way. Out your window, you'll get a taste of why the American West is so often described as "majestic" — expect sprawling mountain ranges, deserts, and canyons lining the route.

Disembark in Flagstaff to take a two-hour shuttle to Grand Canyon Village, then hop on the national park shuttle and head to the Grand Canyon Railway for an added dose of Wild West entertainment (and another scenic train ride). Alternatively, you can spend the night in Flagstaff and book a tour that will take you from your hotel to all the park highlights.

2. Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park

Stephanie Pollak/Travel + Leisure

Miami may not be the first location that comes to mind when planning a national park trip, but did you know it's the only city in the United States with two national parks on its borders? Hop aboard Amtrak's Silver Service/Palmetto line and you can explore both Biscayne National Park , of which 95% is underwater, and the Everglades National Park, which spans 1.5 million acres of swampy wetlands and untamed wilderness across the southern tip of Florida — a diverse and delicate ecosystem vital to the state's environmental health. The route stretches all the way down the east coast of the United States, from New York City to the sunny beaches of Miami, stopping in hot spots like Savannah, Charleston, and Washington, D.C., along the way.

You'll need one boat to explore the swampy landscape of the Everglades and another to make it over the bay to Biscayne National Park. From Miami, you can arrange a day trip to the Everglades or a leisurely cruise along Biscayne Bay.

Another bonus of the Silver Service/Palmetto route: If you hop off in Columbia, you're only a half-hour drive or the awe-inspiring old-growth forests of Congaree National Park, the only national park in South Carolina. Check out Palmetto Outdoor for shuttle service and kayaking tours.

Disembark in Washington, D.C., and you're an hour and a half from the waterfalls and wetlands of Shenandoah National Park, beloved in the fall for its impressive leaf-peeping opportunities. Full day tours are available with pick-ups in the capital if you prefer not to rent a car. You can also reach Shenandoah National Park on Amtrak's Crescent train between New York and New Orleans by hopping off in Charlottesville, only 30 miles away.

3. Crater Lake National Park

Amtrak's Coast Starlight runs the length of the West Coast, connecting Seattle and Los Angeles, and is easily one of its most beautiful routes.

You can stop in cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara along the way, but the true highlight is Crater Lake National Park , home to the deepest lake in the United States. The epitome of Pacific Northwest beauty, Crater Lake National Park has it all: You can hike a dormant volcano, camp, drive the Scenic Rim , and wander old-growth forests. To reach Crater Lake National Park via Amtrak, disembark at the Klamath Falls stop. There is no bus or service between Klamath Falls and the park, so you will need to hire a car to travel the rest of the way to the park 60 miles north.

4. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

For a national park adventure packed with hills, dense forests, and plenty of places to hike and kayak, plan a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the only national park in Ohio . If you board the Lake Shore Limited line and hop off in Cleveland, you're only a half-hour drive from the park. Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited route connects New York and Chicago — a 19-hour trip that rumbles along the breathtaking Great Lakes shoreline and through the scenic Finger Lakes region.

5. Hot Springs National Park

Dreaming of a visit to the "American Spa"? Hop aboard the Texas Eagle, which links Chicago to San Antonio (and beyond, all the way to Los Angeles). Ride to Malvern, Arkansas, where you can disembark and take a quick half-hour drive over to Hot Springs National Park. Aboard the Texas Eagle, you can expect to cross the Mississippi River, take in the beautiful Ozarks, and venture deep into the Texas countryside. Whether you float in the relaxing natural pools or tackle the Sunset Trail, there are many ways to enjoy the Hot Springs National Park.

6. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park contains some of the most striking scenery in the nation, and Amtrak makes it easy to get there, thanks to its Empire Builder line, which stretches from Chicago to Portland and Seattle. Along the route, you'll track the Lewis and Clark trail, cross the plains of North Dakota, and pass through Montana's Big Sky Country, but Glacier National Park still stands out above the rest — it's the "Crown of the Continent," after all.

Park highlights include glacially carved peaks and lakes, stunning views, six National Historic Landmarks, and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. In other words, there's a lot to choose from, but make sure to hit Going-to-the-Sun Road and the gorgeous Hidden Lake.

To reach Glacier National Park on Amtrak's Empire Builder route, you have a few options. The West Glacier stop is located at the western gateway to Glacier National Park, the East Glacier Park station can be found at the eastern entrance, and the Essex stop is located within the confines of the park.

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9 Best Train Rides for Exploring National Parks

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Even in the age of air and automobile travel, many people still prefer to travel by rail. One of the best aspects of train travel is that you can sit back, relax, and watch some of the country's most beautiful scenery roll past right outside your window. Trains are a particularly attractive way to travel in more rural areas, and they are an ideal option for getting to and going through America's best national parks and natural areas.

Here are nine trips that combine train travel with sightseeing in national parks and scenic locations.

California Zephyr and Yosemite National Park

Ricky Batista / Getty Images

Regional services can certainly put people in touch with the kind of scenery that makes train travel special, but for true aficionados, a real rail adventure involves cross-country travel.

Because it passes through the Plains, the Rockies, rural Utah, and the Sierras, the Zephyr, which makes the 2,400-mile east-west trip three times per week, is a good train for sightseeing. Plus, Zephyr riders can easily get to Yosemite from the Bay Area.

Once inside the park, visitors can take a totally different kind of journey: a four-mile steam train trip on the Sugar Pine Railroad. This route was formerly used to haul lumberjack-chopped logs down the mountain.

Coast Starlight and the Pacific Northwest

Loco Steve / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Amtrak's Coast Starlight runs three days a week between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. It runs along the Cascade Range, the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, and California's Central Coast. It also passes through some of the West Coast’s biggest cities: Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.

Trails and Rails, a partnership between Amtrak and the U.S. National Park Service, has guides on select routes, including the Coast Starlight. These local guides provide onboard programs about national, state, and local parks. Travelers who want to get off the Starlight in San Francisco can get to Bay Area sites like Muir Woods National Monument with relative ease.

Ethan Allen Express and Green Mountain National Forest

Denis Tangney Jr. / Getty Images

The Ethan Allen Express is an Amtrak train that travels daily between New York City and Rutland, Vermont. The 241-mile journey takes just over five hours one way. The route passes through the Catskill Mountain region, the Adirondacks, and the Green Mountains, so there is plenty of scenery beside the rails.

During the winter, skiers use the Ethan Allen to get to Killington, Vermont, one of the best ski destinations in the Eastern U.S. During the summer, nature-seekers can use the train to get from New York City to upstate destinations like Albany and Lake George. The scenery starts right outside of New York City as the train enters the heart of the Hudson River Valley.

Alaska Coastal Classic and Kenai Fjords National Park

Ken Wiedemann / Getty Images

The Alaska Coastal Classic, which travels between Anchorage and Seward, is considered the most scenic train ride in the 49th state. During the 114-mile trip, the train passes the Cook Inlet and goes through the Kenai Mountains. Both the Kenai Fjords National Park and Chugach National Forest are accessible from Seward.

The train has two cabin classes, a viewing "dome" car, and dining and lounge areas. There are guides aboard to provide insights into the wild scenery that the train passes. Much of Alaska is still roadless wilderness, so trains like the Alaska Coastal Classic are the only way to see the landscapes without having to fly.

Grand Canyon Railway and the South Rim

Ingus Kruklitis / Getty Images

The Grand Canyon Railway has been in operation for more than a century. The Train, as it is sometimes called, took its first passengers to the South Rim in 1901 . It replaced stagecoaches as the main mode of transportation for canyon visitors and started a travel boom. The firm that built the rail line, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, helped to develop the South Rim of the Canyon for tourism.

The current Grand Canyon Railway train features six cabin classes, including an observation dome and a luxury parlor. Though the train started the tourism rush to the Grand Canyon , it is now helping to temper the traffic at the famous landmark. This is because a number of people take the train instead of driving to the South Rim. The train runs round trip once per day, with passengers given several hours after the morning ride to explore the canyon before they return to Williams, Arizona, in the late afternoon.

South Shore Line and Indiana Dunes National Park

Diego Delso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The South Shore Line, a commuter train line that runs between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, is a great way to get to Indiana Dunes National Park. The 15,000-acre park became the nation's 61st national park in 2019. It has everything from shoreline and beaches along Lake Michigan to hiking trails through forests, wetlands, and prairies.

The South Shore Line has four stops throughout the national park. One station — Dune Park Station — allows passengers to bring bicycles on the train.

Alaska Denali Star and Denali National Park

Len Turner / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The Denali Star travels through rural Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The journey takes 12 hours and includes a stop at Denali National Park . Like its sister train, the Coastal Classic, the Star travels through Alaskan landscapes that are usually only seen from the windows of a bush plane.

Another Alaska train, the McKinley Explorer, features domed cars that offer 360-degree views of the surroundings. The Explorer does not make the entire trip between Anchorage and Fairbanks like the Denali Star. Instead, it only travels as far as Denali National Park. It is popular among cruisers and is actually operated by Holland America and Princess Cruises.

Durango and Silverton Railroad and the Colorado Rockies

Cavan Images / Getty Images

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is certainly not one of the longest or fastest of America's scenic train trips, but it just might be the most breathtaking. The trip on this historic narrow-gauge railway starts in Durango, Colorado, at 6,500 feet above sea level. Over the 45-mile line, the early-20th-century steam engine climbs almost 3,000 feet to the town of Silverton.

The Durango and Silverton inches along at less than 20 miles per hour. The slow speed just means there is more time to take in the scenery of some of the tallest mountains in the Colorado Rockies and the trees of the Rio Grande National Forest.

Empire Builder and Glacier National Park

Hal Bergman / Getty Images

In addition to making its way to Glacier National Park, the Empire Builder train follows a portion of Lewis and Clark’s route in North Dakota and Montana. On the journey from Chicago, riders can spot a variety of terrain, from expansive plains to stunning mountain ranges.

The overnight trip runs three days a week. The station in Whitefish, Montana, is less than 30 miles from the park. After departing Montana, Empire Builder continues on to Portland, Oregon, or Seattle.

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Amtrak Vacations

Grand National Parks of the Southwest - Grand Canyon and Beyond

$2,499 - 8 Days

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Get ready to experience some of the American Southwest's most awe-inspiring, untamed landscapes on this roundtrip rail journey from Los Angeles featuring Utah's "Mighty 5" and more! With eight days and seven nights to explore the Grand Canyon's South Rim, the shores of Lake Powell and Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands, and San Francisco, you'll capture and make memories to last a lifetime. Not to mention, the onboard experiences from three of our most popular train routes—the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and Coast Starlight—to these special places is sure to be a highlight of your adventures. Featuring dazzling views of the wilderness and plenty of leisure time to take it easy along the way, this is your opportunity to discover why so many travelers choose to visit all of these destinations in one vacation. There's no better way to explore our national parks of the Southwest than onboard Amtrak.

Reservations: 1-800-268-7252

For pricing and availability from your Amtrak Station:


  • Sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon
  • Sightseeing tour of Arches & Canyonlands National Parks
  • Free days to explore Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks


  • Roundtrip Amtrak® in Coach accommodations from Los Angeles Williams, Arizona on the Southwest Chief®; Grand Junction to San Francisco on the California Zephyr®; San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight®
  • One-way in Coach accommodation on the Grand Canyon Railway
  • Transfer from Grand Canyon to Flagstaff
  • 4 day compact car rental from Flagstaff to Grand Junction
  • 5 nights' hotel accommodations
  • 2 meals included (1 breakfast, 1 dinner)

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Other Packages Available:


Package prices are per person, double occupancy, tax included. Prices do not include rail from your hometown. Please call for pricing. Package prices are subject to change without notice, and all reservations are based upon availability at the time of booking. Amtrak travel is for Coach accommodations unless otherwise noted. Upgrades to Roomette or Bedroom accommodations on board Amtrak are available. Call for pricing. Other restrictions may apply. Activities referenced in the itinerary during free time are for suggested purposes only and are not included. Seasonal activity (if applicable): During the off-season, some tours may not be available. In this case, a similar tour will be substituted. Passports (if applicable): Passports are required when crossing the Canadian border. Amtrak and Amtrak Vacations are registered service marks of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

DAY 1  YOUR JOURNEY BEGINS IN  LOS ANGELES   Welcome to Los Angeles! Travel on your own to Union Station, one of the city's most iconic gems, and board Amtrak's Southwest Chief to Williams, Arizona. Onboard, you'll catch glimpses of the fabled American West from the Observation Car—the kind you can only experience from the comfort of a train. (Overnight onboard Amtrak)

DAY 2  GRAND CANYON   Today, the train arrives in Williams, Arizona, famous for being the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.” Enjoy an included breakfast at the  Fred Harvey Restaurant  and browse the gift shop before boarding the Grand Canyon Railway to the awe-inspiring South Rim.  With close to two dozen expansive, breathtaking viewpoints at the South Rim, you're guaranteed to make some lasting memories while on your sightseeing tour of this great natural abyss. Can't-miss panorama views include Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Desert View, and Hermit's Rest.  (Overnight in Grand Canyon's South Rim)  B

DAY 3  ZION NATIONAL PARK AND LAKE POWELL   Today,  transfer to Flagstaff in the morning  and pick up your included car rental.  Then  begin your tour through the National Parks of the Southwest!  T ravel close to the picturesque shores of Lake Powell and over the Glen Canyon Dam. In Zion, you will experience one of Utah's most breathtaking landscapes.  Featuring 200 miles of picturesque trails, stunning vistas, vermillion cliffs, canyons, jagged skyline, and flora and fauna, this national park is a must-visit! (Overnight in Springdale)

DAY 4  BRYCE CANYON  AND CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARKS   Continue  the drive  from Springdale to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks en route to  Moab .  En route to Bryce  Canyon, highlights will most certainly be the distinctive hoodoos (red rock pillars), bristlecone pine trees (the oldest trees in the world), and views from Sunrise, Sunset, and Inspiration Points. In Capitol Reef (the least known and least crowded park in Utah), explore the mesmerizing cliffs, hidden arches, massive sandstone domes that resemble capitol buildings, and deep canyons. The scenery speaks for itself with plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos or simply admire the views. See the park's most famous attraction, the Waterpocket Fold.  (Overnight  in Moab )


Today enjoy a tour of  Arches & Canyonlands National Parks! Highlights include the Colorado River, multiple iconic arches, rock pinnacles, spires, and much more. These parks feature some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in America and are sure to illicit plenty of oohs and aahs from anyone who visits. The incredible panoramic vistas you'll experience of Canyonlands from Island in the Sky is a view that will stay with you for years to come! (Overnight in  Moab )

DAY 6 OVERNIGHT ONBOARD AMTRAK   Travel  to the  Grand Junction  Amtrak  station  later this afternoon  and board Amtrak's California Zephyr to San Francisco. Pass by the Great Salt Lake, traverse Nevada and two National Forests, catch a glimpse of California's capital from outside your window, and enjoy your onboard experience before arriving in the City by the Bay. (Overnight onboard Amtrak)


Welcome to San Francisco! After traveling on your own to your hotel and checking in, the rest of the day is yours to explore the city at your leisure. Visit iconic landmarks—like the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, or Coit Tower—historic districts, coffeehouses, Fisherman's Wharf, or simply relax and take it easy. A favorite for travelers is taking a ferry ride on their own to see Alcatraz Prison or embarking on a Bay cruise. Tonight, enjoy your included dinner at popular, local restaurant. (Overnight in San Francisco)  D


LEGEND FOR MEALS: B - Breakfast, BR - Brunch, L - Lunch, D -Dinner

train trip national parks


train trip national parks

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From a peaceful coastal beach to the tallest peak in America

The GoldStar Dome Service on the Alaska Railroad is one of the most luxurious ways to enjoy Alaska’s spectacular scenery. You will be able to experience the beauty of Alaska’s national parks in style as you journey from  Kenai Fjords  in the south to  Denali National Park  in the north, where wildlife and breathtaking landscapes await you.

train trip national parks

On your arrival day, get aquainted with Alaska's largest city by exploring the downtown shops and restaurants, galleries and museums. Or, if you prefer stretching your legs, rent a bicycle and explore the city's 120 miles of paved trails. Overnight at a partner hotel.

Enjoy the beauty and sophistication of the Alaska Railroad as you ride the rails to Seward. From there, a cruise takes you to remote Fox Island where you can hike in privacy, enjoy a wood fire sauna and an indulge in an incredible dinner of fresh, local food. Spend the night embracing the peaceful pace of the island at the exclusive Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge .

Climb into a kayak and spend your day exploring the mist covered cliffs and remote rainforests of Alaska’s coast. Expert guides will help you spot everything from sea lions and otters to puffins and orcas. Savor one last night at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge before departing for the next day’s adventures.

Take a cruise to the farthest reaches of Kenai Fjords National Park where otters play, eagles soar and whales frolic. Explore the massive glaciers of the remote Northwestern Fjord and watch as these ancient giants calve and crash into the ocean. Your cruise returns to Seward , and you overnight at Windsong Lodge .

Wake up to a guided walking tour to see the toe of Exit Glacier , then round out the day in Seward’s Alaska SeaLife Center . The train returns you to Anchorage for an overnight stay in the city.

Travel past amazing peaks and forests on a stunning railroad adventure to the entrance to Denali National Park . Overnight at Denali Cabins .

See breathtaking views of Alaska! Explore Denali by foot, bicycle, or a guided bus tour. Overnight at Denali Cabins .

Connect to the Talkeetna-bound train and spend the night at the luxurious Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Don’t feel like relaxing when you arrive? Zip-lining through the wilderness or a float trip on a local river are excellent options.

Time for some thrills! Optional add-on tours and activities including seeing Denali from above on an Alaska bush plane or tackle a mighty river on a jet boat trip. Overnight at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge .

This day is yours to fill with optional adventures or to sit and enjoy one of the greatest views of Denali in Alaska . Strap-in for a flightseeing tour and glacier landing in Denali National Park , or take the ride of your life on a jet boat tour before wrapping up the day with wildlife viewing on your train ride from Talkeetna to Anchorage . Overnight in Anchorage.

The Alaska National Park Rail Tour ends in Anchorage , but we hope you’ll continue your trip and see more of Alaska . The Alaska National Park Rail Tour is the perfect Pre or Post-cruise land tour.

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The Alaska National Parks Rail Adventure itinerary includes


  • Overnight accommodations for two nights at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge
  • Overnight accommodations for one night at Seward Windsong Lodge
  • Overnight accommodations for two nights at Denali Cabins
  • Overnight accommodations for two nights at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge
  • Overnight accommodations for three nights in Anchorage


  • Rail transportation aboard Alaska Railroad option available
  • Round trip transportation to Fox Island from Seward
  • Guided Sea Kayaking in Resurrection Bay included
  • Kenai Fjords National Park cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours
  • Guided hike in Kenai Fjords National Park at Exit Glacier

Customize Your Itinerary

Optional add-on adventures

Full-day or half-day Fox Island and cruise combos are available, along with shorter two-hour kayak trips from Lowell Point. All options are fully guided and instructed by Sunny Cove Kayaking.

3-hour outdoor adventure begins in Talkeetna with a short shuttle ride to the zipline course. The canopy tour consists of a short orientation with the fitting of gear and safety instructions provided by certified guides.

Behind the scenes look at what goes into creating a championship team and carving a life in Alaska’s Interior. Hear stories and see racing sleds and Arctic survival gear used to traverse 1100 miles of rugged terrain.

Journey Deep into Denali

All-inclusive adventure, deep in the heart of Denali National Park. Exclusive helicopter access. Private cabins. Stunning views. Warm hospitality and unmatched adventures. This is Denali Backcountry Lodge, where guests experience the best creature comforts in one of the world’s wildest landscapes.

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A yellow and blue train moves through forested mountainous terrain

A journey rich in wildlife, history and wilderness. Travel from Fairbanks to Denali and on to Anchorage from the unique perspective of the Alaska Railroad .

A train rounds a curve through a forest below snow-covered mountains.

Hop on board for a scenic ride to the cliffs, wildlife and glaciers of the Kenai Fjords. By train and by boat, it's an adventure that delves deeper and gets you up close to Alaska's spectacular natural wonders.

A boat is docked at the secluded Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge around steep forested hills

A true wilderness getaway in the heart of Kenai Fjords National Park including roundtrip rail from Anchorage and a remote stay at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island.

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Every person you meet from the first phone call to our tour guides and hotel staff are local experts

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We own and operate some of the top tours and lodges in Alaska’s most iconic locations

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Our tours take you farther than any other in Alaska, so you'll see the most secluded and pristine places

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We live with a passion for place and a sincere desire to create life-changing experiences


Our local experts are here to answer any of your questions and help plan an unforgettable Alaska adventure.

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train trip national parks


Entrance passes.

Most of the sites managed by the National Park Service are free to visit, but some require an entrance pass. You may also need a vehicle reservation at a few high-traffic sites.

Frequent visitors, seniors , military, and others may save money on entrance fees with an America the Beautiful—the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, also known an America the Beautiful or interagency pass. Review all pass options below and decide which pass is best for you.

Entrance Pass Comparison

National parks that charge an entrance fee require visitors to purchase or obtain a standard pass, park-specific annual pass, or America the Beautiful pass. Visitors only need one of these.

Standard Pass

  • For one national park
  • Valid for 7 days
  • Directly funds the park

Recommended for

One trip to one park

Entrance fees and passes by park

Annual Pass

  • For one national park or park group
  • Valid for 1 year
  • Not available for every park
  • Multiple trips to one park
  • One or more trips to one park group

train trip national parks

America the Beautiful—the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass

  • Covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees (day-use fees) at Federal recreational sites, including national parks
  • 1 year and lifetime options
  • Seniors , military, visitors with permanent disabilities
  • One or more trips to multiple parks

More about America the Beautiful Passes

Vehicle Reservations

Some highly-visited national parks use a seasonal or year-round timed entry system to manage private vehicle traffic. Reservations are typically made available through on a rolling basis. If you plan to drive into one of these parks while the timed entry system is in effect, we recommend making a reservation well in advance.

Parks with vehicle reservations

train trip national parks

Covers entrance fees and standard amenity (day-use) fees at lands managed by

  • National Park Service
  • US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • US Forest Service
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • US Army of Corps of Engineers

Depending on the type of entrance fee charged at a site, covers One private vehicle fee or Four per person fees

America the Beautiful Passes are non-refundable, non-transferable and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen . Passholders must show valid photo identification (ID) with each pass.

How to Get an America the Beautiful Pass

In person (recommended).

Passes can be purchased or picked up at over 1,000 federal recreation sites.

Purchase and pickup locations

Order Online, Receive by Mail

To receive your pass by mail, order online at the USGS Online Store or by phone: 1-888-275-8747 , extension 1. Hours of operation are 8 am to 4 pm Mountain Time.

Visiting soon? Pick up a pass when you arrive.

America the Beautiful Passes ordered online through the USGS Online Store may take up to three weeks to be processed and delivered. Get your pass at one of over 1,000 purchase and pickup locations to avoid the wait.

Senior Passes

US citizens and permanent residents ages 62 and older can purchase an annual America the Beautiful—the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $20.00, or a lifetime version for $80.00. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.

  • The Senior Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.
  • The Senior Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.
  • Passes may not be purchased as gifts since eligible recipient must show proof of eligibility.

Annual Senior Pass

Lifetime senior pass, golden age passports and golden access passports.

Golden Age Passports and Golden Access Passports are no longer sold. However, these passes are still honored according to the provisions of the pass.

We encourage you to exchange your Golden Age/Golden Access Passport for a current Lifetime Senior Pass for free. You can exchange in-person at sites that issue passes. Please bring your old pass and photo identification with you.

Annual Passes and Park Groups

While most annual park passes are limited to one national park, a few sites offer an annual pass valid at multiple national parks, federal recreational lands, or state parks.

Free Entrance Days

Come experience the national parks! On six days in 2024, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone. Mark your calendar for these entrance fee–free dates in 2024:

  • January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 20: First day of National Park Week
  • June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
  • August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Your Fee Dollars at Work

All the money from entrance fees remains in the National Park Service, and at least 80 percent stays in the park where it was collected. Learn more about how entrance fees are used to improve the visitor experience .

Last updated: March 25, 2024

Why you need to take your kids on the Alaska Railroad

Sarah Stocking

May 30, 2024 • 12 min read

train trip national parks

The Alaska Railroad has enough adventures for kids of all ages © Sarah Stocking / Lonely Planet

Journeying by train through the wilds of Alaska was not something I expected to add to my gratitude list any time soon.

But it is a family adventure that will live in my memories as one of my life's most fun, important and connective experiences.

We have a family of four: Mom, Dad, Sister (9), and Brother (3). I try to parent slowly. To create spaces in our lives for play sessions that drag out until the game is long over and we’re resting in the grass. I am at my best when I can join in their curiosity, venturing with mind and body and learning new things together. 

But, like most families, that is not our everyday reality. We have jobs and hobbies, school and friends. We have bullet list schedules that barely fit in the day-by-day squares on our calendar by the fridge. Our ten days in Alaska were a long line across an empty expanse of squares — this idea of days to fill with adventures instead of must-dos excited my imagination. 

Train travel allows this space. It takes what can be stressful and hard, getting from one place to another, and turns it into relaxing, bonding and invigorating. 

A smiling family (two adults, two kids) at the top of the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali with the snow-capped mountains in the bacjground

The Alaska Railroad: From Fairbanks to Seward

So, in the fall, we found ourselves on The Alaska Railroad, which celebrated its centennial year in 2023. It allowed the space and time I sought for our family and a chance to journey from interior Alaska to the coast. From an Arctic desert to a rugged, wet coastline with a chance to see America’s highest peak. Fairbanks sits at 62 degrees latitude, close enough to the Arctic Circle to get there in a half-day’s drive. While Seward is firmly in the temperate rainforest; the forests dripping with mosses and the oceans teeming with wildlife.

The route from Seward to Fairbanks was completed in 1923 when President Warren Harding drove the ceremonial golden stake into the ground where the northern and southern lines come together in Nenana. While the railroad has a tumultuous history, its creation drives Alaska’s settlement and the GDP. For example, Anchorage started as a tent village for rail workers. It is now Alaska’s biggest city. The train provided then and still does transportation, mail, goods and other services to Alaska’s many dispersed communities that would otherwise be completely isolated.

The train is owned and operated by the State of Alaska, which means it considers its best uses for the state's people first. My favorite feature of the Alaska Railroad is that it will stop when flagged down. Locals living off-grid along the train line can flag down the train when needed and often do. Look for plastic chairs and camps along the railroad tracks. Many of them with flags. These are called whistle stops.

But for the traveler, a trip on the Alaska Railroad offers unparalleled views while you relax and let someone else navigate the challenging roadways and inclement weather. The hop-on, hop-off nature of the line allows you to mix and match your ideal Alaska adventure.

Writer Sarah and her daughter smile at the camera whilst being sat on the Denali Star train

On the train

There are two classes on the Denali Star: Adventure class and Gold Star service. We sat in the Adventure class on our way to Denali. These are bench seats, like old school buses, but very comfortable. Huge windows and plenty of room to see. There is also an upper deck with a glass ceiling and observation domes for folks in this class to use. 

Snuggled with our cameras on the domed upper deck, my daughter and I watched the rain drizzle over the colorful fall landscape. Grey cliffs shot through with white granite and black coal lines stretched down to rivers rushing through yellowing forests. Bright red fireweed blanketed the valleys, and bald eagles swooped over river deltas and intermittent lakes. All of it gently shrouded in a thin lingering fog.

“There are layers of color, Mom,” said my daughter. She was right. We talked about how we would paint the landscape with watercolor and let the colors drip into each other. 

Afterward, we wandered back to our seats because it was time for a snack. We walked to the cafe car and got sweet treats, hot chocolate and coffee. We often have at least one slow weekend morning in our house. We like to walk to our local coffee shop early in the morning and sit while the sun filters through the windows. We talk and draw and drink our warming drinks. The cafe car felt similar to that, only better. The huge windows at each table allowed us to watch for moose and bears while we chatted about the trip and drew pictures in our sketchbooks. 

For me, this is part of the magic of trains. The long stretches of travel time become inherent in the overall journey. The scenery is laid before you for you to enjoy, and so is time. It's an opportunity to process what you’ve already seen. To speculate on where you’re going and prepare for the stop. It's time to read, to think, to just be. 

On the way from Denali to Anchorage, we sat in the higher-class Goldstar service from Denali to Anchorage. The seats are captain's chairs with drop-down tray tables. Perfect for homework and projects. My daughter made bracelets for some of the other passengers. The ceiling is domed glass, and it feels like you are flying through these gorgeous landscapes like the eagles that follow the train. 

There is also a small outdoor deck if you are particularly interested in filming and photographing along the route. Passengers get two alcoholic drink tickets, and juice and soda are bottomless. There is a small bar in the rear of the car. Passengers in this class are also served meals depending on the time of day on the train. We ate lunch and dinner in the dining car, a step up from the cafe, with severs, white tablecloths, and great food. 

A woman in a bobble hat walks around the edge of a lake in Denali with trees surrounding the edges

The best stops on the Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad is a hop-on-hop-off train. You can book long journeys to travel from Fairbanks to Anchorage in a day, or you can book smaller legs. These are the stops we took advantage of and are still telling stories about. But there are other places to experience, like Talkeetna , which has had cats for mayors since 1997. Aside from that charming fact, it is an adventure town and serves as a gateway to the southern and less developed side of Denali National Park. 

Fairbanks: Alaskan wilderness and the Northern Lights

While one of Alaska’s largest cities, Fairbanks retains a small-town sensibility. The museums are just a bit out of town, near the University. The river offers opportunities for wildlife viewing and water-based excursions. Starting in September, Fairbanks is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. I ventured out of our room around four in the morning, bundled in my hat, down coat and pajamas.

My three-year-old joined me. He couldn’t sleep either. We didn’t see the northern lights. But we breathed the crisp air and watched the smattering of stars in the dark sky, and it felt so exciting to be so far from home. 

Sarah hikes along the Salvage Alpine Trail in Denali past some trees with the snow-capped mountains in the background

Denali: mountains, national parks and ancient forests

I do not have enough words to describe how much fun we had in Denali . There is so much to do and see; filling any number of days isn't difficult. But here are my top tips. The train will drop you off at midday. You can leave your bags at the depot, or depending on where you are staying, the bus driver for your accommodation will take them for you (that’s what we did). We stayed at the Denali Cabins and can't say enough about the service there and we loved the hot tub after our long hike. 

Go straight to the visitor center and speak with the rangers. Get a Jr. Ranger booklet to work on that during your stay. Tell the rangers about yourselves, what you like to do, and what kind of nature activities so they can help plan your visit to suit your family best. Trail hikes? There are plenty. We loved the Savage River Loop, Horshoe Loop and even just meandering down the Park Road trail was pretty amazing. The ranger-led hikes are so enriching in Denali. There is just so much to learn. 

And definitely see the kennel dogs and stay for the talk. These fascinating animals are smart and friendly, and the kennel rangers are incredibly knowledgeable. The dogs are integral to the science and conservation efforts in Denali. 

One tip, or maybe a love note. In Denali, the bus drivers like tiny humans to be in car seats. The park offers them on loan at the small gift shop to the right of the bus depot. On our first trip, we asked the driver to return the car seat as we walked back to the visitor center. It was no problem. On our second ride, we wanted to be dropped off at one stop and picked up at another. The bus driver left the seat for us at our destination with our name on it.

If I could insert a heart-eye emoji in an article, I would. I’m telling you, the Denali Rangers are superb. But that was the feeling we had all over Denali. Everyone was just so ready to give the best tips to help in any way they could to ensure that our experience was seamless.

A small white boy in a red top plays a giant drum at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage

Anchorage: culture, kid-friendly attractions and Alaska Native long houses

Visit Anchorage for the culture. The Anchorage Museum has an impressive collection of art from residents all over the state. Their offerings provide a perspective on Alaska that goes beyond the natural beauty that is this state’s constant companion. There is also an interactive science exhibit about volcanos and earthquakes and the earth's formation. 

Further outside of town, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is a must-visit. With performances at different times of the day, there is an opportunity to see dances and athletic endeavors and hear stories about Alaska Native life from all different tribes. There is a collection of art from Alaska Native creators, and some artisans have tables set up where they work and sell their goods.

Out back, there is a path studded with full-scale replicas of Alaska Native long houses from different tribes throughout the state. Different ways people created shelters in the earth. You can crawl in them, and admire the drums, clothing and tools people use to create a life in the far North. We all got a better understanding of what it means to live a life in this harsh environment.

Sarah and her family smile in waterproof after hiking through Kenai Fjords National Park to the Exit Glacier

Seward: scenic vistas, glaciers and family fun

Getting to Seward is like going through a portal into a magical world. Whether you journey by train or rent a car in Anchorage and drive the Turnagin highway, you will have trouble picking your jaw up off the floor as you journey down one of the most scenic highways in the world. 

Mountains erupt from the water all along the drive on one side and on the other, rugged rock faces interspersed with fields of fireweed meander up to more towering mountains. It was overcast on our journey. The sun is dimmed by low-hanging clouds, making the mountains look like blue triangles on a grey backdrop. The water glowed turquoise at their base. 

We stopped first at the Alaska Sealife Center . This small but exciting aquarium has touch pools so you can see the diverse wildlife that lives just below the surface in the bay beyond the windows. Other attractions include a vibrant and noisy seabird aviary. We spent a lot of time watching the birds fly and dive and chatting with the biologist. We also particularly appreciated the exhibit that explained the lifecycle of salmon, a staple food in Alaska. 

The next day, we did two foundational things. The first was our hike to Exit Glacier. About 10 miles into Kenai Fjords National Park , there is a visitor center from which you can hike to the base of the glacier. You can take several routes to see the glacier from many different perspectives. I particularly enjoyed that the rangers had placed date placards along the road leading into the visitor center and all along the trail right up to the point where the glacier has receded. Seeing its journey and how it has shaped the land throughout the decades is illuminating. We hiked as high as possible to make it in time for our boat trip.

And the second thing we did was a day cruise on Resurrection Bay. We saw sea otters, bald eagles, sea lions and an orca. But there are chances to see humpbacks, depending on the time of year you visit. I highly recommend this cruise. My son fell asleep standing up, waiting for another orca sighting; he loved it so much. We were disappointed because we didn’t do the longer trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. The biggest tip I can give you when traveling, especially to places ruled by the natural environment – be ready for anything, adjust, and be excited about the next best thing. 

Two children in bobble hats look out across Beaver Pond in Alaska which is surrounded by evergreen trees

Alaska by train and the gift of time

This trip was truly a gift. It was a gift that we gave each other. Time spent away from home. Away from the schedule of our lives. We leaned into slow journeys through spectacular environments. We discussed what we saw and let it sink deep into our bones. It has been over a month since we’ve been home and my three-year-old is still telling Alaska stories. My daughter can’t wait to go back.

Alaska, with its big and bold beauty, is an incredible draw, but the nature of this particular trip made it so incredibly impactful. It was easy. Both my partner and myself were able to enjoy it as much as the kids. It was with ease and wonder that we took this adventure together. The connectivity that arose from that ease remains one of my daily intentions. 

This article was first published Dec 13, 2023 and updated May 30, 2024.

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8 Road Trips Through Iconic U.S. National Parks

Why the united states is the best country for road trips..

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Curving road of Blue Ridge Parkway through fall foliage

A 25-45 mph speed limit and winding roads insist that the Blue Ridge Parkway is best taken slow.

Photo by Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

It wasn’t until I high-tailed it out of my home in North Carolina and lived out of my well-loved Honda CR-V for a few months in 2021 that I came to appreciate the sheer diversity and beauty of U.S. national parks . After spending the peak work-from-home era glued to my computer screen, seeing screensaver-worthy sights like the Grand Tetons in real life brought actual tears to my eyes.

I’m by no means a unique case: The awe-inspiring destinations of the national parks system drew more than 325 million visits last year, with so much anticipated demand that several parks are enforcing a reservation system to keep up with summer crowds. For those joining the ranks of travelers eager to visit one of the country’s 63 national parks, taking a scenic drive can showcase the deserts, mountains, beaches, and other U.S. landscapes at their most beautiful.

So put on a podcast , buckle up, and get ready for some adventures on these eight national park road trips.

1. The Blue Ridge Parkway

  • National parks visited: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park
  • Start: Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina
  • End: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Approximate distance: 469 miles
  • Recommended time: 5 days

This is one of the best road trips for the fall, when sourwood, oak, and other deciduous trees in the Southeast turn into an array of warm colors. Starting from North Carolina’s entrance to the approximately 800-square-mile Great Smoky Mountains National Park , the drive winds north to Virginia. Explore the Great Smoky Mountains with a hike up to Clingmans Dome to take in vistas from the park’s highest point, revealing hilly peaks formed by 300 million years of erosion and weathering. Shenandoah National Park bookends the northern portion of this road trip, offering plenty of overlooks along its 105-mile Skyline Drive . It also has its share of worthwhile hikes that will give legs a well-deserved stretch. The most famous one is Old Rag Mountain , a 3,284-foot peak that’s a six- or seven-hour workout for those up for the challenge.

The route that connects these two parks is the carefully constructed roadway known as the Blue Ridge Parkway . Named after the blue color of the atmosphere surrounding the Appalachian Mountains, the parkway snakes across 469 miles to connect Great Smoky Mountains with Shenandoah and connects travelers to more than 369 miles of hiking trails .

Where to stay

  • Book now: Glamping Collective

The Blue Ridge Parkway passes by some of Appalachia’s major towns and cities—including Asheville, North Carolina —providing insight into both the people and natural sights of the region. Drive about half an hour west of Asheville to the small town of Clyde and stay at the Glamping Collective , a property offering glass cabins and incredible mountain views. Amenities here include hot tubs, fire tables, and access to five miles of private hiking trails.

An empty highway, with double yellow lines in the middle, leading toward Grand Tetons

In the words of Afar writer Anna Fiorentino, Wyoming “offers an endless natural playground for paddling, fishing, hiking, spotting wild mustangs, studying ancient fossils, and soaking in hot springs.”

Courtesy of Jesse Collins/Unsplash

2. Wyoming’s Best Hits

  • National parks visited: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park
  • Start: Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • End: Cody, Wyoming
  • Approximate distance: 800 miles
  • Recommended time: 10 days

Road-trippers headed to Wyoming: Don’t feel the need to make a beeline for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in the northwestern corner of the state. While those parks are famous for a reason, there are plenty more that merit a slow journey across the state.

A 10-day drive will unlock the variety on offer, from ancient fossils to Old Faithful. Start in the city of Cheyenne for some history about cowboys and railroads, then wind through Medicine Bow National Forest for rock climbing or a hike among the reddish igneous rock formations of Vedauwoo. Stop to soak in the mineral hot springs of Saratoga, then settle into the town of Jackson as a base for hiking the waterfalls and lakes in Grand Teton before finishing up at Yellowstone ‘s geysers. Finally, take a hike in Shoshone National Forest before indulging in a slow-cooked supper at Cody, Wyoming’s Cody Cattle Company.

Itinerary: National Parks, Hot Springs, and the Great American Frontier: The Ultimate Wyoming Road Trip

  • Book now: The Cloudveil, Autograph Collection

Wyoming’s Jackson is a popular stop for those visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It’s worth spending some time to explore the square dancing venues, art galleries, and other places the town has to offer , especially with its myriad accommodation options ranging from renovated motor lodges to wellness-focused stays. The 100-room Cloudveil, Autograph Collection offers the comfort of a boutique hotel (private fireplaces, custom wood furnishings, and plush sitting areas) with easy access to downtown and the surrounding mountains and parks.

3. Beyond California’s Coast

  • National parks visited: Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park
  • Start: Yosemite National Park
  • End: Sequoia National Park
  • Approximate distance: 130 miles
  • Recommended time: 3 days

California is home to endless road trip itineraries . This particular one opts for dense forests and the eastern Sierras in the state’s interior. Starting in Yosemite National Park , travelers can ogle famed splendors like the vertical rock formation El Capitan and Horsetail Fall. (For a short time during winter, the waterfall gives the illusion of being on fire.) Afterward, a drive along CA-41 and CA-180 brings road-trippers to Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks , which are home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the world . Bask under trees more than 250 feet high and maybe try forest bathing (no, it’s not showering among the trees), or hike the paved Congress Trail and see the General Sherman Tree —the largest tree on Earth by volume.

Given this relatively low-mileage itinerary, there’s room for flexibility on either side of the trip. Head upstate and a vast network of forests and national parks await (including Tahoe National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park ), while the south is home to the dry lands of Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park. And if you’re eager for some ocean, consider one of the Golden State’s other legendary drives, its Pacific Coast Highway .

Timing is everything in a road trip, and it’s especially important in a large state with differing climates. Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada region closes some roads in the wintertime (such as Tioga and Glacier Point roads in Yosemite), while scorching temperatures in Death Valley (like, more than 120°F ) make the summer excursion a sweaty challenge. Come to Sequoia National Park in the fall, and witness evergreens contrasting with the reds and yellows of a fall foliage display .

  • Book now: The Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel , in Yosemite National Park, opened in 1927 and has a long history of hosting celebrity guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy, and I Love Lucy actress Lucille Ball. The property features 99 hotel rooms, parlors, and suites in addition to 24 cottages on its grounds, with Half Dome, Glacier Point, and other park sights in view.

Empty highway through red rock hills  in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is one of five national parks in Utah.

Courtesy of Lisha Riabinina/Unsplash

4. Utah’s Mighty Five

  • National parks visited: Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park
  • Start: Arches National Park
  • End: Zion National Park
  • Distance: 370 miles
  • Recommended time: 7 days

Bryce Canyon , Zion , Arches , Canyonlands , and Capitol Reef form Utah’s “Mighty Five” network of national parks. Their linear placement across the state spans some 370 miles, making for a relatively easy and immensely rewarding road trip through canyon country . Starting among the orange spires, vaults, and canyons of Arches National Park and passing through with the Colorado River–carved buttes of Canyonlands , this journey feels like a visit to Mars. The otherworldly scenery continues with the Navajo Sandstone domes of Capitol Reef and the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, where multi-colored rock layers (known as the “Grand Staircase”) stretch through to Zion .

Summer is often a popular time for visiting this area, but a winter road trip has surprising perks worth considering: Zion gets 70 percent of its visitors between April and September, but only 2–3 percent in each winter month of December, January, and February. The lack of crowds isn’t the only plus. Colder weather brings seasonal opportunities—like cross-country skiing in Bryce Canyon.

Book now: Lodge at Bryce Canyon

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon first opened in 1925, designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood (the architect who also designed the Old Faithful Lodge at Yellowstone and the Ahwahnee at Yosemite). One of the biggest draws for the 114-room property (which includes lodge suites, motel rooms, and cabins) is its location: It is the sole accommodation inside the park. Amenities in the area include restaurants, a general store, and a laundry facility, and many natural excursions are accessible by foot—it’s only a five-minute walk to the start of the 5.5-mile Rim Trail .

5. West Virginia’s Wonders

  • National park visited: New River Gorge National Park
  • Start: Blackwater Falls State Park
  • End: New River Gorge National Park
  • Distance: 200 miles

In 2020, the United States designated a national park in West Virginia: New River Gorge . Despite the name, the river is not new: It’s estimated to be between 260 million and 325 million years old , making it one of the oldest rivers in North America. While locals have long known about all the state has to offer, a three-day adventure is enough to prime visitors on West Virginia’s major points of interest. Start the trip in Blackwater Falls State Park , where hikers can climb steps to a 57-foot cascade. Then drive around 30 miles south to get to Seneca Rocks , a formation that rises 900 feet above the New River.

Can’t get enough excitement from the hairpin turns it takes to get to New River Gorge National Park ? Then don’t miss the opportunity to do some whitewater rafting on the New River, which offers class II–IV rapids depending on the stretch. It’s a great place to try out the activity as a beginner, but experienced rafters should keep their calendar open for when “Gauley Season” comes around (the six weeks or so following Labor Day).

Don’t sweat it if high-intensity waters aren’t in your plans. Hiking is always available as a tried-and-true way to get the lay of the land. If you have time for one hike in the national park, Afar’s own Jessie Beck recommends the 2.2-mile Endless Wall Trail: “It’s especially magical at sunrise, when fog and mist drift in and out the canyon.”

Itinerary: Travel to the Newest U.S. National Park and Other West Virginia Wonders on This Road Trip of a Lifetime

  • Book now: Adventures on the Gorge

Travelers can get their excursions and nightly stay handled in one place with Adventures on the Gorge , which offers trips including whitewater rafting and ziplining as well as accommodations. A stay at its Lansing location, about a mile from New River Gorge National Park, immerses visitors in the rustic beauty of nature: Think wooden cabins with fantastic stargazing opportunities. (Some cabins have the elevated touch of a private porch and hot tub.)

Aerial shot of an island with fort walls surrounding it

Seven islands make up the Dry Tortugas, a national park 70 miles across the water from Key West.

Photo courtesy of Key West Seaplane Adventures

6. Florida Keys

  • National parks visited: Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Start: Everglades National Park
  • End: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Distance: 150 miles

While many Florida road trips start and end with its gorgeous beaches, drive to its southern border for some of the most memorable marine ecosystems and underrated national parks in the nation.

Florida’s Everglades are the starting point for the trip and introduce travelers to the “river of grass” Marjory Stoneman Douglas fought to conserve. (Her book The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947, the same year the Everglades became a national park.) From the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Everglades National Park, it’s about a 20-mile drive east to get to Homestead Bayfront, where travelers can take a boat out to Biscayne National Park. The park is 95 percent water and its land spots are only accessible by boat, so the most convenient option is to explore via guided tour .

After coming back to the mainland, hop on Florida’s Highway 1 for another 135 miles—stopping for the occasional seafood dish, of course—before ending at Key West . The car stops here because Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west and can only be reached via boat or plane . Spend the day in a national park that’s 99 percent water and explore the 30 species of coral found in its reefs , and hop on that 1 percent of land to explore the historical Fort Jefferson .

  • Book now: Ocean Key Resort & Spa

While there are plenty of stays along the stretch of the Florida Keys, Key West is a practical base for those taking a day trip to Dry Tortugas. The 100-room Ocean Key Resort & Spa is one stay to consider for sunset views and Caribbean cuisine . With a calendar full of live music and nightly events, the resort provides much-needed ways to relax after a day of travel.

Empty two-lane highway leading to  mountains in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers more than 800,000 acres, making it larger than Joshua Tree National Park and Yosemite National Park.

Courtesy of freddie marriage/Unsplash

7. New Mexico to Texas

  • National parks visited: White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Big Bend National Park
  • Start: White Sands National Park
  • End: Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Distance: 450 miles

It’s difficult to encompass every national park in the Southwest on one road trip—this particular route focuses on those in New Mexico and Texas. This journey starts in White Sands National Park , where visitors can take the eight-mile Dunes Drive into the world’s largest gypsum dune field. (Gypsum is a mineral found in drywall and toothpaste.) Drive about 185 miles to get to New Mexico’s other national park on the itinerary, Carlsbad Caverns , which contrasts the hot desert experience by plunging visitors into the depths of more than 119 limestone caves .

It’s only about 35 miles to Texas’s Guadalupe Mountains National Park from the caves, where hiking to the highest natural point in the state, Guadalupe Peak, provides panoramic views of the surrounding desert and mountains. Fuel up, because it’s about 235 miles to get to the next park, Big Bend, located near the border of Mexico. But while the trip may be long, it’s worth the effort: Big Bend is a stargazer’s dream, as it’s the least light-polluted national park in the lower 48.

There’s a lot to cover in this trip—after loading up on barbecue and snacks from beloved Texan gas station chain Buc-ee’s , maybe consider another road trip in the Lone Star State.

  • Book now: Gage Hotel

If you don’t want to spend the night at one of Big Bend National Park’s campgrounds , drive around 40 minutes north to get to the park gateway town of Marathon , which Afar contributor Nick DeRenzo describes as a “funky town [that] oozes Old West charm and feels a bit like Marfa before the art-school kids arrived.” Base yourself in the Gage Hotel , a 1927-founded property that embraces the Western theme, complete with leather furniture and cow skulls adorning the walls.

View of forest in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge Road is a great drive for views of Olympic National Park.

Courtesy of Georg Eiermann/Unsplash

8. Olympic Peninsula Loop

  • National park visited: Olympic National Park
  • Start and end: Olympia, Washington
  • Distance: 335 miles

Explore the Pacific Northwest in all its glory on this Olympic Peninsula road trip in Washington State, which mostly traces U.S. 101 before following U.S. 12 and 8 at the southern portion to loop back to the state capital of Olympia. Some of the notable stops on this route include Sequim, which draws visitors in the summer for its lavender fields, and Forks , a small town made famous by the Twilight series, that serves as a good base for checking out the Pacific coastline.

Deeper in the peninsula is the nearly 1-million-acre Olympic National Park, which packs in mountains characteristic of the Pacific Northwest in addition to its own unique geographical features. Hikes abound here, like the three-mile round-trip Hurricane Hill trail that offers 360-degree views of the park. But perhaps the most popular destination in the park is the Hoh Rain Forest—one of four rainforests in the state—a mossy, temperate ecosystem home to Sitka spruce, black bears, river otters, and the endangered northern spotted owl.

  • Book now: Kalaloch Lodge at Olympic National Park

Kalaloch Lodge at Olympic National Park , 35 miles southwest of Forks, is an ideal overnight base for exploring the Pacific Coast. The waters by the property are part of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary , a more than 3,000-square-mile area home to at least 300 species of fish and 29 species of marine mammals , including orca and humpback whales. From the wood-paneled lodge and cabins, guests can take in uninterrupted sights and sounds of the ocean waves that are especially magnificent come sunset.

This article was originally published in 2023. It was updated June 10, 2024, with the latest information.

Courtesy of HFerreira/Unsplash/Collette

The best luxury train holidays in Europe and further afield

Mountain railways with breath-taking views, overnighters to iconic cities and afternoon tea rides through the English countryside all feature among the world’s best luxury train rides

luxury train holidays, venice simplon orient express

Avoiding airport delays, security queues and packed aircrafts is another big factor contributing to the rise of rail travel , which has resulted in a flurry of new European sleeper train routes.

What is the most luxurious train?

Among the most luxurious trains to experience in the world is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express , which launched in 1982, making its first journey from London to Venice. The train is famed for its restored 1920s and 1930s Art Deco carriages, along with a tempting array of routes including Paris to Istanbul, Paris to Prague, Paris to Budapest , Amsterdam to Venice , and Brussels to Verona, plus winter trains to the French Alps.

How much is a luxury train holiday?

The cost of a luxury train holiday depends on the company, what your package includes, and how long the journey takes. As a guideline, the classic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express route from Paris to Venice costs from £3,530 per person but booking the journey as part of a longer holiday will help you get the most of your getaway. For instance, as a trip of a lifetime, you can experience the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express with Good Housekeeping as part of a tour of Venice, where prices start at £5,999. The package includes flights from London to Venice, followed by three nights in the spellbinding city, exploring its famous sights and enjoying dinner and a talk with TV broadcaster, journalist and train fanatic Michael Portillo .

You’ll then embark on the overnight train journey (with Michael in tow) to Paris, complete with aperitifs, a four-course dinner, and a sumptuous breakfast of fruit, pastries and fresh coffee.

What is the most luxurious train ride in the UK?

When it comes to the most lavish train rides in the UK, one of the finest is the Belmond British Pullman , a restored 1920s train with antique-style marquetry, vintage lighting and heritage upholstery, and a history of transporting royalty and film stars. Today, it takes train lovers to historic cities , likes of Bath, York and Canterbury; stately homes, such as Blenheim Palace and Sandringham; and seasonal events, including the Chelsea Flower Show and Royal Ascot; and ancient castles. With Good Housekeeping Holidays, you can enjoy an exclusive train ride through the English countryside on the British Pullman to Highclere Castle , the location of Downton Abbey , where you’ll join a talk with owner Lady Carnarvon. A published author and passionate proprietor, Lady Carnarvon will discuss the history of the stately home, reveal some of its secrets and share stories from the set of BAFTA-winning TV show. The day includes a welcome drink and three-course brunch on your journey to Highclere Castle , champagne during the talk, and a three-course dinner with wine, coffee and petit fours on the return journey. Other luxury UK trains include Belmond’s Royal Scotsman, which offers cinematic train tours of the Highlands, trips to heritage homes and gardens, and whisky tastings at world-class distilleries. The Northern Belle, a seven-carriage luxury train dating back to the 1930s, also offers an opulent experience. Departing from stations all over the UK, the train takes guests on both day and weekend journeys around the country, offering everything from stately home visits to champagne afternoon tea.

Where is the best place to go for a luxury train holiday?

If you’re looking for a rail trip abroad, the best places for luxury train breaks and holidays are Switzerland, India, Australia and Canada, with some of the most famous luxury trains around the world being the Glacier Express , the Rocky Mountaineer , The Ghan, The Blue Train, the Palace on Wheels, and the Andean Explorer. Looking for the best luxury train holiday for you? Be inspired by these ideas from Good Housekeeping Holidays' collection...

A Venice city break and Venice Simpon-Orient-Express overnighter to Paris

luxury train holidays, inside the venice simplon orient express

Join journalist, broadcaster and rail enthusiast Michael Portillo on his very first trip aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express . In March 2025, you can spend two days in Venice before taking an overnight journey to Paris aboard the magnificent train.

After visiting bucket-list landmarks like St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge's Palace in Venice, you’ll get to relax onboard, with meals in the plush dining car, cocktails and conversation in Bar Car ‘3674’, and a night in a luxurious cabin.

An Alaska cruise with Canada's national parks and a Rocky Mountaineer ride

the best luxury train holidays in europe and further afield

The Rocky Mountains and Alaska are two of North America’s most spectacular areas of wilderness but are surprisingly easy to combine in one trip with Good Housekeeping this summer. From the town of Banff in southern Canada, you can explore both Banff and Yoho national parks, and then ride the historic Rocky Mountaineer train through a landscape of mountain passes, serene lakes, river canyons and pristine forests.

Pulling into Vancouver, step aboard Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess ship and sail through Alaska's Inside Passage, with its fjords, humpback whales, orca, bald eagles and bears, indigenous communities, and fascinating Gold Rush history.


Lake Como, St Moritz and A Bernina Express ride

the best luxury train holidays in europe and further afield

The Bernina Express is an enchanting, UNESCO-listed train that travels along the highest railway line in the Alps and gives you a unique view of Switzerland's shimmering lakes and mountain peaks from its spacious, panoramic carriages. On Good Housekeeping's Italy-Switzerland adventure , departing in September or December 2024, you’ll board the Bernina Express in Colico on the shores of Lake Como in Lombardy, northern Italy.

After the ride of a lifetime, you'll alight in Switzerland's most famous and glamorous Alpine resort, St Moritz. Upon returning to Italy for the rest of the trip, you'll also enjoy a cruise on Como , taking in its quaint ports, picture-postcard villages and dreamy mountain backdrop.

A first-class rail tour of Switzerland

the best luxury train holidays in europe and further afield

Switzerland’s rail network is renowned for its comfort and efficiency, and is comprised of several iconic mountain railways that you can experience on this glorious Good Housekeeping trip . Enjoy a return trip on the Gornergrat Mountain Railway from Zermatt, which offers outstanding views of the Alps’ famous Matterhorn, as well as a return ride on the Bernina Express to Tirano (in Italy) and back, on which you’ll see the Swiss mountains, glaciers and lakes give way to Italian greenery.

From Zermatt, you’ll then take one of the most extraordinary train journeys, the Glacier Express. Known as ‘the slowest express train in the world’, it chugs along at 24mph for 181 miles through spectacular Alpine scenery, which you'll enjoy from a first-class carriage as you feast on a fabulous lunch. This trip also includes five-star hotel stays in upmarket Zermatt and St Moritz.

A journey to the home of Downton Abbey on the British Pullman

the best luxury train holidays in europe and further afield

This September, you can travel from London’s Victoria Station to Highclere Castle, a Grade I-listed country house in Hampshire that was built in 1679 and is surrounded by acres of verdant parkland designed by Capability Brown.

On this fabulous day trip , you’ll travel with Good Housekeeping editor-at-large Gaby Huddart on the British Pullman, a luxurious Belmond train, aboard which you’ll enjoy both brunch and dinner. At Highclere, you can savour a glass of champagne as you listen to an exclusive talk by castle owner and resident, Lady Carnarvon.

A no-fly holiday to the Swiss Alps and ride on the Glacier Express

the best luxury train holidays in europe and further afield

Flying is strictly off the agenda on this five-day Swiss sojourn , which departs in October 2024, March 2025 and October 2025. You’ll begin with a Eurostar trip from London to Paris, then travel onto Basel and finally to Switzerland's mountainous resort town of Interlaken. After a day visiting the town of Lucerne, its surrounding lake and other villages, you’ll head to Chur to join the Glacier Express .

While onboard, you’ll ascend into the snow-clad mountains, chug past ravines and charming villages, and journey through the Alps’ dramatic Oberalp Pass, all the while enjoying a three-course lunch. After returning to Interlaken that evening, you’ll spend your final day exploring the Swiss capital of Bern before heading back to London via train once again.

More travel ideas:

- The best cruises for 2024

- Venice's hidden gems

- The 2025 holidays worth booking in advance

- The best mother-daughter holiday ideas

- Amazing holidays with celebrity guests

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Discover the joy of slower travel

Forget busy airports, traffic jams and lack of legroom: rail travel is your ticket to slow down and enjoy the ride. Traveling by train isn't merely a means of getting from A to B – you'll share carriages with the locals and soak up the scenery before stepping off the platform into the heart of the action. Whether you want to embark on an iconic rail journey like the Reunification Express in Vietnam or zip through Japan on a super-speedy Shinkansen, climb aboard for a slower-paced, lower-carbon adventure.

Whether you’re a die-hard rail nerd or a novice train traveler, get on board because trains are the future of travel. Trains generally produce less carbon emissions than airplanes and fuel-powered cars, and by joining a rail trip, not only will you be taking a more scenic route, you'll be skipping those tedious airport commutes and security queues.

Most trains we take are a mode of transport for local people. Whether it’s an overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi or a misty morning ride through the Scottish Highlands, rail travel doubles as an immersive cultural experience. With a local leader to help bridge language barriers, there'll be plenty of opportunities to interact with your fellow passengers.

You might be able to fly between cities or countries, but are you really seeing them when you’re thousands of feet in the air? In a world that feels like it’s always going at full steam, rail travel invites you to settle in, turn to the window and appreciate the destination you’re in rather than rushing through it.

Up there with onsens, sushi and sumo wrestling, the shinkansen (bullet train) is a must-do activity in Japan. The shinkansen was the world's first high-speed rail and is renowned for its comfort and punctuality – the average delay time is less than one minute per year. Despite reaching up to 200 miles per hour, riding the shinkansen is a totally Zen experience with orderly carriages and polite passenger etiquette. Japanese railway meals, or ‘ekiben’, also put soggy train sandwiches to shame.

Spanning over 1000 miles between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the Reunification Express is an iconic railway line that symbolises the reunification of North and South Vietnam after the war. Weaving through sleepy fishing villages, rice paddies, mountains and cities, this hop-on-hop-off journey showcases the diverse beauty of Vietnam and is a great way to glimpse into daily life.

Are you ready to board the world’s highest railway? Hitting an altitude of 17,000 feet in the pristine peaks of the Tibetan Plateau, the Lhasa Express is about as scenic as rail journeys get. With never-ending views of snow-capped mountains, glistening lakes and vast highlands speckled with yaks, you won’t be able to peel your eyes away from the window. 

With over 160,000 miles of railway tracks, Europe has no shortage of train travel adventures. Whether you fancy rumbling along the world’s oldest railway system in Britain, savoring the lush Swiss countryside on the Gotthard Panorama Express, or uncovering the history and mystique of the iconic train route between Paris to Istanbul , there’s so much to see on an overland odyssey across the continent.

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Is rail travel comfortable?

For the most part, long-distance and inter-regional trains are very comfortable. They often provide more legroom than on planes, air-conditioning, snack bars or vending machines, power outlets and occasionally even wi-fi. 

Regional and metropolitan trains that cover shorter distances are a bit more basic, and because they're often filled with locals travelling for work or a weekend away, your group may need to stand for a short time. But what they lack in luxury, they make up for with convenience and great views. 

Are there toilets on board?

Yes, all trains will have toilets on board, though they may not be the Western-style toilets you’re used to. You should always bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Are there power outlets on board?

Power outlets will be available on many trains, but it’s a good idea to invest in a portable charger before your trip in case the outlets are out of use or hard to reach. Wi-fi will be available on some, but not all, trains.

Is train travel safe?

As with any style of travel, it's important to exercise standard safety precautions while traveling via train. Your leader will brief you on detailed safety measures before your train journey, but keeping your valuables close by, especially your passport and travel documents, is always a good idea. Don't leave daypacks or personal items unattended. Traveling with a money belt will reduce the chance of petty theft or pickpocketing, and keeping a lock on your suitcase will ensure peace of mind on your journey.

How fast do the trains go?

Train speeds vary depending on the destination you're visiting. Bullet trains in Japan and China can reach a staggering 220 miles per hour, making them fast and efficient. Trains in Europe tend to be a bit slower, travelling around 125 miles per hour in Switzerland and Italy, but slower is OK when you've got epic views out your window. Vietnam’s Reunification Express averages around 30 miles per hour. 

At times, we do use local/regional trains as transport, which tend to move at a more leisurely pace and make lots of stops.  

How fit must I be to participate in an Intrepid rail trip?

Rail trips can be enjoyed by just about anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, and good general mobility will play a big part in making your trip more enjoyable. 

You are expected to be able to carry your own bags for up to 30 minutes and lift them onto the train. Transport hubs may be crowded, and elevators aren't always available, so you'll need to be comfortable handling your belongings on stairs as you navigate from platform to platform. 

Sometimes you'll need to move quickly with your bags, especially if trying to make a tight connection... you do have a train to catch, after all! More info about pacing and physical rating can be found in the Essential Trip Information section of your itinerary. 

How much luggage can I bring?

On Intrepid's rail trips, you will be responsible for carrying your own bags, so it's a good idea to opt for luggage you can easily lift and move around. Many travelers prefer to carry a backpack, as public transport can often be cramped and may not have luggage racks for large suitcases. Luggage is stored in overhead racks on many trains, so the smaller the bag, the easier it will be to lift above your seat.

Be prepared to pack light, as storage space on trains is often limited, and you'll want to avoid blocking aisles or taking up extra seats. In Japan, luggage may be subject to strict size and weight restrictions on the Shinkansen, and oversized bags may incur an additional fee. You can find specifics under the "Packing" section of your Essential Trip Information. 

What are overnight trains like?

Although the idea of taking an overnight train can be overwhelming, it's an exciting way to immerse yourself in local culture... and it often ends up as a highlight for many travelers. 

Overnight trains are clean, comfortable and safe, and depending on the region you're traveling in, compartments typically hold anywhere from four to six passengers in bunks. Clean sheets and a pillow are provided, but you can bring your own if it makes you more comfortable. There are basic washroom facilities with toilets and sinks in each carriage, but it's good practice to bring your own supply of toilet paper, just in case.

Refer to your Essential Trip Information for more detailed descriptions of overnight trains.

What should I pack for an overnight train?

For the most part, overnight trains are comfortable, and you'll be able to survive with the basics. If you're looking to make the journey a bit more pleasant, consider packing:

Extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer 

A lightweight sleep sheet and pillowcase 

A portable device charger 

An eye mask 

Snacks and drinks 

Meals may be provided, but it’s a good idea to supplement, especially if you have dietary restrictions. 

A luggage lock or lockable bag 

Will I have my own cabin or compartment on an overnight train?

While we do our best to keep groups together on overnight trains, there may be circumstances where travelers are split between compartments and carriages. In some cases, you may share with other travelers in addition to group members, which is a great way to meet locals and experience the local culture firsthand. Your leader will always be close by to help you settle in and answer any questions once you're on board.

If you've booked a single supplement, overnight trains are an exception and you will be sharing a compartment with other members of your group.

Are the trains on time?

The punctuality of trains often depends on the local cultural perception of time. While it's very likely that the Shinkansen in Japan will depart and arrive exactly on time, trains in Italy may take a more flexible approach when it comes to timekeeping. The best way to handle this is to simply go with the flow and enjoy the journey. Delays are often minimal, but in the case of a longer delay, there's not much a deck of cards and a few local snacks can't fix. 

Can I take a rail trip with children?

Train travel can be fun and relaxing, and large windows are perfect for spotting popular landmarks. A dining car, snack trolley, or vending machine can provide good respite for hungry kids and adults alike, plus, onboard bathrooms mean fewer emergency toilet situations (we've all been there). Check out our range of Family trips to see which destination suits your family adventure best.

Do I need to purchase travel insurance before traveling?

Absolutely. All passengers traveling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance

Are Intrepid's rail trips accessible for travellers with disabilities?

We're committed to making travel widely accessible , regardless of ability or disability. We ask that you carefully consider whether you are physically and mentally able to complete the itinerary you have chosen, recognising that on many trips, you will be required to carry your own bags on public transport. 

Where we can, we will make reasonable adjustments to the operation of our trips to facilitate the requirements of disabled travellers. Many travelers with disabilities have been able to enjoy our trips by traveling with a friend or companion who can assist with specific needs.

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  2. WHAT are YOU DOING?


  1. National Parks Train Vacations

    Canyonlands National Park, UT. Embark on a scenic train journey to Canyonlands National Park, UT, and discover the breathtaking beauty of Utah's iconic landscapes. Travel in comfort and style as you explore top attractions like Island in the Sky, The Needles, and the stunning natural formations of this stunning park. View Destination.

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  6. National Parks by Rail Guide

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  7. Amtrak Vacations and the National Parks

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  8. 12 National Parks. 4 Trains. 1 Epic Journey.

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  12. AAA Vacations

    Enjoy some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the world on this train tour from Denver to Salt Lake City that includes four spectacular national parks: Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands and Yellowstone. Begin in Denver, where there is no shortage of gorgeous Rocky Mountain views. Head to Moab on Amtrak's California Zephyr, which is considered one of the most beautiful train trips in North ...

  13. Experience the Parks by Train

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  14. 6 Beautiful National Parks That Are Accessible by Amtrak

    Serving more than 500 destinations, many of them within or near national parks, Amtrak is a great way to travel. Here are six amazing Amtrak routes that will bring you to national parks around the ...

  15. Great Parks of the Southwest featuring the Grand Canyon

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  18. Grand National Parks of the Southwest

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  19. Alaska National Parks Rail Adventure: 11 Day Ultimate Rail Tour

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  20. Entrance Passes

    The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, covering entrance, standard amenity, and day-use fees.

  21. Yellowstone National Park by Rail

    Embark on a scenic train journey to Yellowstone National Park and discover the beauty of America's first national park. Travel in comfort and style as you explore top attractions like Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and the stunning natural landscapes of this iconic destination.

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