Rivers, highways, bridges and all travel routes alike have helped pave American history. Few, however, compare to that of the American railroad and its historic trains. Echoing the ingenuity that connected the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Ocean, trains highlight the innovations of North American travel and boast the elegance of western culture. They incite both nostalgia for an era bygone and the thrill of new horizons ahead.

From steam to diesel locomotives, groups can hop the rails and take a ride through history while enjoying culinary delights and the vast North American landscape. Grab a compass and pack a suitcase; the distant sounds of a whistle and roaring engine are calling.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa, California

Located in the heart of one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world, the Napa Valley Wine Train amazes groups with countless travel amusements. Its early 20th-century vintage Pullman rail cars restored with Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions and luxury armchairs create a sophisticated environment for groups desiring fine dining with vintage flare.

Napa Valley Wine Train
Credit: Napa Valley Wine Train

“The Napa Valley Wine Train offers an engaging and memorable experience that echoes the glory days of train travel,” said Rick Evanich, area managing director of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

The options are endless for groups selecting a train and wine tour. The Vista Dome Car Tour chugs past the colorful vineyards of world-renowned wineries, which visitors see from an elevated observation-style dining car. Take the experience to the next level with the Legacy, Collective or Estate tours. These full-day trips include a four-course meal and tastings at three of Napa’s exemplary wineries.

A trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train also highlights winery history in the Napa region. Groups discover the legacies of notable wine-making families in Napa Valley while tasting the delicious significance of continued traditions.

“The Napa Valley Wine Train is a must-do experience for anyone visiting Napa Valley and is one of the most distinctive restaurants in the region,” Evanich said.

The Napa Valley Wine Train can accommodate group sizes ranging from 20 to 350. Train rides last three to six hours depending on the tour.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad goes where no automobile can. With routes providing sights into canyons and over ridges, trips are truly “off-the-grid” and offer groups some of the best views between Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.

“The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the highest, longest and most authentic steam railroad in the U.S.,” said John Bush, president of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. “Today, it is a National Historic Landmark that moves.”

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Credit: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Originally constructed in 1880, the Cumbres & Toltec fell into abandonment until the late 20th century. Wanting to preserve a historical treasure, New Mexico and Colorado jointly purchased nine locomotives, over 130 freight cars, and the Chama yard and maintenance facility in 1970. The railroad began welcoming visitors the following year.

Today, groups can board these rescued trains and take trips ranging from two to eight hours in length. Train speeds never exceed 12 mph, giving travelers every opportunity to enjoy the smooth rocking of a traveling locomotive without missing Rocky Mountain backcountry.

“Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and many other historic Old West figures rode this train,” Bush said. “A live steam railroad is an unforgettable trip to the past.”

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad

Durbin, West Virginia

Locally-owned Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad operates four scenic train excursions, each unique in route with an emphasis on preserving the history of trains and railroads.

Connected by three historic depots and one bridge, the railroad boards groups in Durbin, Elkins and Cass, then sweeps them away into the lush 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest. Groups experience immaculate West Virginia mountain scenery; historic towns; secluded waterfalls; and sightings of bald eagles, black bears and other wildlife.

“Our rides pass through long stretches of wilderness scenery that is otherwise inaccessible except on foot,” said John W. Smith, president of Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad
Credit: mountainrail

Enjoy on-board lunch buffets, gourmet dinners, murder mysteries and wine tastings all on beautifully restored railcars powered by steam and diesel locomotives.

In addition to providing captivating excursions, the railroad diligently works to maintain the quality of its equipment.

“Durbin & Greenbrier was formed for the purpose of preserving unused and abandoned rail lines in the area,” Smith said.

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad accommodates group sizes up to 200. Day trips last two to five hours, with additional options for overnight excursions.

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad
304-636-9477, ext. 109

Tennessee Valley Railroad

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Explore rugged Tennessee terrain while taking a train ride from a facility used as the backdrop of several movies, documentary films and music videos.

Tennessee Valley Railroad
Credit: Penelope Soule Gault

“The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum provides an interactive, historical experience that will add an extra dimension to a group’s visit,” said Olivia Hovey, director of passenger sales and development at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. “Groups will find the only regularly scheduled, full-sized train ride in Tennessee.”

Founded in 1960, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was created by like-minded individuals wanting to save steam locomotives and railway equipment for historical display and use.

Now, the excursion-based museum offers numerous train ride experiences starting from stations in Chattanooga and Etowah, Tennessee.

On the hourlong Missionary Ridge Local trip, groups receive a history lesson, experience a turntable demonstration, pass through a pre-Civil War tunnel and tour the railroad’s restoration facility.

On the Summerville Steam Special — a nine-hour tour — guests depart from the Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga and travel a historic route to Summerville, Georgia, for sightseeing and shopping.

“The Tennessee Valley Railroad hopes to educate our visitors about the importance of this industry and how it helped create the modern world,” Hovey said.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
423-894-8028, ext. 1017