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These beautiful winter train rides will bring magic to the holidays

Trains have always been a part of my life. My dad worked for the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis, where his job was to pay the railroad to carry the mail. The large granite USPS building was across the street from Union Station. When I was young, the station was bustling with trains lined up to carry people to wherever they wanted to go – and, of course, to carry the mail.

During my childhood, Dad would go to Union Station on his lunch breaks and chat with the porters, stewards, and engineers. He would decorate the dining car on special holidays, and he even dressed up as Santa at Christmas. After a few years, Amtrak gave him the status of “Honorary Trainmaster.” This title came with free train rides to Chicago and Indianapolis for the family.

So, my love of trains came honestly and early.

Occasionally it is nice to get out of the driver’s seat and experience scenery you will never see from the road. And since these are winter snow train trips, the scenery would not be seen from the driver’s seat in the same way.

Here are a few train rides to consider over the winter.

Grand Canyon Railway

Photo Credit: Glenda Sims, Flickr

This is a good one if you are wintering in the Southwest and can get to Williams, Arizona.  There is a lot of history in this small town that sits on the famous Route 66. The railway has been serving the South Rim of the Grand Canyon since 1901 and still offers daily trips. There was a time when the only way to get into the canyon was by train.

The track begins and ends with two historic train depots. The Williams Depot, completed in 1908, is the oldest poured-concrete structure in Arizona. On the other end is the Grand Canyon Depot, completed in 1910. It is one of approximately 14 log depots ever constructed, one of only three left standing, and the only one still in operation as a depot.

If you arrive via RV, the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel offers a modern RV park. There is also a pet resort to house your pet while you enjoy the train ride.

Meals can be eaten in a historic Fred Harvey Restaurant next door to the station. He developed the first restaurant chain in the United States when he opened a string of lunchrooms, restaurants, shops, and hotels to serve train passengers across the West.

During the ride, you will be entertained by Western musicians and a multitude of cowboy characters to make it a true Western experience. A Wild West show takes place in the street before departure – it’s just like being in an old Western movie.

Trains depart Williams Depot at 8:30 a.m. and return at 4:45 p.m. during the winter. There’s a three-hour layover for you to explore the Grand Canyon. Visit their website for current information.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – Cascade Canyon Express

Photo by pascal claivaz from PexelsRelive a part of the Golden Age of the West on this National Historic Landmark train. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers the Cascade Winter Train that takes you through the breathtaking San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado as winter settles into the Rockies. Catch the train in the historic town of Durango, Colorado, from November 20th to May 6th.

The 52-mile round trip experience gives you 5 ½ hours to view the spectacular winter scenes the San Juan Mountains have to offer. Upon reaching Cascade Canyon, you have an hour to eat your lunch beside a campfire and walk along the Animas River.

From November 19, 2021, to January 1, 2022, the train is transformed into a magical steam train, The Polar Express™, and heads for the North Pole (imaginary) to pick up Santa. Drink hot cocoa while listening to the conductor read “The Polar Express” story.

Learn more about the schedule here.

There are 40 opportunities in 24 states to ride trains transformed into The Polar Express.  There may be a train near you!

Why not jump on an Amtrak just for a winter ride?

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@mikepetrucci?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Mike Petrucci</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/amtrak-in-winter?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>
Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

Many of my fellow RVers love to go for rides, even when the RV is parked. We still take “Sunday drives” in the toad, but train rides give the opportunity to see everything. And we usually like to winter in places that don’t have snow. Train rides can be an option to see breathtaking winter landscapes.

Amtrak has several trains that take you through winter landscapes, whether it is in the middle of the Rocky Mountains or along the northern shores of the Great Lakes.

The California Zephyr is one of my favorite trips. You can catch it in Chicago, but getting on in Denver and riding to Sacramento offers some spectacular views from the observation car. Leaving Denver, you ride up, up, up, and through Glenwood Canyon, where you can get off and stay in Glenwood Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Or keep going into Red Tock Country of Southern Utah and up to Salt Lake City for some world-class skiing. Once you pass the salt flats and desert lands of Nevada, you climb into the Sierras for breathtaking views you would not want to see from the driver’s seat.

Empire Builder takes a different route out of Chicago and heads for Seattle. This route provides you eight hours of traveling through Glacier National Park, including a seven-mile tunnel.

Do you have a favorite winter train route or a train route in another season? When was the last time you took a train for leisure? Tell us in the comments below. Thanks!

##RVT1028

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Kathy Niemeyer
2 months ago

We took the California Zephyr in 2019 and loved it! We flew from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Chicago a day ahead. Rode the subway to the train station in Chicago. We had a “sleepette” on the train and it is fun for ONE TIME. In the future will would get a full berth room. We got off in Oakland and rode the BART to the Oakland airport where we rented a car. Great vacation!

Ron T.
2 months ago

In 2002 we took the Empire Builder from Columbus WI to Seattle to visit the wife’s brother and sister-in-law. Most relaxing trip ever. Lots of scenery, great food and time to meet and talk with other leisure travelers.

Scott Davis
2 months ago

We really enjoyed the Grand Canyon Railroad trip. Their website allows you to book an overnight room at one of the motels within Grand Canyon Park then return to Williams AZ the next afternoon.