Luxury trains have become a chic means of travel throughout North America worth considering for those looking for unique experiences. From the early days of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Tom Thumb, to Burlington Railroad’s Pioneer Zephyr, Canadian Pacific Railway, the Rio Grande’s California Zephyr or Sant Fe’s Super Chief, and one can’t forget the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad’s famed George Washington; there is a storied history of mainline railroad’s in North America offering luxury passenger train service and routes prior to the late 1960’s.
The 1970’s brought about deregulation within mainline railroads in the U.S. – coupled with the continual improvement and speed of the jet age and airline travel and an expanded federal highway system – all but obliterating luxury train travel in the United States and similarly in Canada. In 1971, the U.S. Congress created Amtrak out of a conglomoration of a few mainline railroad’s old passenger service routes and rolling stock. Though never truly considered ‘luxury’, and at best a faint ghost of upscale passenger service from the 1920’s through the 1950’s, Amtrak offers passenger train service via routes across the U.S., while in Canada they have VIA Rail.
Fortunately, the seemingly bygone, golden era of luxury passenger train service has had a resurgence in the past few decades in North America thanks in part to private investors who recognize the market for luxury travel via the rails. It’s fair to say chic train travel in the United States and Canada is making a comeback.
Luxury Rail Travel in the United States
Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star: Anchorage to Denali National Park
Alaska Railroad offers a premium class – Goldstar Service – on its flagship train, the Denali Star. How about riding in a glass dome car with epic views of North America’s tallest mountain, Denali and the incredible Alaskan landscape. Check out Alaska Railroad’s GoldStar Service ticket which provides access to an outdoor, upper-level platform, the only railcar of this design in the world. The Denali Star route leaves from Anchorage on its 12 hour excursion and stops in Wasilla and Talkeetna before its journey through Denali National Park. before ending the trip in Fairbanks. From June through August, Adventure Class tickets start at $181 for adults, with Goldstar Service costing $349 for adults and $200 for children ages 2-11.
The Southwest Chief: Rails to Rim Adventure
If you’re looking for a vintage rail itinerary with modern amenities taking you to an epic destination, then you may want to consider the Rails to Rim round-trip provided by Vacations By Rail. This epic tour of the southwest U.S. departs from and returns to LA. The first part of this journey is aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief leaving Los Angeles and arriving on day two in Flagstaff, Arizona. As part of the Rails to the Rim package your journey continues on a second train ride leaving Flagstaff journeying north to Grand Canyon National Park’s south rim via the Grand Canyon Railway.
After nearly a full day at the Grand Canyon, you return back to Flagstaff for two night stay in the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Day five, guests take the Southwest Chief train back to L.A. Pro tip: have lunch while visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon at the historic El Tovar Hotel – situated just above the train station. We suggest making lunch reservations at this El Tovar Dining Room fills up fast during peak season. Also, they have the best apple pie we’ve ever tasted.
Southern Comfort Route: New Orleans to Fort Worth
America’s Trains offers an all-inclusive Southern Comfort 7 day / 6 night journey starting in New Orleans through Cajun country, then onto Houston, and San Antonio with the trip ending in Fort Worth, Texas. The rail cars are rebuilt by America’s Trains and offer a master suite or deluxe double rooms depending on the route taken set within historic cars that retain the original ambience of the Golden Era of rail travel. The Grande Suite starts at $7,860 with the Master Suite available at $7,560 per person, double occupancy.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers some the most luxurious train travel options through some of the most scenic and captivating landscapes in North America. With a host of experiences available, such as the Gourmet Express, the Murder Mystery tour, Santa Train Jolly Journeys, and of course their signature Wine Train route, their is truly something for everyone on this railway originally built in 1854 through some of America’s most iconic and storied wine vineyards.
To compliment the amazing scenery, the Wine Train is celebrated for the culinary experience its passengers receive. The finely appointed rail cars reflect the culinary creations four onboard kitchens create from scratch each journey. The Wine Train route is a 3 hour out-and-back journey leaving from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, approximately a 36 mile roundtrip. The Legacy Experience price per person starts at $525 per person.
Rockies to the Red Rocks
Rocky Mountaineer Railroad offers a 2 day / 1 night journey to explore the American West on a route from Denver, Colorado via Glenwood Springs and ending in Moab, Utah. This route offers an epic scenic journey through deep canyons, desert landscapes, and some of the most incredible scenes of untouched, western panoramas. This route offers journeys starting at either termination point – Moab to Denver or Denver to Moab.
This particular route, one of several in North America Rocky Mountaineer offers, is part of their Silver Leaf Plus service, offering lounge car service – with signature cocktails available, and elevated dining experiences. The cost of this epic western adventure starts at $1,375 per person with optional package add-ons that include Las Vegas modifiers inclusive of additional flights plus the rail travel.
Luxury Rail Travel in Canada
Rocky Mountaineer: Vancouver to Banff / Lake Louise
Canada is a vast and expansive country filled with breathtaking and diverse landscapes. Rocky Mountaineer offers several luxury rail routes throughout Canada, however, we believe one of the most beautiful routes is the First Passage to the West journey. This journey takes you across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies through the Spiral Tunnels, wind through vast canyons and terminating in the famed town of Banff or Lake Louise. Day one you leave Vancouver en route to Kamloops with Day Two taking you eastward past mountain lakes and arriving in Banff where you can overnight in the historic Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Packages start at $2,120 per person.