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National Parks | Travel Inspiration
Vacations by Rail Take You Inside National Parks


Roaring waters and wind-carved canyons—who can resist national parks? The best way to find them? Train travel. Avoid traffic, and don’t miss a second of captivating views. For a nostalgic and eco-friendly way to travel, try these three distinct rail adventures for a memorable train vacation—from a few hours to overnight.
Capitol Limited traveling through Harpers FerryCapitol Limited traveling through Harpers Ferry. Photo courtesy of Amtrak
Climb aboard a vintage steam train on a 2-hour trip to Grand Canyon National Park. Hum along the 64-mile heritage railway, and unwind as scenes unfold from high desert to prairie, and prairie to pine.

The Grand Canyon Railway
departs from Williams, Arizona, just over 2.5 hours from Phoenix. Williams is a Route 66, timber-lined town with classic diners that serve up hot coffee, heaping portions, and homemade pie. Just a block from downtown Williams, find the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel right next to the depot. The Grand Canyon Railway also operates an on-site RV park and pet resort. AAA overnight packages include upgrades and discounts that are worth checking out. Be sure to make reservations ahead of time.

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What to Expect: Before boarding, costumed cowboys corral passengers for a laugh-inducing, interactive Old West show. Passengers board one of six different class choices. From the economy Pullman Class to the coveted Observation Dome, with plush seats and blue sky overhead, sit back to live music and refreshments. As the train chugs into the station, expect a short stroll to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and Grand Canyon Village. Passengers stay for a few hours, or stay overnight before returning to Williams. On the return trip, be on the lookout for bandits on horseback.

A couple with a map on the trainScenic Railroad along Cuyahoga Valley. Photo by t:Laser1987/

Vacations by rail to a national park is unique, but chugging along inside a national park? That’s the rare experience afforded at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. No other national park in the country operates a non-profit heritage train within park borders.  At only 33,000 acres, this is one of the smaller national parks. What it lacks in size, it makes up for with abundant nature from a 65-foot-tall waterfall to native wildlife. Its location between Akron and Cleveland offers overnight and dining options.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway runs along the Cuyahoga River and Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Because the train parallels the towpath, there’s an added fun element of bike and ride. With the Explorer Pass, passengers can have their bikes loaded on and off the train. This makes it easy to hop on and off to ride or bike at various stops.

What to Expect: At 25-miles per hour, this vintage rail car is relaxing. Passengers can opt for the 2.5-hour excursion for a continuous ride. Themed rides like the Grape Escape provide local wines, while other seasonal and family-themed events are worth checking out. Train stops include nearby town, trails, and farm markets selling fresh, buttered corn on the cob. Historic canal buildings feel like stepping into a bygone era.

Woman Walking on a train station platformGreat smoky mountains rail road train ride. Photo by Alex Grichenko/

Amtrak routes lay the tracks to adventure—twelve national parks, four trains, all in one journey. The Grand National Parks of America excursion chugs visitors to top national parks including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier National Park, and more. Relax in comfort as scenes dance from warm red rock to cool sapphire waters. Overnights are a mix of train, national park lodging, and hotel stays. This 25-day excursion starts in Denver, Colorado, and ends in Seattle, Washington, for a visual display of our nation’s most scenic places.

Looking for a shorter national park train vacation? Amtrak Vacations deliver passengers to destinations just outside national park borders. Try a 7-day trip to Shenandoah National and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, roundtrip from New York City.  Two Amtrak trains go directly into national parks–Glacier National Park on Amtrak’s Empire Builder Route and New River Gorge National Park on the Cardinal Route. Check on Amtrak package discounts exclusive to AAA members.
What to Expect:
Wondering what to expect at a station? How is the food? Chicago’s Union Terminal is a big station for heading west. Benjamin Szweda offers a first-person, AAA account of what it’s really like to travel Amtrak.