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Ride the rails this fall to see autumn’s colors

No one is really sure when leaf-peeping became a thing, but one thing is for certain. Parents loaded the kids in the car to take a look at autumn colors long before fall foliage posts on social media were trendy. It’s tough to predict just when those red, orange, and yellow hues will strike, but typically, the autumn colors begin to take hold in late September and early October, depending on where you live.

The Farmer’s Almanac does its best to provide leaf peepers with dates when Mother Nature’s fall show is at its peak. Those are the times when it’s ideal to plan a hike or a road trip to see autumn colors in all their glory. It’s also the perfect opportunity to hop onboard one of the United States’ scenic railroads. Scenic or heritage railroads are a piece of living history along America’s railroads. Most states have at least one scenic railroad, which is a wonderful way to sit back, relax, and enjoy fall foliage at its peak. Riding the rails on a scenic railroad is a step back in time and a fun day trip for the whole family. All aboard to ride the rails this autumn on some of America’s top heritage railroads.

view from a scenic railroad fall foliage ride

Best scenic railroads to see fall foliage

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat

New England is known for its stunning fall colors and a ride on the Essex Steam Train in Essex, Connecticut doesn’t disappoint. The scenic railroad has been running since 1971 along the beautiful Connecticut River Valley thanks to the Valley Railroad Company. Autumn is a great time to enjoy a ride on the steam train. The railroad also offers a combination train and riverboat ticket, which makes for a super fun day for all on the water and the rails.

Strasburg Railroad

This scenic railroad marked its 175th anniversary back in 2007 and can take riders to Paradise. Really. One of the stops along the train ride through picturesque Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is the town of Paradise. Train enthusiasts will love the sights and sounds of a fall ride on the Strasburg Railroad as well as the additional train-inspired things to do in which include the National Toy Train Museum and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. You can even sleep in a refurbished train car at the Red Caboose Motel.

Green Mountain Railroad

Another New England hot spot to ride the rails is the Green Mountain Railroad. Two or one-hour fall foliage trips begin booking in August. The Wulfson family has been running the Green Mountain Railroad for over 50 years. Departures are available from Chester and Burlington, Vermont. Both offer sensational rides showcasing Vermont’s fall beauty.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway takes riders on a four-hour journey through the North Georgia countryside along the Toccoa River. The 26-mile round trip provides glimpses of the mountains along the Georgia and Tennessee border and includes a two-hour layover in McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee where passengers can enjoy the historic towns. This heritage railway is a perfect pick for families with older kids, tweens, and teens. Younger kids might have a hard time with the longer time frame.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

For a taste of the west and breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and the San Juan National Forest in fall, hop on board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This heritage railroad will take you back to the railroad days of old. The scenic passenger train is fulled by an old-fashioned steam engine.

Mount Hood Railroad

Enjoy a scenic slice of the Pacific Northwest when you take a ride on the Mount Hood Railroad in Oregon. Passengers can see fall colors in all their glory as the train winds its way through the Columbia River Gorge with Mt. Hood as a striking backdrop.

North Shore Scenic Railroad

For a Midwestern treat, climb on board the North Shore Scenic Railroad running between Duluth and Two Harbors, Minnesota. The train runs along 28-miles of lakefront track that used to be a part of the Duluth, Missabe, and Iron Range railroad lines. Fall foliage rides begin in mid-September and continue through mid-October. The entire trip takes six hours and includes a two-hour stop in Two Harbors for lunch, shopping, and exploring.

Mountain Rail Adventure

For a true fall adventure in the mountains, book a trip on the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad in Elkins, West Virginia. Different trips are available including a two-hour, open car excursion that is ideal for kids. For families looking for a different vacation, there are overnight and weekend trips. Don’t delay when booking the weekend photography excursion especially during the fall. Trips book up fast.

beautiful fall foliage

Life rolls by pretty quickly all year, so it’s kind of nice to sit back and take in how transportation used to be with a ride along one of America’s many heritage railroads. These scenic railroads are often staffed by volunteers and preserve the rich history of the rails in the United States. Fall is the perfect time to climb aboard a scenic railroad for some leaf-peeping. It’s a great family-friendly activity showing off nature in all its fall glory while giving kids and adults a taste of what life used to be like way back when. So, go ahead and climb aboard one of these eight scenic railroads, and be sure to grab a window seat.

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