9 best Amtrak trips on the East Coast

Portland Maine Head Lighthouse

Full of historic places, coastal towns and rolling mountains, the East Coast of the United States is great to explore by train. You can easily travel between major cities or enjoy a scenic train ride to quieter areas with beaches, parks and even ski resorts. Here are the best Amtrak trips on the East Coast to start planning your rail vacation.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Photo by Gzzz/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most majestic sights in the United States, Niagara Falls can be reached via the Empire Service and Maple Leaf Amtrak routes (book tickets to Niagara Falls, NY). Trains depart New York City and other cities in New York state, including Poughkeepsie, Albany and Utica. On the way to the falls, you’ll travel through the Hudson River Valley and have views of the Hudson River, which is especially beautiful in the fall.

Due to the train schedule, it’s best to stay two nights in Niagara Falls area in order to have a full day to see the sights.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge Bridge
Photo by Famartin/Wikimedia

The Cardinal Amtrak route is one of the most scenic on the East Coast, with travel through the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Consider booking your tickets to Charleston, WV from cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. You can rent a car in Charleston and drive about two hours to reach the New River Gorge National Park (hiking, rock climbing, campgrounds, whitewater rafting). Or simply stay in Charleston until it’s time to board an eastbound train for the return trip back through the gorge.

From Chicago and other Midwest cities, travel to White Sulphur Springs Station to see the gorge and stay overnight at the Greenbrier Resort. One of the many resort activities is whitewater rafting on the New River — fees apply, but transportation is included. Alexandria and Washington D.C. are also good places to end the trip due to the nearby airports in case you want to fly home.

Keep in mind that the Cardinal only runs three times per week, so you may see unavailable dates when searching for tickets.

Vermont

Montpelier Vermont
Photo by Petr Kratochvil

A ski getaway, fall foliage destination and charming summer vacation spot, Vermont is a year-round destination. Vermonter trains travel through the scenic Hudson River Valley and views are also beautiful once you are in Vermont, especially in the fall and when snow is on the ground. You can connect with trains on this route in cities including Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and New Haven.

The state capital is Montpelier (pictured above). Book your tickets here for fresh maple syrup, hiking trails at Camel’s Hump State Park and ski resorts, including Smugglers’ Notch (water park open in the summer), Bolton Valley, Stowe Mountain, Mad River Glen and Sugar Brush. The Ben and Jerry’s factory tour in nearby Waterbury is also a must-do if you like ice cream.

In addition to Montpelier, Burlington is another recommended city for an overnight stay. It’s a college town on Lake Champlain with a waterfront bike path, many summer events and nearby ski resorts. Book tickets to the Essex Junction-Burlington, VT Station to reach the city.

Maine

Old Orchard Beach Pier
Photo by Paul VanDerWerf/Flickr.com

Maine is a charming summer or fall Amtrak trip from Boston on the Downeaster route. In addition to views of scenic villages, marshes, streams and the coastline, you can get off the train to explore beaches, festivals and nature areas. Book tickets to Wells, Saco or Old Orchard Beach (pictured above) to spend time near the ocean. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve are also unique places to visit in Wells, and kids will love Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco and the Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach.

Foodies should consider a Maine train trip in the fall to check out the Harvest on the Harbor festival in Portland. September is also a great time for a trip; you can visit Maine’s lighthouses for free during Maine Open Lighthouse Day.

Florida

West Palm Beach Amtrak Station
Photo by Jhw57/Wikimedia Commons

Escape the cold weather (or head to the beach any time of year) with an overnight train trip to Florida from major cities on the East Coast. The Silver Meteor (limited service in 2022), Silver Star and Auto Train travel to many Amtrak stations in Florida. You must transport a vehicle and pay the related fees to travel on the Auto Train, which departs near Washington D.C. and travels non-stop to Sanford, Florida.

There are beautiful water views in Maryland and Virginia, and you’ll go to sleep in the Carolinas and wake up in Florida, making the trip go by quickly, especially if your destination is in North or Central Florida. Popular stops include Orlando (for Universal Studios and Walt Disney World), Tampa, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Roanoke, Virginia skyline
Photo by Jc7792/Wikimedia Commons

Most people use the Northeast Regional to travel between big cities on the East Coast, but trains also travel into Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Select Roanoke as your destination, which is in a mountain valley near many hiking trails and places to mountain bike and paddle. As a bonus, the Virginia Museum of Transportation is in town, which has many railroad exhibits.

Due to the train schedule, you’ll need to stay in Roanoke at least one night. Plan to stay two or more if you want to take a drive on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, visit local attractions or enjoy the many outdoor activities. You’ll also need to start this trip north of the mountain range, such as in Charlottesville, Alexandria, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia or New York City.

Allegheny Mountains

Alleghany Mountains in Pennsylvania
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli

The Capitol Limited route also provides mountain and river scenery on the East Coast. Trains travel through the Allegheny Mountains in Maryland and Pennsylvania, plus stop in two historic mountain towns: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Cumberland, Maryland. Both destinations are near hiking trails and historic attractions, plus you can ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland.

To quickly get to the most scenic part of the trip, start in Washington D.C. From there, you can travel 3.5 hours to Cumberland or stay on the train for a few more hours until Pittsburgh. You can also start the trip in Chicago and from cities in Indiana and Ohio and travel overnight to reach the mountains. Plan your trip in late spring or summer to view the most scenery.

Dutch Country

Amish farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Photo by ugardener/Flickr.com

The Keystone Amtrak route travels through Dutch Country farmland from New York City, Philadelphia, Newark (including the airport station) and other cities on the East Coast multiple times each day. It’s a relaxing day or overnight trip that’s great for families, couples or solo travelers. Exit in Lancaster to learn about the Amish community, purchase local food at Central Market or have a fun-filled day at Dutch Wonderland.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, is another destination to plan a trip around, especially in the summer. The charming city is on the Susquehanna River, and top attractions include the National Civil War Museum and State Museum of Pennsylvania. Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World are also about a 25-minute drive away. Uber and Lyft are transportation options if you don’t want to rent a car.

New Orleans

New Orleans French Quarter
Photo by Pedro Szekely

For a long-distance train adventure, New Orleans is at the end of the Crescent route, which departs from many cities on the East Coast. You’ll travel through small towns and cities in the Southeast before crossing over Lake Pontchartrain via the longest railroad bridge in the United States.

Be sure to check out the amazing food, music and festivals in New Orleans while you’re there. You can walk or ride streetcars around the city to explore the Garden District, French Quarter, Jackson Square and old cemeteries. Other top sights include the National World World II Museum, Audubon Zoo and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Plan to stay in New Orleans at least two nights if you want to have a full day in the city. You can then take a train or flight back to the East Coast or continue your rail vacation by booking tickets on the Sunset Limited or City of New Orleans routes. Trains on these routes depart from New Orleans and travel through Texas, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Tennessee and Illinois. Top destinations include Chicago, Memphis, Houston, San Antonio, Palm Springs and Los Angeles.

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