All Aboard! For a Family-Friendly Adventure, Explore North America by Rail

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It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they’re going. For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way. You see, at every stop this train makes, a little bit of America, a little bit of your country, gets on and says hello.
David Baldacci, The Christmas Train

Nothing embodies America’s history of rugged adventure more than the train. From cosmopolitan cities to sleepy seaside towns and breathtaking remote wilderness, the trusty train has taken passengers on journeys to every corner of the continent for centuries — and it is still a great way to travel today! So grab the kids and hop on the train for an unforgettable family vacation by rail. Need some convincing? Here are the top three reasons why train travel makes the ultimate North American family getaway.

The Engines

 Visit Remote Wilderness Regions in Comfort

The snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies or Mt. Rainier in Washington are absolutely awe-inspiring. But when you are traveling with wee ones, visiting these incredible natural wonders can be a challenge. That is where traveling by train comes in. A journey by train gets the entire family up close to the breathtaking scenery of the American West, and beyond — and you do not have to be a mountain climber to see the sights! The Rocky Mountaineer train line, for example, offers vacation packages that take families through the dramatic landscape of the Canadian Rockies, with stops at impressive nature sites like Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper National Park. You and your kids will experience the thrill of spotting fascinating wildlife like moose, bears, and more from the comfort and safety of your train car. Chances are your kids’ noses will be pressed up against the window glass for the entire train journey.

Traverse Great Distances Hassle-Free

No one has to worry about driving.

Taking a Great American Road Trip does sound great — until you realize that 15 hours in the car with fidgety kids and a GPS device that stopped working doesn’t sound like a vacation at all. But by embarking on a train adventure, you get the feeling of a classic family road trip without the hassle, or the possibility of taking a wrong turn and getting lost. Amtrak Vacations offers a host of guided train expeditions with a “road trip” feel, since the train journey takes you from town to town. Soak up the sun on the California coast with a classic rail trip that stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco, or get your groove on with a train ride through famed music cities like Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans. Another major plus for “rail tripping” instead of road tripping? When you are traveling by train with your family, no one has to worry about driving, so everyone gets to enjoy the passing scenery and engage in family fun! Sleeper cars, food carts, and bathrooms on board will keep every member of the family riding in comfort while on the journey.

Trip Options Tailored to Any Vacation Length

With many trips averaging seven or eight days in length, a journey by rail is the perfect choice for an end-of-summer vacation or a getaway over breaks during the school year, like over Thanksgiving or the winter holidays. But what if you want a quick getaway with the kids when they have just an extra day or two off of school? Shorter train trips can serve up a leisurely long weekend for the entire family.  National Geographic Traveler rounded up the Top 10 North American Train Trips, and many entries on the list are absolutely do-able in a day or two. Whether you are leaf peeping on an autumn journey through the mountains of Vermont or kicking back with cowboy musicians on an Old West-themed trip to the Grand Canyon, train journeys offer an ideal way to keep the kids entertained during a school break, no matter the length. Plus, many train trips are at least partially inclusive (they often include breakfast and lunch on board), so you do not have to worry about planning out meals for you and your hungry kids. With school starting up again for many kids this month, it is a perfect time to break out the school calendar to save the date for your family’s unforgettable train adventure!

Have you taken your family on a train trip in the U.S. or abroad? What was your favorite part of the journey?

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Emily Matras

Contributing Writer

Emily Matras is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in marketing and travel education, she now writes about travel, food, and lifestyle topics for top brands and online and print publications. Follow her on twitter at @emilymatras.

24 Comments
  1. I prefer traveling by trains since you can walk around and I don;t have to worry about driving. Usually we just take the train from nyc to Boston but this blog post gives us some new ideas for our next family vacation. thanks for sharing, i will definitely bookmark your post to keep these fantastic ideas in mind.

    1. Oh yes! Bostonians and New Yorkers often use the train as a commuter option, like you, but you can use it as a vacation option on something other than a commuter train. It’s fun times with the other cars available to hang out and enjoy.

  2. I wish my sweetie would be more open to enjoying a long train ride. He’s a little claustrophobic and doesn’t like sitting for too long. However, I think these type of rides are fun and I love seeing all of the scenery outside of the window. Plus, it’s a great time to catch up on reading. We’ve only gone on a short ride from Syracuse to Buffalo before….or was it Rochester. At any rate…it wasn’t that long.
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    1. Thankfully, if you are on a extended train there are lounge cars, game cars, food cars, sleeper cars. Your other half would not have to sit for long periods of time. It’s more than a commuter train. Check them out. Show him some video so he can see the options.

  3. Taking the train sounds like a really great idea. We’ve never done this before and I think the kids would be too thrilled. It’s hard to be on the road for many hours, especially if you have wee ones. Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. A two year old would talk about the train forrrr-eeevvver. Lol. What an amazing travel option for the younger kids. Train trips often offer a game car, food car and of course you must choose a sleeper car if you are bringing kids. That way, when meltdowns happen, they have room to let it all out. Lol.

    1. Yayy! A train traveler within the USA. It is so common for travelers to travel by train in other parts of the world, but the train is often forgotten here in the USA. And typically it is in the Northwest area leading up to Canada.

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