Oh, the allure and romance of train travel. The magic of sitting quietly, cup of bone-china tea (or coffee) in hand, cell phone cast aside, and simply taking time to breathe; watch as mountains, sea, deserts, small towns, and big cities, roll gently by — all in a seemingly slower yet grander motion. While North America’s railways have never quite matched Europe’s decadent and storied train culture — a menagerie of glamorous Art-Deco 1920s interiors with Michelin-star dining, swanky bar cars, and white-gloved livered wait staff, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are no strangers to the genteel art of luxury train travel. In the late 1860s, the Chicago-based Pullman Company (led by George Pullman) produced the first range of truly ornate dining, sleeping, and parlor train cars. The company also created private train carriages for the super wealthy that were attached to commercial passenger trains — creating a ‘train set’ of mini mansions. It was on such private train cars that New York City’s elite (Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans) escaped from their New York City apartments to the Adirondacks where they built ‘Great Camps’ — elaborate, made-from-timber lakefront homes to escape the summertime heat. While trains are primarily used today in the U.S. as a means of commuting to and from work, luxury train travel experiences are still in motion on trains like America’s Trains Southern Comfort line, featuring lavish sleeping cars, and the Napa Valley Wine Train offering food-and-wine day experiences. From scenic Canada to the rugged terrains of Mexico to notable rail rides in between, here are North America’s most fabulously luxurious train rides.
Overnight Sleeping Trains
(New Orleans to Fort Worth)
Make like the Vanderbilts (Rockefellers, Astors and Morgans) and ride in your own private ‘train set’ aboard America’s Trains. In luxurious modern carriages, designed to look and feel vintage, this eight-day journey aboard Southern Comfort begins in New Orleans and snakes its way to Fort Worth, Texas, with stops in Houston and San Antonio. Passengers sleep onboard their respective carriages, which come with private bathrooms and cushy beds. Up to five carriages traveling together is a ‘train set and provide sleeping, lounge, and dining facilities, creating an ultra-luxe, intimate vacation.
(Vancouver to Toronto)
Built in the 19th century, The Canadian by VIA Rail is an iconic North American luxury train connecting Canada’s major cities and coasts. One of the most adored (and luxurious) routes is between Toronto and Vancouver, carrying passengers from the forests of Ontario through the prairies and past snow-capped Rocky Mountains. For ultimate luxury, reserve Prestige Class which features a spacious cabin for two, private bathroom and shower, leather couch, and gourmet meals prepared onboard and served in the dining car.
The Royal Canadian Pacific
(Departs Calgary, Alberta, 4 nights/5 days)
Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, while still a princess, traveled in one of the Royal Canadian Pacific cars. Today, passengers can relive the romance of rail travel aboard this luxury vintage train. Dine in the elegant Craigellachie dining car, sip cocktails on the observation deck, and overnight in a sumptuous stateroom with a private bathroom and shower. The historically inspired fleet of rail cars winds through the magnificent Canadian Rockies to British Columbia and back again. Intriguingly the train stops on the tracks every night, sometimes in the wilderness, enabling the experience and enjoyment of the Rockies in their entirety.
Napa Valley Wine Train
(Napa to St. Helena)
This three-hour (36-mile) day train journey through California’s famed wine region rolls past rows of grapevines, twisty farmlands, and wineries. The route — from Napa through Yountville, Rutherfield, and Oakville, to St. Helena — follows a rail line originally built in 1864. Renovated train carriages in their polished brass, mahogany paneling, and opulent fabrics evoke a vintage ambiance. Enjoy a gourmet meal, and wine of course, along the way.
Jose Cuervo Express, Mexico
(Guadalajara to Tequila)
Tequila is on the menu of Mexico’s famed vintage Jose Cuervo Express (aka tequila train), now even more decadent with its new Elite wagon; the carriage’s oversized windows offer dazzling views of the agave fields. This all-day (Saturday-only) train ride begins with a guided three-glass tequila tasting and includes a tour of Jose Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery, a visit to Reserva de la Familia private cellar, an agave field harvesting demonstration, festive snacks and meals, mariachi, and a bus back to the city.
(Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah)
Renowned for its glass-domed rail cars, The Rocky Mountaineer, which once served only Canada, offers a stunning U.S. route: Rockies to Red Rocks. Enjoy truly breathtaking views and a luxury dining experience, while traversing past Ruby Canyon, Mount Garfield, and crossing the Continental Divide. This two-day journey begins in Moab, Utah, and makes one stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where passengers disembark and overnight in a hotel of their choosing, before continuing to Denver.
Copper Canyon Railroad, Mexico
(Los Mochis to Creel)
Much of the terrain covered on this spectacular nine-hour journey through Mexico’s Copper Canyon (four times the size of the Grand Canyon) is said to be otherwise inaccessible. Opened in 1961 — and designed originally to connect the Pacific Ocean with Mexico’s desert territory and state of Chihuahua — the railroad took almost 90 years to complete. The train, aka El Chepe Express, crosses 37 bridges and passes through 86 tunnels; the landscape a collage of rugged terrain, mountains, gorges, and deep ravines.
(New York City to Montreal)
Considered one of America’s top scenic train rides, this 10-hour train journey is all about the view — which is especially stunning during fall foliage season. Operated by Amtrak, the Adirondack departs daily from New York City’s Penn Station passing through the Hudson Valley and Adirondacks/Lake Champlain Region before ending in Montreal, Quebec. Brush up on your French and visit awhile. While the train itself isn’t luxury, the view is absolutely worth the trip.
(San Luis Obispo to San Diego)
Also by Amtrak, Southern California’s Pacific Surfliner sojourns 350 miles of Pacific coastline, from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, stopping in ocean towns like Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, and San Juan Capistrano along the way. Watch from the window, the mesmerizing ocean views, beaches, craggy cliffs, and rocky coastlines. Dogs and cats (up to 20 pounds, including the weight of the carrier) are welcome with an advanced pet reservation.