Epic American Rail Journeys

posted April 13, 2016

epic american rail journeys

If you’ve tuned into ITV of a Friday evening lately then you’ll have seen the brilliant Billy Connolly presenting his three-part show, “Tracks Across America”. The Scottish king of comedy is travelling the whole length and breadth of the USA in a looping railroad adventure of epic proportions. With sweeping vistas, stunning landscapes and authentic American encounters, Billy’s adventure has certainly inspired us to embark on the rail journey of a lifetime!

In episode one we were introduced to the romanticism of rail travel as he crossed six states from Chicago to Seattle. The second episode highlighted the stunning Pacific Northwest coast and mountains before rolling all the way down to El Paso, Texas via the deserts of Arizona. In the final instalment this week, Billy will depart San Antonio in Texas and chug up the soulful Crescent Route to his final destination: New York City.

Travelling by train opens up areas of the US usually hidden to tourists, from Midwestern prairies to mountain passes to small-town communities. When you follow in the tracks of the railroad pioneers you can savour a true taste of the American Dream. Whether it’s a multi-day tour or a one-day trip, here are our top three epic American train journeys inspired by Billy Connolly:

East Coast Cities – from Washington to Boston

east coast usa rail tour

This eye-opening historical journey travels on Amtrak – America’s public rail network which operates in 46 out of the 48 mainland states.

The tour starts off in Washington DC, where the astounding history of the nation is honoured and preserved in some of the most iconic memorials in the world. Make time for a sightseeing tour of the biggies, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and Capitol Hill.

Capitol Building Washington

Next up is Philadelphia – famous for far more than just the basketball court of Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap! Here you’ll find the historic Liberty Bell as well as Independence Hall. Philly is known for its friendly neighbourhood culture and mix of classy eateries and relaxed food markets.

The next stop on this tour hardly needs an introduction – The Big Apple itself. Allow plenty of time to explore the bright lights and city sights, from Times Square to the Empire State Building, SoHo to NoHo and everything in between. For the best collection of bars, restaurants and attractions within a historic setting, checkout Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan.

new york rail tour

The final stop on this epic rail journey explores the culture and influence of the city of Boston. Follow the Freedom Trail for a real sense of connection between the city’s important landmarks. From Boston Common to the Benjamin Franklin Statue, USS Constitution to the Bunker Hill Monument, the milestones in America’s history are all marked.

Seattle and the Rocky Mountains

usa rocky mountains rail tour

The Pacific Northwest is a region extending from Oregon through Washington to British Columbia, bounded on one side by the shimmering Pacific Ocean and on the other by the towering Rocky Mountains. The best way to see this spectacular region has to be on board the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train.

Begin your tour in the cool metropolis of Seattle. This exciting urban centre has more to it than just the Space Needle. It is filled with arts and culture, cafes and coffee spots and of course, surrounded by incredible nature. Ease yourself in with a wander along the waterfront and explore Pioneer Square.

seattle rail tour

Next on your trip will be your first day aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, travelling from Seattle into Vancouver. Prepare to be amazed by everything from the glittering service provided by the hosts to the dazzling views from the glass domed carriages. There is no more luxurious way to travel, and the views of the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean equal perfection.

The second day’s travel aboard the Rocky Mountaineer will see dramatic changes in scenery. Journey past the lush and verdant fields of the Fraser Valley to the soaring peaks of the Cascade Mountains and through the desert of the BC Interior. In these wilds of North America you’ll enjoy spectacular views of canyons and white water rapids.

usa rocky mountaineer

Your final day of the Rocky Mountaineer tour will take you into Banff right through the Canadian Rocky Mountains themselves, past snow-capped peaks and shimmering glaciers. Apart from one of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges, you’re also likely to see some great wildlife from the train. Caribou, bald eagles, black bears, grizzly bears and moose can all be found along this journey.

The Grand Canyon Railway

grand canyon railway

This unforgettable experience will transport you back to 1901 and the era of exploration and industry. The legendary Grand Canyon railroad runs from Williams in Arizona right to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. The railway was built to transport ore through the Wild West, and today its immaculately restored carriages transport round-eyed, wanderlust-driven travellers through the jaw-dropping wilderness.

Role-playing characters and authentic musicians help to bring the spirit of the Old West prospector vividly to life. Along the way you’ll pass through the Ponderosa pine forest of Williams, the wide-open prairie land of the Colorado Plateau and the Pinion forest at the approach to the Grand Canyon itself. Despite its arid appearance, the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona is a hotspot for wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for elk, mule deer, bald eagles, Californian condors and even mountain lions.

grand canyon railway

Once you arrive, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the majesty of the Grand Canyon National Park before the train departs again for Williams at the end of the day. The South Rim is the most popular part of the Grand Canyon to visit, with the incredible views that you’re familiar with and have waited a lifetime to see. It is also home to the National Geographic Grand Canyon Visitor Centre and Grand Canyon IMAX theatre.

If you’re eager to tick the Grand Canyon and its awe-inspiring neighbours off your bucket list, then try our Classic West fly drive. This seamlessly planned, 16 night itinerary takes the stress out of getting around all the best sights and starts at just £849pp. Call our expert advisers to discuss your Grand Canyon grand plans and we can tailor a holiday to suit. If you’d like to experience the Canyon Railway while you’re there, tickets are easy to book online and cost around £45 return.

Image credit: Flickr User Maarten Otto

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