The coolest rail journeys in North America

(CNN) – Clickety crackling sounds. Steam whistles. Sports overalls connectors. What do you dislike about train travel?

In a world of instant gratification, welcoming a slower travel experience can be a wonderful change of pace.

Whether it’s a day trip or a long-distance trip, you’ll score instant nostalgia with one of North America’s amazing rail journeys.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

With evergreen forests, gorgeous valleys, and jagged peaks, a visit to the Rocky Mountains makes no sense.

Made the trip in a coal-fired steam engine even better.

Not to mention, you’ll be traveling to remote places in Colorado and New Mexico that cars can’t reach on a 64-mile road.

Top speed is 12 mph – so the wildflowers and rocky canyons won’t be a blur.

The train departs every day from Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. The best part is: there is no cellular service along the way. You have no choice but to relax. Tickets start at $115 for adults.

Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog . Railway

The highest railway in the northern hemisphere.

Broadmoor

There’s a good reason Katherine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” atop Pikes Peak in Colorado: It’s absolutely gorgeous there at 14,115 feet above sea level.

We’re talking snow-capped slopes, alpine vistas, and the Garden of the Gods, a group of swissical-like rock formations.

It is the highest railway line in the Northern Hemisphere and one of two cogwheel railways in the country. At the top, it is worth calling the visitor center to try the cakes at high altitudes (a robotic machine extracts 700 of them per hour).

For bragging rights, crank your way up this 14er. You can always get off the train. Next, Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp saves time in the hot tub and s’mores. You can continue outdoors the next day by signing up for hiking, archery, and stargazing.

grand canyon railway hotel

The Grand Canyon Railroad offers a slice of American history.

The Grand Canyon Railroad offers a slice of American history.

Ji Rui

Are you ready for edge-to-edge trekking or kayaking down the mighty Colorado River?

A Grand Canyon Rail trip is another way to experience the thrill of the Wild West, at a leisurely pace.

Since 1901, travelers (including Theodore Roosevelt, Clark Gable, and Bill Gates) have ridden the Grand Canyon Railway to enjoy the stunning views of Grand Canyon National Park.

Even the train stations are national historical monuments themselves.

Hop aboard in Williams, Arizona and end up in the historic village of South Rim after a few hours with plenty of time to explore the canyon.

It is especially ideal for families with young children thanks to the active musicians and cowboy characters. A stay at the Grand Canyon Railroad hotel evokes nostalgia. Tickets start at $67 for adults.

Via Rail Canada

The Canadian domed car fascinates the view.

The Canadian domed car fascinates the view.

via rail

As you pass the Canadian Shield, prairies, and Rocky Mountains, keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, mountain goats, bison, and coyotes on this popular Canadian route that takes passengers from Toronto to Vancouver.

Travelers have flocked to Al Kindi Street by rail 60 years ago, so they must be doing something right.

Chefs switch up the menu daily, and tastings of Canadian beers and wines make the trip even more enjoyable.

During the 4-night trip, choose from vaulted lounge cars or Art Deco dining carts. The sleeper car starts at $1,111 Canadian ($875).

Rocky Mountain Mountaineer to Red Rock

This Rocky Mountaineer Trail is filled with mountain scenery, desert cliffs, and rock formations.

This Rocky Mountaineer Trail is filled with mountain scenery, desert cliffs, and rock formations.

Rocky Mountaineer

The two-day luxury cruise takes passengers through a series of steep and rugged rock-walled canyons.

The road between Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, is littered with mountain scenery, desert cliffs, and rock formations.

You may or may not see wildlife such as deer, hornets, and eagles. But one thing is for sure: the gourmet food served by the executive chefs is as great as the views.

Tickets start at $1,375.

Denali Star Train

The Denali Star Train is one of the best ways to experience the majestic scenery of Alaska.

The Denali Star Train is one of the best ways to experience the majestic scenery of Alaska.

Stuart L Sterling

On a clear day you’ll see the star of the show: Denali, the highest peak in North America, and that’s reason enough on its own to make the trip.

GoldStar’s service is definitely worth the splurge thanks to its glass-domed windows.

Besides the national park, other stops include Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks.

Once in Denali, you can visit the sled dogs, take a ranger-led walk or sign up for a sightseeing tour (if you’re lucky, you’ll spot moose and bears). Tickets start at $259 for adults.

Or take the Hurricane Turn, which has summer and winter routes. It is one of the last trains in the United States to offer a stopover. Simply move your arm to jump or ride the train at any time.

small waterfalls

Amtrak's Cascades train trips from Vancouver to Oregon.

Amtrak’s Cascades train trips from Vancouver to Oregon.

amtrak

Glacier bays and rainforests. Examines. Waterfalls and volcanoes. Examines.

There is a lot to love about the Pacific Northwest. In about 11 hours, you’ll be going from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon on the Amtrak Cascades.

Watch seaplanes land on Coal Harbor in Vancouver. In Seattle, stop by the Experience Music Project Museum.

In Tacoma, watch a glassblower in action at the Museum of Glass.

And when you get to Portland, make a beeline for the world’s largest bookstore. Prices vary throughout the year.

Starlight Coast

The 35-hour rail journey between Los Angeles and Seattle is filled with stunning scenery.

The 35-hour rail journey between Los Angeles and Seattle is filled with stunning scenery.

amtrak

Along the way, you’ll see Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Portland.

At the San Luis Obispo station, it is worth hiring a local waiter and driver to take you to a winery; After all, there are 30 to choose from.

In Chico, California, sample craft brews. And don’t forget to have your camera ready when you get to Crater Lake, traveling through the Cascades at 5,000 feet above sea level.

Other filming locations include Mount Shasta, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and long stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Ticket prices vary throughout the year.

California Zephyr

Amtrak's California Zephyr takes travelers on an epic journey from California to Chicago.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr takes travelers on an epic journey from California to Chicago.

amtrak

If you have time—51 hours and 20 minutes to be exact—Amtrak’s California Zephyr Route from Emeryville, California to Chicago is a great way to enjoy the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies.

At a Truckee, California stop, take a walk in the Tahoe National Forest.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, leave time to sledge at Olympic Park. Prices vary according to travel dates.

Covering stories of travel, fitness, and extraordinary people, Sarah Sikola’s assignments have taken her to all seven continents. Follow her adventures on @sarahsomewhere.

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