Most Fun Heritage Railways in America

Heritage railways in the U.S. are not just means of transportation – they are a reminder of what the industrial revolution has given the nation and how Americans emerged through the era, exploiting the technology and bend it to serve the populace. In the modern era, most of them become tourist destinations perfect for the family’s day out.

Most of these railways are old, yet they survived the test of time through preservation and continuous development of either the government or volunteer organizations. So if you are a train and railway fanatic, you have come to the right place! Read on below as we tread some of America’s most fun heritage railways.

CASS SCENIC RAILROAD, WEST VIRGINIA

Cass Scenic Railroad traces back its history in 1901, where the bold men and women of West Virginia built the standard gauge rails with over 100 billion board feet of lumber and pulpwood – showcasing the vast timber wealth place. But, aside from its colorful beginnings, one can only be mesmerized at the sight of West Virginia’s remote and panoramic beauty as the steam-powered rail car snakes its way through the steep switchbacks atop West Virginia’s third-highest mountain, Bald Knob.

CUMBRES AND TOLTEC, COLORADO & NEW MEXICO

Cumbres and Toltec take their passengers to a winding, zigzag ride across Colorado and New Mexico border. During the 64-mile trip connecting Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, you surely wouldn’t miss the breathtaking views of the steep mountain canyons, golden desert, and lush pine forests. The railway earns its title as a National Historic Landmark for its sculpted landscape, untouched wildlife, and historic steam locomotives.

DURANGO AND SILVERTON, COLORADO

Durango and Silverton Railway in Colorado began its operations in July of 1882. Despite being constructed initially to transport mine ores, such as gold and silver from the San Juan Mountains, the railroad became one of the famous heritage railroads in U.S. history. Thanks to Charles Charles Bradshaw reviving the Silverton section and rebranding it as a tourist line sometime in the 1980s. Its founders were right when they saw the scenic route’s potential for tourism. As a National Historic Landmark itself, the railroad takes its passengers on a vintage steam train ride along the Animas River towards the immaculate mountains covered in lush pine trees. 

GRAND CANYON RAILWAY, ARIZONA

Steam locomotives in a rare joint appearance at Grand Canyon Depot, 2005.

A train trip across one of the worlds’ wonders can never be just a regular trip. For decades since its inauguration in 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway located in Arizona has provided locals and tourists alike with a grand opportunity to tread the historical lines and watch the country’s most famous natural wonder unfold before their eyes.  

More than mere transportation, the heritage railway offers an exciting bowl of history, natural attraction, and entertainment, all rolled into one. Upon climbing aboard the carefully restored rail cars, a wave of excitement welcomes you as western musicians, and cowboy-costumed performers entertain everyone from the starting point at Williams, Arizona, up to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. What a perfect train ride experience for your family!

STEAMTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

'Five in the Roundhouse' a National Park Service photo from the Steamtown National Historic Site website

If you got learning trains as a hobby, if you’re probably a ‘little more into them than others, then visiting Steamtown in Pennsylvania can give you all the train feels you need. As a National Historic Site, Steamtown offers a 40-acre rail yard that lets every train enthusiast wander and observe an impressive collection of antique steam locomotives and many stuff about railroads. Moreover, the railway site promises a nostalgic ride for the senses – you can feel the heat coming off the firebox, feel the ground shaking, hear the clunking of metals and whistling of steam, and smell (and taste) the faint odor of hot smoke and grease. It’s practically the perfect place to find a vast history of the area and how people could preserve the heritage site.

TEXAS STATE RAILROAD, TEXAS

Interestingly, the Texas State Railroad was initially built by prisoners in 1881 to transport stuff to and fro the nearby Rusk Penitentiary. Today, it evolved into one of the most enjoyable railroad rides that offer various local and foreign tourist excursions. Boarding a 19th-century vintage train from Palestine, Texas, the railroad runs across the serene Piney Woods of East Texas — winding through the lush, deep-green forest, swirling landscapes, and snaking rivers to complete the tour. The railway also allows passengers to get a glimpse of two of its massive vintage steam trains. Additionally, passengers who want to experience the famous Polar Express ride pack the Texas railway.