When it comes to getting the most out of your trip to New England to witness the spectacle of autumnal colors that overwhelm the region's many forests each fall, there's no better way to relax while taking it all in than taking a train ride through the countryside.
Fortunately, many train companies in New England offer special fall foliage tours of the region from September through October each year. Whether you're taking a late-September trip to Maine or you're heading to Pennsylvania in mid-October, these guided train rides offer unique opportunities to not only see beautiful scenery but learn about the history and culture of the region as well.
In New England, peak fall foliage season takes place earlier the further north you travel. While parts of Maine near the Canadian border see leaves brown by the end of September, the trees in southern New Jersey don't fully change until around the third weekend in October. Be sure you know when peak fall foliage season happens in your destination before you plan your trip.
The Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire
New Hampshire's White Mountains are one of the best places to see autumn's vibrant colors, and each year, Conway Scenic Railroad offers two different tours of the state's most spectacular fall scenery. All trains depart from the landmark Conway Railroad Station in North Conway village (38 Norcross Circle).
The Notch Train takes passengers on a five-hour tour along the historic Mountain Division line first used by the Maine Central Railroad company more than 130 years ago. The train route winds through Crawford Notch on the way to Crawford and Fabyan stations and the tour features live commentary that includes folklore and history of both the region and the railroad industry.
If you don't have the time on your vacation to take the Notch Train trip, you can take either the 55-minute or 105-minute Valley Train tours instead. While shorter and offering fewer amenities than the Notch service, these tours still showcase beautiful vistas of the mountains and countryside of New Hampshire en route to Conway or Barlett.
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in Connecticut
Founded in 1868, the Valley Railroad operates the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat and the Clipper Dinner Train, which provide service by rail and river from the historic station in Essex, Connecticut. Whichever outing you choose, you'll be treated to a nostalgic journey through wooded terrain on the train before boarding a cruise down the Connecticut River, whose forested banks will be bright with autumn hues from September through mid-October this year.
Other excursions offered by Valley Railroad include the Haddam Special, which allows passengers time to dine and shop in the historic riverside towns near Essex. With only one departure per day, though, all services provided by Valley Railroad are likely to book up before you arrive in Connecticut, so be sure to make your reservations well in advance.
Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire
You can climb to the tallest peak in New England if you head to the heart of the White Mountains in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and book a trip to the summit of Mount Washington on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. This three-mile journey up a steep trestle offers passengers sweeping views of New Hampshire's autumn glory, and sometimes even the chance to see snow on the summit even in the middle of summer.
Opened in 1869, the Mount Washington Cog Railway was the first train of its kind in the world. Now, this historic company is sometimes called "The Cog" and offers its three-hour round-trip tours journeys multiple times daily from April through November each year. After the foliage season ends in late October, The Cog also runs two special holiday trips featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Hoosac Valley Train Rides in Massachusetts
Known for antique shops, artist collectives, families retired from New York City, and its burgeoning spiritual culture, the Berkshire in western Massachusetts is one of the most popular destinations each year for New England residents hoping to catch the fall foliage before it all drops and disappears.
However, it wasn't until the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum started offering Hoosac Valley Train Rides in the 2000s that scenic rail adventures returned to the area. Now, you can climb aboard a vintage Budd Rail Diesel Car and enjoy the autumn views of Mount Greylock and the rest of the Hoosac Range during special fall foliage tours which depart four times daily between September 29 and October 28, 2018. Tickets range in price from $10 for children 4 to 14 (free for 3 and under) to $14 for adults.
Cape Cod Central Railroad in Massachusetts
You can watch the cranberry bogs go by on a scenic train trip from Hyannis, Massachusetts, to the Cape Cod Canal aboard one of the Cape Cod Central Railroad fall foliage tours. The narration that plays during the ride includes a history of the area, highlights of famous buildings you can see from the train, and information about wildlife, ecology, and industry in Cape Cod.
This rail operator will also offer brunch luncheon, and dinner train trips on select dates this fall. After the foliage season, you can also hop aboard the "Train to Christmas Town," which departs from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, multiple times in November and December 2018.
Green Mountain Railroad in Vermont
This fall, you can embark on a nostalgic journey complete with a chef-made meal through the Vermont countryside with Green Mountain Railroad. From September 14 to October 21, 2018, Green Mountain will offer three-hour fall foliage tours of Ludlow and Summit that depart from the train depot in Chester, Vermont.
The schedule of fall foliage tour dates offers plenty of options, including two trips daily on weekends, but still be sure to check available dates and reserve your seats online in advance to ensure you have a seat. Adult tickets cost $25; children 12 and under cost $20; and children under 3 years old ride for free.
Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads in New Hampshire
You'll have a tough time choosing between the Hobo Tour and the Winnipesaukee Tour offered by Foliage Trains, both of which equally enchant New Hampshire leaf peepers each autumn. The Hobo Railroad makes 80-minute trips along the Pemigewasett River while the Winnipesaukee train takes one-hour excursions around the state's largest lake, providing memorable views of colorful trees reflecting on its surface. If you really want to immerse yourself in the railroad experience, there are also luncheon tour options and a fall foliage lakeside turkey dinner train that operates on select Saturday evenings in the fall.
Naugatuck Railroad in Connecticut
The Naugatuck Railroad in Thomaston, Connecticut offers a wide variety of train tour options year-round. However, each fall you can choose between a Pumpkin Patch Train ride or a scenic fall foliage tour, both of which take place on a 1920s-era coach train and depart from the historic 1881 train station in Thomaston. You'll enjoy fall foliage views as you travel along the Naugatuck River, through pristine Mattatuck Forest, and high above the Thomaston Dam.