A fall foliage train tour is a leisurely, old-fashioned way to experience the beauty of autumn in New England. Sure, driving tours are an exhilarating way to leaf peep. But imagine the freedom of not having to fight traffic or keep your eyes on the road. Just sit back, enjoy the sway of the train and the sounds of yesteryear, and take in New England's famous fall colors at just the right, relaxing speed.
Here is your guide to the best scenic fall train tours in the New England states. Before you book your trip (advance reservations are a must in September and October), read these tips for timing your rail-riding adventure to coincide with seeing fall leaves at their peak.
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 train tour options as the leaves turn. All trains depart from the supremely photogenic Conway Railroad Station in North Conway.
The Notch Train takes passengers on an immersive, five-hour trip along the historic Mountain Division line first used by the Maine Central Railroad 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 want to invest quite as much time, you can choose either the 55-minute or 105-minute Valley Train tour instead. These family-friendly outings showcase beautiful vistas of New Hampshire's mountains and countryside en route to Conway or Bartlett.
Antique transportation enthusiasts love the two-for-one fun of leaf-peeping from both a vintage train and the Becky Thatcher riverboat. This classic combination trip on the rails and on the Connecticut River is just one of Essex Steam Train & Riverboat's autumn offerings, departing from the historic station in Essex, Connecticut.
Other excursions include the Haddam Special, a longer train ride that features a three-hour stop to explore two throwback river towns on foot. For a relaxing and nostalgic experience, partake of a fine meal aboard the Essex Clipper dinner train. In September, sunset train and cruise excursions feature the opportunity to witness a true spectacle, as a half-million swallows swirl in tornado formation before descending in unison to their island resting spot for the night. Whichever outing you choose, you'll glimpse Mother Nature's autumn hues from late September straight through October most years.
Known for stunning landscapes, outdoor sports, apple orchards, and cultural attractions, the Berkshires region in western Massachusetts is one of the most popular destinations each year for New England travelers on a mission to see fall foliage. Be sure to carve time out of your itinerary for a scenic train ride. The volunteer-powered Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum invites casual and serious rail fans to climb aboard a 1950s-era Budd Rail Diesel Car to enjoy autumn views of Mount Greylock and the rest of the Hoosac Range during fall foliage tours, departing from North Adams, Massachusetts, on weekends, plus Columbus Day. Be sure to check their schedule of special events, too, for themed trips like Spirited Train Rides featuring an on-board spiritual medium and a stop to walk through a cemetery.
You can climb the tallest peak in New England without breaking a sweat if you head to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains and book passage aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Opened in 1869, "The Cog" was the first mountain-climbing train of its kind in the world. A steep, three-mile journey offers passengers sweeping views of New Hampshire's autumn glory and sometimes even the chance to see snow at the summit of Mount Washington.
In New Hampshire's Lakes Region, you'll have a tough time choosing between Winnepesaukee Scenic Railroad's hour-long, waterview trips aside the state's largest lake and Hobo Railroad's Harvest Time Express tours, which include a sampling of New Hampshire-made goodies while you're riding the rails and a visit to a farm yard and stand. Just to further muddle your decision-making, these sister railroad outfits also offer a variety of unique trips this fall including turkey dinner train outings from Meredith, New Hampshire, on select Saturday evenings and four-hour Fall Foliage Special trains that head north toward the White Mountains and offer photographers clear shots through rail car windows that slide open. For the lucky few who book early, Pullman car seating whisks you back to the age of luxury train travel.
You can watch the cranberry bogs go by on a scenic train trip from Hyannis, Massachusetts, to the Cape Cod Canal aboard one of Cape Cod Central Railroad's fall foliage tours. The narration during the ride focuses on the history of the area, famous buildings you can see from the train, wildlife, ecology, and industry on Cape Cod. This rail operator also offers brunch, luncheon, and dinner train trips on select dates in the fall.
Based in Connecticut, the Railroad Museum of New England offers a diverse line-up of rail trips themed to the seasons, and in the fall, families love their Pumpkin Patch Trains. Depart from the historic 1881 train station in Thomaston, Connecticut, aboard a 1920s-era coach for fall foliage views and a memorable stop at a pumpkin patch, where kids can select a pumpkin souvenir. These 80-minute trips are offered weekends leading up to Halloween. The Railroad Museum's fall calendar is sprinkled with a few Chocolate Decadence evening train trips, too. And for an adults-only alternative, the Litchfield Hills Train departs twice this fall on spirits-tasting tours, one featuring bourbon and BBQ and the other tequila and Mexican selections.
Chester, Vermont, is your point of departure for fall foliage train rides featuring hillsides aflame and, of course, cows. Arrive early for your reserved departure, as these trains get packed on peak dates, and you'll definitely want window seats. Choose an excursion bound for Rockingham if you want to see covered bridges. Ludlow-bound trains soar high above the trees as they cross the Ludlow Trestle.
In the fall, Green Mountain Railroad also operates Saturday and Sunday evening dinner trains, departing from Burlington, Vermont. Embark on a nostalgic lakeside journey, complete with a chef-made meal.