A fall foliage train tour is a leisurely, old-fashioned way to experience the beauty of autumn in New England. 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. 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.
There are several scenic fall train tours in the New England states. Advance reservations are a must in September and October, and before you book your trip, it is useful to plan your rail-riding adventure to coincide with seeing fall leaves at their peak.
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 three tour options as the leaves turn. All trains depart from the supremely photogenic Conway Railroad Station in North Conway.
The Mountaineer Train takes passengers on an immersive, five to five hour, 40 minute trip along the historic Mountain Division line first used by the Maine Central Railroad in the 1870s. Guests ride in streamlined passenger cars from the 1950s. Leaving daily, the route winds through the Mount Washington Valley and over the Crawford Notch to Crawford Depot and Fabyan station. 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, there are a few family-friendly outings to choose from. The 55-minute Conway Valley Train tour showcases beautiful vistas of New Hampshire's mountains and countryside with a return trip back to North Conway. There is also a one hour, 45-minute Bartlett Excursion Train, which departs daily and goes through the Saco River Valley on the way to Bartlett before heading back to North Conway.
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat in Connecticut
Antique transportation enthusiasts love the two-for-one fun of leaf-peeping from both a vintage train and the Becky Thatcher (a character from "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer") riverboat. This classic combination trip on the rails and the Connecticut River is just one of Essex Steam Train & Riverboat's autumn offerings, a two hour, 30-minute journey departing from the historic 1892 Essex Station in Essex, Connecticut. Train passengers will go through the attractive towns of Deep River and Chester as well as near the tidal wetlands of Pratt Cove and Chester Creek.
Other excursions include the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, a relaxing and nostalgic experience, which includes a fine four-course meal during a two hour, 30-minute scenic trip. In September, Sunset Swallow Cruises, a more than three-hour boat ride, features the opportunity to witness a true spectacle, as hundreds of thousands of 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 through October most years.
Hoosac Valley Train Rides in Massachusetts
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 60-75 minute train ride offering lovely scenery as it goes from Adams to North Adams and back. The volunteer-powered Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum invites casual and serious rail fans to climb aboard a 1950s-era Budd Rail Diesel Car. Enjoy autumn views of Mount Greylock and the rest of the Hoosac Range during fall foliage tours, departing from Adams on weekends, plus Columbus Day.
Check their schedule of special events, too, for themed trips like Rockin' and Rollin' Music Trains featuring live cabaret singers and more.
Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire
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 to board the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Opened in 1869, "The Cog" was the first mountain-climbing train of its kind in the world. A steep, 3-mile (5-kilometer) 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. It is advised to bring a jacket for those potentially chilly temperatures. In October and November, the one-hour rides have a short layover at Waumbek Station, where passengers can grab a snack and take photos of the scenery.
Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads in New Hampshire
In New Hampshire's Lakes Region, it can be tough choosing between the various lovely train options in the fall. Winnepesaukee Scenic Railroad's one and two-hour trips run along the state's largest lake on autumn weekends. Passengers travel on old-fashioned trains between Meredith, Weirs Beach, Lakeport, and back.
Hobo Railroad's Fall Foliage Special, which takes four hours, passes through Christmas tree and deer farms. After lunch at Common Man Inn & Spa, the guests stop at the restored 1869 Boston & Maine Railroad Station where Ashland Historical Society members wearing 1860s attire guide them through the station full of history.
These sister railroad outfits also offer a variety of unique trips each fall, such as the two-hour turkey dinner train outings from Meredith on select Saturday evenings.
Cape Cod Central Railroad in Massachusetts
As of late October 2020, many of the Cape Cod Central Railroad trains are canceled or closed for the season. You can watch the cranberry bogs go by on a scenic train trip from the village of Hyannis, Massachusetts, to the Cape Cod Canal aboard one of Cape Cod Central Railroad's tours in the fall season. 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 special excursions that include meals on select dates in the fall.
Pumpkin Patch Trains in Connecticut
The Railroad Museum of New England is closed for the 2020 season. 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 one hour, 20-minute trips are offered on weekends before Halloween.
Enjoy the Railroad Museum's fall calendar, sprinkled with a few Chocolate Decadence evening train trips, featuring wine, appetizers, and a chocolate tasting and tour. And for an adults-only alternative, the Litchfield Hills Train offers spirit-tasting tours in the fall, such as one with tequila and Mexican cuisine selections.
Green Mountain Railroad in Vermont
The Green Mountain Railroad fall train rides are not operating in November of 2020. Chester, Vermont, is your point of departure for family-friendly, one- or two-hour fall foliage train rides featuring hillsides aflame and, of course, cows. Arrive early for your reserved departure, as boarding is 30 minutes prior to leaving. Also, these trains get packed on peak dates, and window seats are a must. Excursions bound for Rockingham include covered bridges, the Connecticut River, and the Brockway Mill Gorge.
Seasonal four-hour trips from Chester to Rutland are an additional option for viewing the lovely fall landscape. There is a two-hour stop for lunch and exploration of Rutland.
The three-hour, 30-minute Pumpkin Patch Express is great fun for children and families dressed in costume. Departing from Chester, the train goes to a pumpkin patch and includes a pumpkin for each child along with storytime.
Green Mountain Railroad also operates three-hour Champlain Valley dinner trains for those ages seven and up, departing from Burlington, Vermont. Embark on a nostalgic lakeside journey, complete with a chef-made three-course meal.