Where to Find the Best Fall Foliage Train Rides in New England
From Maine to Connecticut, these scenic and historic railroads are the ideal setting for leaf peeping and fall foliage hunting.
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There are few things more quintessentially New England than days spent admiring the warm, vibrant hues of autumn leaves. A family apple picking trip isn’t complete without a colorful backdrop; an early-October walk isn’t the same without piles of crunchy leaves; and you just can’t have football games without fall foliage. Thankfully, the novelty of fall in the northeast somehow never seems to wear off, no matter how many times you experience it. Needless to say, it’s also one of the biggest draws to the area for tourists (aside from the Cape’s beaches in the summer and New Hampshire’s ski mountains in the winter).
This year, rather than taking a leaf peeping drive or a hike to enjoy the fall foliage, try soaking in the views from a train car instead. Historic railroads wind across every part of New England, and there’s no shortage of routes to take you through the autumnal wonderland that it becomes every fall. Specifically, these 10 train rides boast the best views possible—and some have even been named the best in the country—taking you through miles of scenic landscapes (and in some cases, offering gourmet meals to go along with them). From the White Mountains of New Hampshire to Cape Cod and Newport, on cog railways and restored steam engines, these train routes have front-row access to unrivaled views of the region’s most picturesque season.
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
Starting at the historic Essex Station, the Essex Steam Train travels through the Connecticut River Valley, offering uninterrupted views of foliage along the way. On the 2.5 hour round-trip ride, while seated inside vintage coaches pulled by a steam-powered locomotive, you’ll see changing leaves and wildlife on the tidal wetlands of Pratt Cove and Chester Creek. Partway through the trip, you’ll board the Becky Thatcher, a Mississippi-style riverboat, to cross the Connecticut River to Selden Neck State Park before making a return trip to the station. For a trip that’s more all-inclusive, the Essex Clipper Dinner Train (made of restored 1920s Pullman diner cars) provides the same views bathed in the colors of the season—but these ones are accompanied by a dinner of prime rib or ravioli.
Train and riverboat excursion $40-$52, Friday-Sunday in September and Friday-Monday in October; Dinner train tickets $95, select dates in September and October; The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, 1 Railroad Ave., Essex, Connecticut, essexsteamtrain.com.
Cape Cod Railroad
In the fall, Cape Cod transforms from a summery vacationland into an autumnal escape. The Cape Cod Central Railroad winds through nearly 30 miles of marshes, cranberry bogs, dunes, and idyllic scenery from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay. Though the railroad doesn’t offer any fall foliage-specific rides, every one of its excursions essentially becomes a foliage tour once the leaves change. The classic Cape Cod train ride departs from Hyannis and takes you on a narrated two-hour afternoon tour all the way to Sandwich and the Cape Cod Canal. If you prefer to enjoy your scenic views over a meal, the Cape Cod Dinner Train features a five-course, gourmet meal served on white table linens, and the Sunday Brunch Train offers an a la carte menu including crepes and eggs benedict.
Afternoon train ride starting at $30, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays September-October; Dinner Train starting at $90, Thursday-Sunday September-October; Sunday Brunch Train starting at $60, Sundays September-October, Hyannis Depot, 252 Main St., Hyannis, Massachusetts, capetrain.com.
Hoosac Valley Train Ride
For a quicker (but no less beautiful) fall journey, try the Hoosac Valley Train Ride in Adams, Mass. The restored 1900s train departs from the Adams train station in Western Massachusetts, chugging through scenic rural landscapes that are ideal for autumnal leaf peeping. The hour-long, 10-mile round-trip excursion is open throughout the summer and fall, but the best time to go is in October for the “Fall Foliage” ride—when the leaves in the Berkshire Hills are at their peak. Though it’s a bit far from Boston, the views are worth the drive. While you’re making the journey out west, even the hills and trees along the Mass Pike are picturesque.
Children $12, adults $16, Saturdays and Sundays September-October; Adams Station, 4 Hoosac St., Adams, Massachusetts, berkshiretrains.org.
Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad
Running along the Eastern Promenade of Casco Bay in Portland, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad will take you on a leisurely half-hour ride through some of Maine’s best scenery. Situated on narrow, two-foot-wide tracks (as opposed to the customary four-foot width), the small train is a quaint and cozy way to take advantage of the coastal view—which, in the fall, is awash with the bright hues of red and orange leaves. On the annual Pumpkin Train rides, kids can decorate pumpkins as the open-air carriages of the 100-year-old steam locomotive let in the crisp fall breeze. To round out the trip, don’t forget to stop by the beloved Holy Donut in the Old Port for apple-flavored seasonal donuts to warm up after your ride.
Children $10, adults $12, open every day for regular rides, and select dates in October for the Pumpkin Train; Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum, 49 Thames St., Portland, Maine, mainenarrowgauge.org.
Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train
Through the windows of the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train—composed of restored 1950s rail cars decorated with vintage travel posters and luggage cases—the beauty of the White Mountains region is on full display. In the fall, the train is surrounded by walls of colorful forest as it chugs through the Pemi River Valley, after departing from North Woodstock. The two-hour ride passes through 20 miles of picturesque landscape (filled with bright crimson and amber foliage), over three trestle bridges and a Christmas tree farm—all of which you can enjoy while dining on a gourmet five-course, seasonal meal.
Starting at $95, Thursday-Sunday September-October;Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train, 3 Crossing at River Place, North Woodstock, New Hampshire, nhdinnertrain.com.
Conway Scenic Railroad
Whether it’s a quick ride through the Conway Valley or a longer excursion over Crawford Notch, the Conway Scenic Railroad is surrounded by mountains covered in vibrant autumnal colors. Departing from the circa-1874 train station in North Conway on select October weekends, the Pumpkin Patch rid—a shorter, hour-and-45-minute ride complete with pumpkins, apple cider, and donuts—takes you through miles of unmatched views, and is perfect for families. For those looking for something a bit longer, the Mountaineer train winds through the Mount Washington Valley, covering over 50 miles of supremely scenic forest and mountain over the course of five hours (with a layover at Crawford Depot, by Saco Lake). To enjoy the best views, book a premium class ticket in the glass-domed upper dining car.
Conway Valley Train, children starting at $14 and adults starting at $20, daily through October and Friday-Sunday in November; The Mountaineer, children starting at $65 and adults starting at $44, daily, select dates through November; North Conway Station, 38 Norcross Circle, North Conway, New Hampshire, conwayscenic.com.
Mt. Washington Cog Railway
The Mt. Washington Cog Railway is one of the most well-known railways in New England—and for good reason. As the Cog climbs to the highest peak in the Northeast, you’re surrounded by breathtaking views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It’s beautiful at any time of year, but in the fall, the vibrant colors of the changing leaves are unmatched. Inside the cars of the coal-powered steam locomotive, you’ll have an uninterrupted view of the surrounding trees for 45 minutes as you ascend at a 25% grade. Stop at the top to warm up with a hot chocolate and a snack (as the average temperature in October is just 30 degrees) before beginning your descent back down the mountain.
Steam engine to the summit $49 for children and $79 for adults; biodiesel train to the summit $41 for children and $72 for adults; every day May-mid-October; biodiesel train to Skyline (halfway up the mountain) $43 for kids $58 for adults; mid-October through the winter; Mount Washington Cog Railway, 3168 Base Station Road, Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, thecog.com.
Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad
The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad’s Fall Foliage Special is specifically curated for passengers to experience the best fall views that New Hampshire has to offer. Departing from Meredith Station in the morning, the four-hour excursion pulls out all the stops (literally). After trailing over the Ashland Summit, through a deer farm and Christmas tree farm, the train stops at the Common Man Inn & Spa in Plymouth for a buffet lunch. The second leg of the trip stops at the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad Station for a guided tour of the historic 1800s station, and the third leg returns to Meredith Station. Each stop—and the entire ride in between—are ideal for leaf peeping.
Starting at $73, select dates in September and October; Meredith Station, 154 Main S., Meredith, New Hampshire, hoborr.com.
The Grand Bellevue Rail Dining Experience
To experience Aquidneck Island how society’s elite used to—when they traveled to their vacation “homes” (read: mansions) in Newport—hop aboard the early-1900s-era trains on the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad. Year-round, the railroad offers the Grand Bellevue Rail Dining Experience, an elegant dinner (paired with wine and cocktails) aboard 1940s dining cars. Over the course of the 2.5 hour ride, enjoy Narragansett Bay, the Sakonnet River, and lush fall views passing outside your window as the Grand Bellevue’s culinary team prepares your meals right on board. Plus, on the second leg of the trip back to the station, the sunset views over the water (and illuminating the bright colors of the fall leaves) are a must-see.
Starting at $75, Fridays and Saturdays until mid-November; Portsmouth Junction Station, One Alexander Road, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, thegrandbell.com.
Green Mountain Railroad (reopening in 2022)
Departing from downtown Chester, in the heart of Vermont, the Green Mountain Railroad offers two seasonal tours—a one-hour ride from Chester to Rockingham and a two-hour ride from Chester to Ludlow, both trailing through perfect New England landscapes. Alongside the stunning views of Southern Vermont’s lush and glowing leaves, you’ll see covered bridges, the Connecticut River, and the Brockway Mill Gorge. Although the Fall Foliage Train Ride has been cancelled for the 2021 season, it’ll open again in 2022. It was named one of the best in the country by Country Living, so the ride will be worth the wait (while you enjoy another railroad ride in the meantime).
One-hour ride, children $20 and adults $25; two-hour ride, children $23 and adults $28; Green Mountain Railroad, 563 Depot St., Chester, Vermont, rails-vt.com.