Tourist Railroads, Riding The Rails

Another area similar to museums is tourist railroads. Perhaps the one key advantage they have over museums (at least those without operating equipment) is they actually come to life with functioning railroad equipment! Even better, these non-freight hauling railroads (most of them anyway) are meant to give you, the visitor, the enjoyment of what it’s like to experience a trip aboard a train. Sometimes, as in the case of the Strasburg Railroad, the journey is also meant to take you back in time to see what riding a train was like years ago pulled by authentic steam locomotives while other times diesel locomotives do the job (some historic themselves). One thing almost all excursion operations have in common is the breathtaking scenery afforded along their respective routes.

One of the first tourist lines to open for business in the U.S. is the now-famous Strasburg Railroad, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, also home to the state’s largest population of Amish. The Strasburg dates back to early 1959 as an excursion when a group of railfans purchased the defunct shortline (which had quit hauling freight in 1957) and began operating excursions over the route. Today, the railroad is an all-steam operation with authenticity a key theme (the railroad displays equipment as it would have appeared in the early 20th century).  For more information about individual tourist railroad operations please visit the links below.

Excursions By State

Alabama, Riding The Rails Through The Heart Of Dixie

Alaska, Experience The Breathtaking Scenery Of The Last Frontier

Arizona, Reach The Grand Canyon By Train

Arkansas, Ride The Arkansas & Missouri And Other Excursions

California, Home To A Wide Range Of Steam And Diesel-Powered Excursions

Colorado, Go Back In Time On The Fabled Narrow-Gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic And Durango & Silverton

Connecticut, Home Of The Essex Steam Train

Florida, Home To Dinner Trains And Steam-Powered Trips

Georgia, Enjoy A Wide Range Of Train Rides In The Peach State

Hawaii, Keeping Alive The State's Narrow-Gauge Railroad History

Illinois, Home To One Of The Country's Largest, The Illinois Railway Museum

Indiana, Experience The French Lick Scenic Railway And Other Trips

Iowa, Ride The Popular Boone & Scenic Valley Railway

Kansas, Showcasing A Few Trips By Rail

Kentucky, Home Of The "My Old Kentucky Dinner Train"

Maine, Riding The State's Fabled Narrow-Gauge Railroads

Maryland, Enjoy The Steam-Powered Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

Massachusetts, Featuring Several Popular Excursion Trains

Michigan, Home Of The Popular Huckleberry Railroad And "The Polar Express" Steam Locomotive, Pere Marquette #1225

Minnesota, Preserving The State's Rich Rail History

Missouri, Home Of The Popular Branson Scenic Railway

Nebraska, Ride The State's Only Excursion, The Fremont & Elkhorn Valley

Nevada, Experience The Legendary Virginia & Truckee

New Hampshire, Enjoy The State's Gorgeous Scenery By Rail

New Jersey, Preserving Its Railroad History

New Mexico, Ride The Fabled Narro-Gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic

New York, Offering Numerous Excursions To Enjoy The State's Scenic Beauty

North Carolina, Home Of The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad And Other Trips

Ohio, Enjoy The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad And Other Rides

Oklahoma, Where You Can Enjoy A Few Trips By Rail

Oregon, Excursions On The Popular Mt. Hood Scenic Railroad And Others

Pennsylvania, Home Of The World-Famous Strasburg Railroad

South Carolina, Trips At The South Carolina Railroad Museum

Tennessee, Enjoy Train Rides Through The Appalachians

Texas, Home Of The Steam-Powered Texas State Railroad

Washington, Experience The State's Beauty By Rail

West Virginia, Through The Mountain State's Breathtaking Backcountry

Wisconsin, Enjoy The Ever-Popular Wisconsin Great Northern

Other State Train Rides

Notable Excursions

Easter Train Rides

Fall Foliage Excursions

Halloween Specials

Dinner Train Guide

The Polar Express

Thomas The Train

While most excursions do not haul freight they do earn revenue from their services of hauling passenger, many as 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporations. Albeit, this does not necessarily mean they are profitable, actually quite the contrary. As with most railroad museums, tourist railroads are almost always in a pinch for cash, whether it be to restore historic equipment, upgrade/maintain its track, or just simply pay the bills. Every little bit helps so if you have one you enjoy riding or simply want to help them out they could very much use your donation, whether it might be of the monetary variety or just by volunteering.

Most excursion operations in our country have come about merely because a group of railfans wanted to preserve a piece of railroad history, and in most cases to prevent a stretch of railroad from being pulled up and abandoned. While not all lines have been successful in both staying in business and preventing a railroad from being abandoned many have, thanks to the dedicated, hard work of volunteers who have spent many countless hours keeping the railroad running. On a similar note it should be pointed out that many excursion train operations date back to around the time that railroad museums became popular, the 1950s and 1960s (today, some museums even operate their own train rides).

Some of the earliest excursions actually developed from railroads that hosted special excursions such as the Reading Rambles of the 1960s, and the B&O regularly offered similar outings to the public usually hosted by local historical societies. These, of course, are just a few examples of lines that hosted such rides. It was also during the late 1950s and early 1960s that operations like the Cass Scenic Railroad and Strasburg Railroad opened to the public. Whatever your interests might be there is a whole host of tourist lines operating around the country to find what you’re after. And, hopefully, the railroads I have highlighted below will also help you in making your choice. The railroads themselves are broken down by the geographic area of the country in which they are located (i.e. north, south, east, or west).


Adirondack Scenic

Belfast & Moosehead Lake

Cass Scenic Railroad

Downeast Scenic Railroad

Durbin & Greenbrier Valley

East Broad Top

The "Essex Steam Train"

Green Mountain Railroad

Mount Washington Cog

Naugatuck Railroad

Potomac Eagle Scenic


Western Maryland Scenic

Wilmington & Western Railroad


Arkansas & Missouri

Blue Ridge Scenic

Great Smoky Mountains

The My Old Kentucky Dinner Train - RJ Corman

Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad

Seminole Gulf Railway



Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Branson Scenic Railway

Hocking Valley Scenic

Huckleberry Railroad

Midwest Central Railroad

Whitewater Valley Railroad

Wisconsin Great Northern

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic


California Western Railroad, The Skunk Train

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic

Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Grand Canyon Railway

Fillmore & Western Railway

Sugar Cane Train

Leadville, Colorado & Southern

Manitou & Pike's Peak

Nevada Northern

Niles Canyon Railway

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad

Rio Grande Scenic

Royal Gorge Route

Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway

Verde Canyon

Virginia & Truckee


Black Hills Central

Mount Hood Railroad

Mt. Rainier Scenic

Napa Valley Wine Train

White Pass & Yukon Route

In any event, whatever excursion you decide to ride, just remember to have fun, take in the scenery, and enjoy the trip as few other things are as entertaining and relaxing as a train ride! Steam locomotives are especially a sight to behold in operation so if you have never seen one for yourself please try if the opportunity presents itself, as they are something to see!   While it may not seem like it, you might be surprised to learn that for an industry run mostly by volunteers, tourist lines offer a variety of different styles and services. For instance, if you’re interested in steam railroads and authenticity then a trip to Strasburg is definitely in order. However, if you are just after a comfortable train ride with a meal and plenty of good scenery then you might want to take a train like the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, run by the RJ Corman Railroad, which features climate-controlled cars and a full-course meal.

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