Last revised: October 25, 2023
By: Adam Burns
With the state's eastern half situated in the Appalachian foothills, Ohio offers some spectacular scenery, especially during the autumn season. Its rolling hills, deciduous forests, and open farmland provide for bucolic scenes that are difficult to beat.
Train rides tailored specifically towards viewing the fall colors have grown in popularity over the last 20+ years, particularly east of the Mississippi River where a vibrant display of reds, yellows, auburns, and greens come together from September through November (depending on your location).
With Ohio's rich railroading history, three different heritage railroads offer such trips every year.
(Peninsula): One of the nation's top heritage railroads can be found just south of Cleveland within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The scenery is outstanding; there are currently nine different stations from which to board traveling north from Akron along the Cuyahoga River. During your trip you can see the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath (operating from 1827 to 1913 it linked Lake Erie with the Ohio River), well-manicured properties, thick forests, local towns, and plenty of rural settings.
The 51-mile line actually began hosting public excursions more than a half-century ago when then-owner Baltimore & Ohio first did so in 1967. These continued intermittently for the next 20 years.
They eventually became so popular the National Park Service purchased the corridor in 1986 after then-Chessie System put it up for sale.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic features numerous specials throughout the year and offers guests the chance to experience the "Silver Age" of streamliners; service and accommodations are second-to-none making this train ride a must for anyone who enjoys rail travel.
While no fall foliage specials are offered they do host excursions throughout the autumn season.
(Nelsonville): The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway is located in Nelsonville, Ohio and operates 12 miles of the old Chesapeake & Ohio's Armitage Subdivision.
The railroad was the idea of three friends in the early 1970's who were initially able to secure a 3.5-mile segment of the C&O's ex-Monday Creek Branch between Carbon Hill and Nelsonville in 1972.
Following a bit of additional turmoil and maneuvering the organization began running over the current segment in the 1980's. The corridor, which once reached Athens and an interchange with the Baltimore & Ohio (now a bike trail), meanders along the Hocking River Valley the entire way.
They host a 2-hour Fall Foliage Train which departs the historic Nelsonville depot throughout October. During the trip you will cross the river, pass farms, and can even see the historic Hocking Canal (the 56-mile transportation artery operated in its entirety from 1843-1890).
You might also consider riding the HVSR other times of the year as they host many special events and even have an operating steam locomotive, Ohio Power 0-6-0 #3 originally completed in 1920.
(Wellington): The L&WV hosts a 12-mile round-trip (6 miles each way) fall excursion (the Fall Color Tour) during Saturdays and Sundays in October from Wellington to Sheffield, the current segment restored.
The organization is a unique one; its name comes from the original company which built the 25 miles from Wellington to Lorain. For years it was part of the Wheeling & Lake Erie, a regional system which served Ohio (Toledo-Wheeling, West Virginia and Cleveland-Zanesville).
Just after World War II the W&LE became a component of the even bigger New York, Chicago & St Louis (Nickel Plate Road) in 1949.
The current heritage railroad has a long-term goal of eventually reopening the entire 25-mile route for freight and excursions. The current trip takes you over northern Ohio's table flat topography dotted with farms and patchy woods making for a very nice trip.