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All Aboard for Scenery by Train

The red, gold and green leaves of fall draw many visitors to the great outdoors for one last adventure before the winter cold sets in.

Railroad excursions are an excellent way to sit back, relax and enjoy these unspoiled wonders of nature without the exertion of a lengthy backcountry hike. Whether climbing mountains or traversing meadows and streams, trains offer a journey back in time, albeit with the modern comforts of air conditioning and meals.

Here are five railroads around the United States where your group has the chance for the best views of the fall foliage. Please note that the best times for color may vary according to seasonal weather.

Mount Washington Cog Railway

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

For those seeking a one-of-a-kind ride, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is certain to satisfy. Built in 1869, the railway, designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark, is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. Today, six steam-powered trains make their way to the top of the highest peak in the Northeast. There are also four biodiesel-powered locomotives, which were put into service in 2008.

The three-hour round trip includes an hour at the summit of Mount Washington, where, on a clear day, visitors can enjoy views of four surrounding states as well as Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean. The excursion ticket includes admission to Mount Washington Observatory’s Winter Weather Museum. Guests can also browse the visitors center, shop for gifts and enjoy a bite to eat.

New Hampshire’s fall foliage is often regarded as some of the finest in the world. Peak fall foliage times vary with the weather, but assistant director of marketing Rebecca Metcalf suggested that mid-September through mid-October provides the best viewing opportunities. In addition to the attraction of the seasonal colors, she said visitors should come because “the uniqueness of the railway is what people need to experience. Our trains are built on-site, so there really is nowhere else like us.”

Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad

 Elkins, West Virginia

Matt Scott, the group sales manager with the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, is quick to note that the railroad has trips to suit everyone’s schedule. Whether on the Durbin Rocket, a two-hour round trip aboard a rare logging locomotive complete with post office car and open carriages, or on the eight-hour Cheat Mountain Salamander trip from Elkins to Old Spruce, Scott said guests can “sit back, relax and enjoy the history and beauty of West Virginia.”

Some of the routes travel through areas accessible only by train, allowing for unspoiled views of forests, canyons, rivers and mountains, not to mention the glimpse of a bald eagle or a black bear. Whichever excursion you choose, it is immediately obvious why West Virginia is called the Mountain State.

“We take you through not only some of the most beautiful scenery in the state, but also through some true wilderness,” Scott said.

For those wishing to experience fall at its finest, Scott recommended the Wild Heart of West Virginia excursion, which combines both steam and diesel trips. Passengers take the Cass Scenic Railroad to Old Spruce, where they then join the Cheat Mountain Salamander. The six-hour journey winds through the mountain forests to Elkins and includes a boxed lunch and several scenic stops. Groups may complete their journey in Elkins, or Scott can create a customized package that includes overnight accommodations and a return journey the next day.

Groups must have at least 25 people, and are advised to make reservations as early as possible, especially for the fall foliage season. Prime viewing time, weather permitting, is the first two weeks of October, but additional trains are put into service from mid-September until the end of October.