The pristine farms go by one by one until the train stops. Instead of just gazing at the Amish countryside, groups can walk through a local Amish farm as personal guests in conjunction with a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road.
Train companies across the country offer a variety of these experiential rides that allow passengers to interact with the scenery; among them are full-day winery tours on the Napa Valley Wine Train, historic character narrators on the Durango and Silverton Railroad, and riverboat rides on the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.
Some train rides even inject adrenaline into the excursion with whitewater rafting packages on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad or ghost tours on the Whitewater Valley Railroad.
These exclusive train experiences add value to a group tour and make the call of the train whistle even more irresistible.
Strasburg Rail Road
After peering out the train window imagining life on an Amish farm, groups can step off the Strasburg Rail Road and experience the Amish culture for themselves.
The Iron Horse and Amish Farm Tour package includes a 45-minute steam train ride through idyllic Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, aboard restored passenger cars. When the ride ends, groups can interact with the Amish on a personal tour of Old Windmill Farm, an authentic 72-acre Amish farm.
The Strasburg Rail Road is one of the oldest continuously operating railroads in the western hemisphere. Chartered in 1832, the heritage railroad offers excursions through 2,500 acres of untouched farmland in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Groups can grab a bite to eat on the train’s excursions in one of the country’s only operational wooden dining cars. For a laid-back meal, groups can order boxed lunches from the Trackside Cafe to eat when disembarking at two picnic groves with plentiful seating options.
The air-conditioned rides last 45 minutes, with optional extras for groups, such as a behind-the-scenes tour of the railroad’s mechanical shops, where the line’s trains are refurbished.
For a first-class experience, groups can book the Golden Spike Package on the beautifully restored Parlor or Lounge cars. These upscale cars emanate Victorian elegance with a mahogany bar and upholstered captain chairs. A beverage with a fruit and cheese plate complement re-created news headlines from the early 20th century to complete the time travel experience.
Durango and Silverton Railroad
What once served as a route for gold-hungry prospectors now exists to delight at the Durango and Silverton Railroad in Durango, Colorado. Groups can relive the train’s mining past by booking a historic narration trip. Narrators use first-person storytelling with period clothing to match their characters from the Wild West. These experiences give the train ride a historic significance, as the narrator puts listeners in the mind-set of Durango’s early pioneers.
Tracks were laid for the railway in 1882. Historians estimate over $300 million in precious metals rode the rails over the years. The railroad faced many challenges in its past, such as slides, floods, financial instability and war. A group of determined staff took the soon-to-be abandoned line and used it to promote tourism to the area.
Once Hollywood discovered the railroad, the guests began flocking to the area, with several movies using the train in films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Today, the line provides year-round service on a historic train with both indoor and open gondola cars for panoramic views of the mountains.
Groups can order concessions aboard the train or cater a dinner at Cascade Canyon, the railroad’s riverside pavilion.
Additional packages combine the otherwise unreachable scenery with guided tours. The Mesa Verde Discovery Tour organizes an interpretive tour of the mysterious ancient cliff dwellings of the Mesa Verde National Park. The Historic Silverton Mining Tour includes a picnic lunch and a chance to pan for gold at the Old Hundred Gold Mine.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Sipping wine in a castle before boarding a luxury train through Napa Valley seems the definition of decadence. The Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa, California, re-creates the glory days of train travel with fine-dining service, postcard-worthy scenery and an exquisitely restored antique train.
Guests will marvel at the inside of the train as well as the scenery. Antique Pullman railcars feature Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents, etched glass partitions and plush armchairs. The train functions as a gourmet restaurant on wheels, as the chef prepares high-quality dishes with fresh, sustainable ingredients.
Groups can turn the ride into a way to explore wine country by choosing from among several tour packages. The Gourmet Express and Vista Dome packages offer exclusive tours of some of the region’s renowned wineries with customizable experiences. The Vista Dome Package is the train company’s most luxurious option, with a two-story dome dining car with unobstructed views from every angle.
The new full-day winery tour is one of the company’s most popular tours. The five- or six-hour tours traverse spectacular scenery with stops at three celebrated wineries for tours and plenty of samples.
The company offers shorter tours that stop at only one or two wineries, including the Castello di Amorosa winery, a California castle with award-winning spirits. Other options are the Hop Train, the Murder Mystery Tour and the Estate Tour for French winemaking traditions.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Bryson City, North Carolina
Ultimate relaxation meets ultimate excitement on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tarzan Train package. Taking off from Bryson City, North Carolina, the train weaves through stunning mountain scenery in the Nantahala Gorge.
Groups then disembark to step off 13 zip line platforms with nothing between them and the forest floor for some heart-pounding fun. Zip liners can view Clingman’s Dome, Fontana Lake and waterfalls as they zoom along.
The train partners with outdoor adventure companies to offer the added zip line tour and other options of whitewater rafting and jeep tours. The whitewater rafting package stops at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a two-hour rafting trip on the center’s controlled Class II whitewater rapids. The trip works for novice rafters, and includes a riverside barbecue lunch, a posttrip photo, showers and transportation back to Bryson City.
The Rail and Trail package allows groups to ride jeeps for two hours past waterfalls and lakes.
Those desiring a simple ride aboard the train can opt for the Tuckasegee River Excursion for a four-hour round trip to Dillsboro. The scenery impressed filmmakers enough to feature the train in “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford.
Other special events take place throughout the year, including Great American Rails-N-Tales Narration Car, for learning experiences led by local poet Horace Kephart.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
To see as much as possible of the natural beauty of the Connecticut River Valley, the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat offers a two-and-a-half-hour journey beginning at the historic 1892 Essex Station. The 12-mile narrated round trip places guests in vintage coaches from the 1920s and 1930s.
The trains roll by quintessential New England towns, as well as several coves and preserves not accessible by road. Groups can see tidal wetlands and a plethora of birds, such as cormorants, blue herons and egrets.
The train ride last 45 minutes, with optional extras for groups, such as a behind-the-scenes tour of the railroad’s mechanical shops, where the line’s trains are refurbished.
Groups can also add a lunch aboard one of the train’s fine-dining cars or order a boxed lunch from the Trackside Cafe. Even the riverboat features a snack bar for sandwiches, soups and beverages.