The Best Fall Foliage Train Routes in North America

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An Amtrak train weaves through fall foliage in New England.
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Nature is about to start its annual bling-fest. 

That’s right, fall is around the corner and it’s going to get colorful out there. It’s the most beloved — and also the most blink-and-you’ll-miss-it — season, so plan ahead, dear friends. Consider how you want to celebrate autumn this year.

And you know what’s not the way to do it? Hauling down the highway at a fast clip, distracted at the wheel as your gaze drifts toward the trees. No, the best (and safest) way to experience autumn is traveling by rail. Sitting and relaxing, hot beverage in hand, nothing demanding your attention but the scenery outside the window. 

Rail travel takes you behind the scenes, through places you can’t access any other way. To that end, we’ve analyzed our extensive train-travel data here at Wanderu to pinpoint the top 10 routes for fall-foliage viewing. 

We tracked the average price for the season, along with the seasonal change in price (hint: some of our favorites are majorly discounted) and the number of trips per day — all with an eye toward helping you plan the best and most cost-effective trip this fall.

Find each route plotted on the map below, followed by a full breakdown of the data.

Route Daily Trips Avg. Price Price Change Dome Car
Portland, ME to Boston, MA 7 $27.41 -38.10% Yes
Montreal, QC to Québec City, QC 9 $58.01 +30.18% No
Portland, OR to Spokane, WA 1 $59.06 -28.94% No
Sacramento, CA to Reno, NV 1 $63.11 +23.33% No
New York, NY to Montreal, QC 1 $76.95 +4.31% Yes
Salt Lake City, UT to Denver, CO 1 $92.91 +9.18% No
Washington, DC to Cincinnati, OH 1 $101.60 -11.85% No
La Junta, CO to Flagstaff, AZ 1 $101.83 +6.08% No
Dallas, TX to St. Louis, MO 2 $110.52 +9.96% No
Emeryville (Oakland), CA to Seattle, WA 1 $147.76 +2.51% No
  • Average price is based on the cumulative average train ticket price for each route during the fall foliage season.
  • Price Change indicates the difference between the average train ticket price during foliage season and the average train ticket price for that route over the course of the entire year.

Listed from cheapest average price to most expensive, you can easily see which train best suits your budget. (Even better, see if you can find a route that takes you to one of the top cities in the U.S. for fall activities.)

In addition to the categories mentioned previously, you’ll see that we’ve also noted which routes include Amtrak’s “Great Dome Car.” Only available on the Downeaster and the Adirondack, the Great Dome is a double-decker train car in which passengers are afforded spectacular 360-degree views. (If you’ve never traveled by Amtrak before, fear not: It truly is a cinch, as our Amtrak ticket guide shows.)

Now, please keep your elbows (and your pumpkin spice lattes) to yourself, as we delve into each individual route.

Portland, ME to Boston, MA

Photo of Maine in autumn.
(nhoulihan / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Downeaster

Peak Foliage: Oct. 21-27, 2019

Dome Car: Available mid August through late September

It’s lucky sevens on this 2.5-hour jaunt south from Maine to Massachusetts. That is, seven times each day, Amtrak runs the Downeaster (down… east…) for 38.10% less than the average year-round price of $44.28. Which means it costs $27 on average to go from lobster roll to crab cake with fall foliage along the way.

The train features a full-length Dome Car, all panoramic views, no assigned seats, so the first passengers to get there can snag a spot for premier viewing. With peak leaf time hitting in late October — and the Dome Car only available in the fall — this route is begging for a ride. 

Book Your Trip:

Montreal, QC to Québec City, QC

(husseinabdallah / Flickr)

Train Line: VIA Rail Canada

Peak Foliage: Sept. 30 – Oct. 7, 2019

VIA Rail, Canada’s passenger-rail service, rolls nine times each day from Montreal to Québec City, arriving at the historic Gare du Palais station. You’ll have a bit less than four hours à bord du train, with plenty to see to pass the time. 

Peak foliage strikes earlier up north, so you should plan to hit this route from one stellar Canadian city to the next some time between the very end of September and early October. Seeing Montreal’s Mount Royal Park in fall practically merits the trip alone, and that’s saying nothing of Old Québec.

Book Your Trip:

Portland, OR to Spokane, WA

Photo of the Columbia River Gorge in autumn.
(Alejandro Rdguez / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Empire Builder

Peak Foliage: Nov. 4-10, 2019

This journey is a worthy excursion unto itself: A seven-plus hour stretch of Amtrak’s Empire Builder.  This line follows in the reserve footsteps of many pioneers who once weathered the famous Oregon Trail. 

The train hugs the banks of the Columbia River for about half the duration (yes, the same Columbia River you know from wine bottles — this leg is also on our West Coast wine tour) and then trundles through Mt. Hood National Forest. While this route would be lovely any time of year, it’s particularly spectacular in fall when the broadleaf trees turn. 

It’s also less expensive: The average price of a ticket throughout the full year is $83.11, which means at an average of $59.06 in fall, you’re saving almost 30 percent.

Book Your Trip:

Sacramento, CA to Reno, NV

Photo taken in the Sierra Nevada mountains in fall.
(Don Graham / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak California Zephyr

Peak Foliage: Nov. 4-10, 2019

When the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang “fly away on my zephyr,” they probably weren’t talking about this incredible Amtrak route — but they should’ve been!

Each day, the California Zephyr zips from Sacramento to Reno. Traveling away from the coast may not, unto itself, sound stunning. But five hours through the natural majesty of Tahoe National Forest will legit leave your jaw on the floor.  

Hit it up in early November for prime viewing. (And note that we’re not legally responsible if that 🌶️ song is now stuck in your head.)

Book Your Trip:

New York, NY to Montreal, QC

Photo of the Hudson River Valley in autumn.
(dsovercash / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Adirondack

Peak Foliage: Oct. 14-20, 2019

Dome Car: Available late September through early November

Leaf-peeping is the only kind of peeping permitted in Central Park. 

But once you get your fill meandering through the park’s pathways, hop the Adirondack line due north to Montreal, where you’ll have unobstructed views of the Hudson River Valley through Amtrak’s Dome Car. (They warn about glass houses, but we’ve yet to hear one complaint about glass train cars.)

The train runs once per day, and with leaves peaking mid October, it’s our official prescription for treating the winter-is-coming blues.

Book Your Trip:

Salt Lake City, UT to Denver, CO

Train Line: Amtrak California Zephyr

Peak Foliage: Oct. 21-27, 2019

This route, another leg on Amtrak’s Zephyr line, winds you eastward through much of Utah and Colorado. Sure, it departs Salt Lake City at the crack of dawn, but that means you can sleep for a bit and awake to what’s essentially a stunning tour de National Forests of Colorado. 

Once in Denver, there are plenty of transit options to get back in the trees for a fall immersion (peaking toward the end of October), which you are legally able to enjoy with the additional aid of a … different kind of leaf. 🍁

Book Your Trip:

Washington, DC to Cincinnati, OH

Photo of the Ohio River in autumn.
(janeinman / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Cardinal

Peak Foliage: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3, 2019

Amtrak’s Cardinal line takes you south through Charlottesville, Virginia. From there, you’ll travel west through Shenandoah and Monongahela National Forests, before joining up with the New River (and later, the Ohio River).

In brief: Take this line, and take it sometime in very late October or early November — all the more because it’s down 11.85% from its average year-round price of $115.26, ringing in at an average of $101.60.

You’ll leave from one historic train station, Union Station in D.C., and arrive at another, the Union Terminal in Cincinnati — the building upon which the Hall of Justice was modeled by DC Comics. It’s now an active museum center, and the train station’s ongoing operation is fairly unknown to locals. But the waiting room, with original train-motif Art Deco inlaid-wood walls, will leave no doubt that you’ve arrived.

Book Your Trip:

La Junta, CO to Flagstaff, AZ

(psyberartist / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Southwest Chief

Peak Foliage: Oct. 14-21, 2019

As far as that magic of the Southwest goes, we have two things to say: 1) it’s real and 2) this is the way to experience it. 

You’ll spend the day (roughly 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train, looping near Santa Fe, through Albuquerque, and then up and over to Flagstaff. 

The landscape is largely Native American Reservations and National Forests, filled with the colors and rock structures that define the region — and a ride straight through Petrified Forest National Park soon after you cross over into Arizona.

As a reminder: Flagstaff is just south of the Grand Canyon, so there may be a few more rocks to behold over there.

Book Your Trip:

Dallas, TX to St. Louis, MO

Photo of Arkansas in the fall.
(stevensnodgrass / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Texas Eagle

Peak Foliage: Nov. 11-17, 2019

Sure, the line’s name — Texas Eagle — sounds like a parody segment on “The Daily Show,” but this twice-per-day Amtrak train will shuttle you from the heart of Texas up through Arkansas to the Gateway City, allowing you a good shake of the south (and some time spent along the Mississippi River) all in one go. 

To see the fall leaves at their best, particularly as you approach the National Forests of southern Missouri, book a ticket for mid November.

Book Your Trip:

Emeryville (Oakland), CA to Seattle, WA

(janarendtsz / Flickr)

Train Line: Amtrak Coast Starlight

Peak Foliage: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3, 2019

This last trip is a big one, clocking in at approximately 22 hours, but you’ll hardly be wishing the time away given the sights. 

Highlights on this journey include California wine country and Mt. Shasta, followed by the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, before winding your way up to Seattle and its waterways. 

The topography on this route, from snow-peaked mountains to rolling amber vineyards and dense forests, might get you down with the whole “west coast, best coast” mentality. Even if not, it will make for one hell of a fall trip. 

If you take the train in one go, you’re looking at an average ticket price of $147.76, hovering right around its average year-round price, but no less of a steal. Or you may consider breaking this one into segments — we suggest Redding to Eugene or Portland to Seattle. Regardless, on this route you should look toward very late October for the best fall color.

How We Did It

Take one trip, take them all, get on a train and never get off. It’s your life. We’re just here to help you live it. Which is why we gathered and measured a wealth of our own data: So you can make the best travel choices (and book your trip!) without having to expend all your decision-making energy before you even depart. 

How did we do it? Magic. But also, by carefully tracking ticket prices, route options, seasonal perks, and a whole lot more. 

On Wanderu, you can compare routes, schedules and prices on bus and train travel across the country, and book your tickets without paying any extra fees. Just download the Wanderu app or visit Wanderu.com to start your search.

Also, autumn isn’t the only season to travel by train. These 12 scenic Amtrak routes, including some along the ocean, offer glorious vistas year-round.

The final word: Winter will be here before you know it. So make the most of your time and take the fall — and enough leaf pics to fill your Instagram till spring.

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About the author
Alyssa Konermann

Alyssa Konermann

Alyssa Konermann has hitchhiked through rural Thailand; lived next to the beach in Goa, India; danced to folk music in Las Pampas and to club music is Buenos Aires; road-tripped around Morocco on some winding mountain roads she should not have survived; eaten from a communal pot of snails in Barcelona—and is always planning her next trip, even if it’s just a weekend eating in NYC. A freelance writer and former editor at Cincinnati Magazine, the adventure she’s currently on is pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing.
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