Romanticizing train travel seems endemic in American culture. It's hard to say exactly why, but riding the rails through gorgeous scenery could be an inspired way to reconnect with a partner. The 10 options here are inexpensive getaways for a day or weekend of romance.
Take a Valentine's Day trip on the Grand Canyon Railway for half price on Feb. 14. A round trip departing from Williams, Arizona, takes a scenic journey through diverse landscapes on the Colorado Plateau to a depot at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Wildlife sightings may include elk, skunks, deer, mountain lions, pronghorn, and bald eagles. The regular rate for an adult couple riding in coach class is $79 each. Crew members outfitted in Old West attire stroll through the cars playing music and telling tales. The depots are full of history and add to the old-time charm.
One of the more romantic and affordable trips aboard Amtrak's Silver Service trains traveling along the Eastern Seaboard runs from Savannah, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina. Round-trip, two adults can ride coach for as little as $32 each, leaving room to splurge a bit while exploring Charleston. With its waterfront location, antebellum architecture, and horse-drawn carriages, Charleston was ranked the most romantic city in the country by Travel & Leisure readers in 2015. Couples who fancy Disney over ginger bourbon cocktails could instead catch the Silver Service from Savannah down to Orlando, Florida, at $80 each round-trip. Check for Amtrak discounts, available to military personnel, seniors, veterans, students, adults with disabilities, and members of AARP and AAA.
Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express, named for the Revolutionary War hero, runs from Pennsylvania Station in New York City to Rutland, Vermont. Lasting more than five hours, the trip winds through the Hudson River Valley and stretches of wilderness that are picturesque no matter the season, although autumn foliage is especially alluring. Arriving in Rutland, travelers step into a quaint downtown with B&Bs, restaurants, small shops, and historic architecture. A Friday-to-Sunday weekend getaway costs $158 round-trip for each adult in coach. Check for Amtrak discounts based on memberships and affiliations.
Ride the historic Cascade Canyon route between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, and travel through Rocky Mountain passes that are impossible to reach by other transportation modes. The train, pulled by a vintage steam locomotive, runs in the winter and early spring, with round-trip fare set $62 (an optional boxed lunch costs $12). Travelers catch glimpses of snow peaks in colder months, or waterfalls and white-water rafters on the Animas River during warmer months. Linger in Silverton, an Old West mining town, longer than the few hours between train trips and hop a bus to return to Durango. The railway trip earns an average 4.5 stars from more than 2,600 reviews at TripAdvisor, as well as a Certificate of Excellence. Reviewers rave about the scenery and sense of adventure.
Named by Amtrak's own blog as one of its four most scenic train routes, the Pacific Surfliner hits San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego, rolling past the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California and the cliffs abutting the Pacific Ocean. Take advantage of the region's nearly perfect year-round weather and head to one of the cities for a day or two. Take the Los Angeles-to-San Diego route for $74 round trip or the Santa Barbara-to-San Diego route for $84 a person. Fun fact: The Surfliner has special racks for surfboards and bikes.
A little later in the year, couples can enjoy the Nantahala Gorge Excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The train travels along the Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers, over a trestle bridge across a lake, and into the picturesque Nantahala Gorge. A round trip departs from the Bryson City, North Carolina, depot March through October, and there's a one-hour layover in the gorge. The most romantic (and cheapest) level of service is the adults-only Premium Open Air Gondola, with half-height walls and lots of glass for unobstructed gazing. Riders can buy a blanket for two ($25), but bring your own, dodge the fee, and cuddle up in comfort. There's a complimentary lunch, limited bar, free refills of coffee, tea, and soda (in a free gift mug), and a souvenir tote bag for each couple. Adult fare is $74, with discounts for North Carolina natives, seniors, military families, and AAA members.
For an unforgettable day trip to a winery, catch the Warren County Winery Train, departing from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, every Saturday and Sunday starting at the beginning of May. The steam locomotive ride (the only one in the state) takes passengers along the Delaware River to a depot, where they catch a short bus ride across hilly farmland to the Villa Milagro Vineyards in Finesville. Visitors learn about grape cultivation, tour the vineyard, and partake in a tasting. Back on the train, there's an optional layover at Ol' Susquehanna Mine. Stroll around, enjoy a picnic, and catch a later train back to Phillipsburg. The cost for this romantic excursion is $35 a person.
A ride on a historic train pulled by a steam locomotive through the woods and up the mountains in West Virginia is a lovely day trip for a couple. The most romantic of the routes -- all departing from Cass beginning in May -- is the sojourn to Bald Knob Mountain (elevation: 4,842 feet). It's the third-highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains and the highest to be reached by standard railways east of the Mississippi. Bald Knob affords lovely views of red spruce trees and the forested valley below in Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The rail line was built in 1901 to haul timber to mills in Cass. The $54 round-trip fare for adults includes a simple lunch, admission to the Railroad and Logging History Museum, and a tour of the logging camp. There's a 30-minute layover in Whittaker at a lookout spot.
Companionable travelers on one of the themed Adirondack Scenic Railroad trips experience turn-of-the-century transit while watching the natural world roll by. The Adirondack Railway Perseveration Society maintains the quaint passenger trains, which run seasonally and leave from a restored depot in Utica, New York. The fall foliage tour lasts at least five hours with or without a layover and costs $39.50 for a round-trip adult ticket. A tantalizing two-hour beer-and-wine-tasting trip costs $25 a person and affords lovely views of upstate New York.
This off-the-beaten-track rail trip between Anchorage and Whittier runs mid-May to mid-December. The train travels through the state's southwest, offering eye-popping views of wildflower meadows with glaciers as the backdrop. Two adults can ride the Alaska Railroad in adventure class for $96 each. A one-way trip costs $80 a person and gives travelers the opportunity to stay over in Whittier, an ocean port and gateway to a wildlife-filled wilderness. Board a cheap bus back to the starting point.