As a train enthusiast, I know that trains are a comfortable and enjoyable mode of travel every season of the year. In the winter, there are some winter train rides that are worth doing for the scenery and experience alone – sliding across snow-covered mountaintops, gliding into stations that twinkle after the early nights.
I don’t deny my romance with trains influences my opinion – these trains travel to cold places – but there are some routes that are really special. Here are some snow trains that will leave a lasting impression and keep you feeling warm en route.
Switzerland’s Glacier Express
You cannot talk about fantastic winter train rides without talking about the Glacier Express, Switzerland’s world famous 180 mile, 8 hour train trip that travels through some of the most famous, most beautiful Swiss resort towns. Travel through Zermatt, and St Morirz, over nearly three hundred bridges, and through nearly 100 tunnels. The trains are modern and well equipped, and there’s a dining car, so you can watch the snow capped mountains whiz by while enjoying a light meal (or a three course lunch!).
Some also suggest the Jungfrau Railway as a great winter option, but personally I feel that area is better enjoyed for summer hiking. But any train in Switzerland during the winter is going to be a treat. And the trains are very comfortable, warm, and have regular schedules, which means you can stop anywhere you want pretty easily.
The Flam Railway
Also in Europe, the Flam Railway in Europe couldn’t be more different to the Glacier Express, but it’s just as breathtaking. This trip takes you through the world’s longest fjord – Sognefjord - and the amazing 3,000 foot drop in altitude that you make during the trip means you’ll see many different aspects of the winter landscape in Norway.
The railway is part of the “Norway in a Nutshell” tours which have been wildly popular in recent years, and will be decidedly less crowded in winter. (The downside is that there are fewer amenities en route in winter.) Bundle up, and don’t hesitate to explore some of the great year-round attractions in Bergen or take an onward train to Oslo.
How do trains run in winter over snow-covered tracks? It depends on the type of train engine, but many come equipped with snow blowers. There are also specialized train cars called “snow pushers” that can clear high-trafficked tracks of heavy snowfall.
VIA Rail’s The Canadian
Can’t make it to Europe? Great winter trains are not far from home; when it comes to winter, there aren’t many places on earth that do it better than Canada, and as far as fantastic winter trains go, you’ll be spoiled for choice! Routes include the Toronto – Vancouver route, or the shorter Jasper Prince Rupert, or the quick and easy Victoria Courtenay, which means that whether you’re looking for a winter train ride that spans several days, or a quick trip that you can complete in a matter of hours, the VIA service has you covered.
For the true winter train ride enthusiasts, the Canadian route from Toronto to Vancouver is the best choice – the food is possibly the best you can get on a train in North America, and VIA been spending quite a sum to upgrade these cars for value luxury. This trip will take you through the most scenic areas of Canada. You’ll travel through snow dusted forests, through mountains, over frozen rivers, and past sparkling frozen lakes.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
If you want to combine history with one of the world’s best winter train rides, then the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train is perfect for you. The historic steam train travels 26 miles through the winter wonderland surrounding the Animas River. The trains run through woods, over rivers and more.
You can also combine your siteseeing from aboard the luxuriously appointed train with adventure activities like snowmobile exploration. Their top-notch “Presidental Class” is not available in winter, but don’t fret in upgrading to First Class so you can enjoy the comfortable Alamoa Parlor Car.
The Alaska Aurora
While Alaska’s winters mean short days and long cold nights, there’s no shortage of great experiences in winter. Many say Fairbanks is best enjoyed in winter (though most say this with a shiver). Fairbanks is also a great place to start/end your rail journey, because of the opportunities to view the Aurora borealis. There’s also the world famous Ice Museum – though perhaps you’d rather enjoy the Chena Hot Springs as a little bit of luxury at a higher temperature.
As for the trains themselves, two popular options are The Aurora (3 nights) and the Article Circle Adventure (5 nights). These trains are still on my bucket list so I’m going to have to try both before deciding which is best! You can choose to ride the rails round-trip or just take the train one way and fly back for a quicker trip. All the way you’re guaranteed great snowy views, and stellar sunrises/sunsets – even if the sun goes down at 2 in the afternoon!
There are many other winter train rides out there that offer beautiful views, comfort and luxury – so don’t forget to consider a scenic jaunt on your next trip. While it might be cold outside, there’s nothing like hearing the click-clack of a train heading down the rails, the sounds gently muffled by piles of snow on either side.
Fhoto Credits via Flickr CC: KevinPoh, shannonkringen, Martin Cathrae, Colorado Trips, kla4067