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Family Fun: Discovering New York State’s Most Scenic Railways

Family Fun: Discovering New York State’s Most Scenic Railways

Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Photo credit: Adirondack Scenic Railroad

New York State is home to many great railways that offer families some of the most scenic views of its beautiful countryside and nature. Travelling by rail offers the opportunity to sit back and relax while gazing at postcard beautiful rolling hillsides, valleys, lakes, rivers, streams and mountains from a new perspective.

New York State’s railroads are one of the most unique and fun ways to share a journey through the state with your loved ones. Here are our picks for the most scenic train journeys in New York State:

1. CATSKILL MOUNTAIN RAILROAD

The Catskill Mountain Railroad, a heritage tourist train that operates over a five-mile segment of railway from Kingston to West Hurley, is the only scenic railway operating in Ulster County. Its history has been be storied and fraught.

Most recently, the railroad has been transformed from mainly a freight service into a tourist one but this transition has been beset by natural disaster, including a flood in 2005. After the flood, the railroad was revived by a strong volunteer movement. It restarted service in 2007, only to be destroyed again by Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Today, though, the all-volunteer organization controls this railroad traveling from Kingston, NY into the heart of the Catskills. The best time to take a ride is during the Fall when it runs its Fall Foliage service and Pumpkin Patch Express.

Photo credit: John Durant

2. ARCADE AND ATTICA RAILROAD

The Arcade and Attica Railroad is, for most of the year, a shortline freight between Arcade and North Java but from May to October the line runs historic steam or early diesel passenger trains on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The journey is either a lush, green one in summer or a golden brown ride in the fall across a 14-mile stretch from Arcade to Curriers, NY in restored 1920s Boonton coaches.

Photo credit: Arcade and Attica Railroad

The rides are relaxing and nostalgic. There’s even a person playing old songs on an accordion. For families looking to entertain more excitable children, the train service also offers historic or fictional re-enactment journeys, from a Civil War-themed ride to a Super Hero-themed ride.

3. ADIRONDACK SCENIC RAILROAD

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad is a tourist railway that operates in Adirondack Park between Utica and Lake Placid, with stations at Thendara and Saranac Lake. The railroad is run by the nonprofit Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, the train crews for which are composed largely of volunteers. Their goal is to preserve and restore rail service in the High Peaks region. The railway is an opportunity to traverse the beautiful but remote areas of the Adirondack Park that might otherwise be inaccessible for small children and the elderly.

Probably the most family-oriented railway service in the state, they run many colorful event trips, like the Big Moose Adventure and the Haunted History Evening Excursion. With more adult tastes in mind, they also run a Beer and Wine Train trip which offers a scenic train ride accompanied by a beer and wine tasting.

Photo credit: Adirondack Scenic Railroad

4. SARATOGA AND NORTH CREEK RAILWAY

The Saratoga and North Creek Railway is another pretty railroad in the Adirondacks, running from Saratoga Springs to North Creek. Even though it only opened in 2011, it is a heritage railway that runs vintage trains across historic routes. For families, it offers Christmas-themed journeys, the Polar Express, from November 19th to December 23rd.

At North Creek Railroad Station, railbike tours, operated by Revolution Rail opened just last month. These are two-or-four-person rail vehicles that are peddled over fairly flat terrain for three miles, giving the peddlers some air and exercise as they travel along the Hudson River, and then over it, by peddling across a trestle bridge.

Photo from Instagram by @thelisalehman

As beautiful as the rails’ green scenery is during the warmer times of the year, the railway is also known for its snow train service that runs from January to March. This journey provides an opportunity to see the rarer sight of the frozen Adirondack landscape completely coated in the vivid white and blue of snow and ice.

5. ADIRONDACK AMTRAK

If you’re looking to go a great distance in New York State but still enjoy the journey, Amtrak’s Adirondack train is the one for you. The Adirondack, described by Amtrak as “One of the Top Ten Most Scenic Train Rides in the World,” travels daily from Penn Station in New York City, passing through the Hudson Valley on its way to Montreal.

Over its 11-hour ride, the views are consistently stunning. The train passes through all the most attractive parts of New York State, through the Hudson Valley, past the Adirondack Mountains, up to Montreal. And it is strongly recommended, for the best views that going north you sit on the left side, and on the right when going south.

Map credit: Amtrak