Train travel combines history, adventure and grand scenery. Here are five rides to consider.
1. Heber Valley Historic Railroad, Heber, Utah. Choose from 16 excursions designed by this nonprofit organization to educate visitors about the railroad's rich history. Opt for a dinner ride that includes a comedic whodunit, or participate in a Wild West escapade. Some families will want to hop off the train, climb on an ATV and experience the recently added zip line. In fall, chug to a private pumpkin patch. Kids can pick a pumpkin to carve and scamper through a hay maze before returning to the depot. In December, the North Pole Express promises a visit from Santa and his elves before hot cocoa is served in a souvenir mug.
Contact: 435-654-5601; www.hebervalleyrr.org.
2. Virginia & Truckee Railroad, Carson City, Nev. As the vintage train rolls down the track and the steam whistle slices the air, you probably will remember the moment as a family favorite. For more than an hour, enjoy riding through the Sierra Nevada, past old cemeteries, abandoned mines and through an occasional tunnel, just as prospectors did during the Comstock silver boom of the 1860s. Watch for wild mustangs. Later, learn about the 150-year-old city's history through walking tours and museum visits.
Contact: 775-687-7410; www.visitcarsoncity.com.
3. The Jacobite, Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland. Harry Potter fans, gather 'round. That steam train that transported Harry to wizard training at Hogwarts is available for boarding. In real life, the Jacobite steam train winds 42 miles through Ben Nevis, the highest mountain range in the British Isles, with views of freshwater lochs, the lovely countryside of Glen Nevis and other sites you're sure to recognize from the film series. The train operates May through October.
Contact: 011-44-845-128-4681; www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite_details.html.
4. VIA Rail Canada. In addition to jaw-dropping scenery from Pacific to Atlantic shores, you'll find plenty designed just for kids on Canada's national passenger rail service. Expect year-round children's discounts, kids' menus and healthful snacks. You'll also find games, videos and mini lectures crafted to help young travelers learn along the way.
Contact: 888-842-7245; www.viarail.ca.
5. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, Colo. For unforgettable vistas, board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in southwestern Colorado. You'll travel behind vintage steam locomotive engines that have been transporting gold prospectors, silver miners, cowboys, explorers and family travelers through the picturesque San Juan Mountains since 1882. Packages include specials for hikers, bikers and mining enthusiasts. Kids ride free on selected summer dates.
Contact: 888-872-4607; www.durangotrain.com.