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Scenic trains: See it by rail

Courtesy Conway Scenic Railroad

Conway Scenic Railroad
New Hampshire
Conway Scenic Railroad adventures begin in North Conway Village, where an 1874 roundhouse and railroad station greets passengers.

“In the foothills of the White Mountains, with Mount Washington visible, this is a stereotypic Northeastern village full of one-of-a-kind mom-and-pop stores and restaurants,” said Susan Logan, railroad marketing manager. “This is a railroad that oozes history and heritage.”

Groups can choose between two Valley Train excursions — the longest a nearly two-hour experience — that offer views of mountains, rivers and woodlands. The Notch Train travels on what was once the Maine Central Railroad’s Mountain Division line on tracks that were laid in the 1870s.

“This was a herculean effort — a marvel at the time. We provide live commentary about this engineering feat as well as the history of the area,” said Logan.

The trips feature plenty of dramatic scenery, from ravines to mountain vistas, in Crawford Notch, across Frankenstein Trestle and passing over the Willey Brook Bridge.

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Colorado and New Mexico
Nicknamed the “Pride of the Rockies,” the 64-mile steam excursion on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad climbs 11,000 feet on its one-way journey from Chama, New Mexico, to Antonito, Colorado — and descends on the reverse trip.

“That high point is the Cumbres Pass, the highest mountain pass reached by rail in the United States,” said Elizabeth Lujan, the railroad’s marketing director.

In addition to an abundance of deer, elk and bears throughout the grassy hills and alpine meadows, more highlights include Tanglefoot Curve, a loop so tight it seems the locomotive will meet the caboose; Phantom Curve, named for a rock spire that casts a ghostly shadow; and a rocky gorge where the train snakes carefully along a narrow ledge and passengers can view the 800-foot drop below.

“Passengers will also see the Garfield Monument near Toltec Tunnel, a monument dedicated to President James Garfield on the spot where people mourned the day he was assassinated,” said Lujan.

Although group members can disembark halfway through the route, most choose to travel the nearly five-hour tour and enjoy lunch at the midway point in rustic Osier, Colorado.