THE BLOG
07/14/2013 12:09 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2013

Riding the Rails with Kids

At the turn of the last century, riding the rails was the swiftest way to traverse a continent. It was reserved for the well-heeled family and quite the swanky affair. The Wright Brothers put a twist on travel and the notion of boarding a train lost its luster. But across the globe many rail operators have made train travel THE vacation experience for families, rather than simply a means of getting from place to place. There are many train trips for you to choose from all varying in venues and lengths of time aboard. To see if train travel is right for your family, try one of these one or two day excursions I have found up and down Continents of America.

CANADA

This summer my family and I traveled between Montreal and Toronto on Canada's premiere rail service VIA Rail Canada. What I liked most about this excursion is it's a no stress way to relax and enjoy a visually stunning land travel vacation with your children. I was absolved of driving duties, the conductor took the wheel. And you just can't experience a destination the same way if you're high above the ground in an airplane.

Our trip began in the luxury lounge at the train station where we were greeted by a friendly host and treated to unlimited beverages. Boarding the train was stress free with no security lines, removing hats, shoes, jewels or jackets. As soon as we boarded the train it felt special. Our luggage stayed with us on the train so no drop off, x-ray or retrieval on a carousel required. We enjoyed a good meal, seats with plenty of legroom and were able to keep our electronics on and charged (there are electrical outlets aboard) throughout the trip. Miles of verdant scenery stretched before us as we crossed the country. We counted farm houses along the route, pointed out all the black and white cows, mom even got to take quick snooze without worrying about what the kids might be doing. The servers were friendly and accommodating, serving us a very good lunch and sharing an extra helping of yummy truffle chocolates.

Some of VIA Canada's most inviting and family friendly excursions includes; Winnipeg to Churchill, a 1700km two-day journey across the subarctic region of Northern Manitoba with views of the Northern lights, whale watching and Polar bear sightings. Or a two-day trip from Jasper National Park to Prince Rupert which travels along the Canadian Rockies, Pacific Coast, and rural farmland with an overnight stop in Prince George. For other destinations visit Viarail.ca.

UNITED STATES

You and your family can be modern day pioneers traveling aboard Amtrak's 2,256-mile two-day trip from Southern California en route to Chicago. At the start you'll leave car choked Los Angeles behind traveling over Cajon Pass and into the Mojave Desert. Outside red-rock canyons and hills unfold with thick lush greenery. Then miles and miles of the Painted Desert east of Flagstaff, Arizona, interspersed with dusty towns. National Park Service guides from Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site (La Junta, Colorado), Pecos National Historic Park (Pecos, New Mexico), and Petroglyph National Monument (Albuquerque, New Mexico) tell stories on the train between Albuquerque and La Junta, Colorado. Then inching closer to its final destination, the train traverses through Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and finally Illinois, passing by the backyards of small towns and the downtowns of big cities.

If your children are younger and not inclined to hours and hours on a train warm them up for a longer excursion with a visit to Heber Valley, Utah. It has plenty of family friendly accommodations and activities including the Heber Valley Railroad. There are sixteen miles of track between the valley and Vivian Park in Provo Canyon and the rail organizers have created a plethora of fun excursions to suit everyone in your family. There are Scenic Train tours, adventure trains that include activities like rafting, horse back riding and zip lining. They have a BBQ trip, Murder Mystery Train, and comedy train. But what I loved about it best are the family oriented themed excursions like Day Out With Thomas, The North Pole Express, the dinosaur train, Wizard's Train, Fiddlers and Fireworks Train and more. The trips range from one and half hours roundtrip to three hours. The location also offers nearby access to Park City and Sundance Resort, both just under a 15-minute drive, enabling newbies to experience the beautiful cities of Utah.

MEXICO

The "El Chepe," train trip starts near the Pacific coast in the state of Sinaloa and travels more than 400 miles over 37 major bridges and through 86 tunnels in thirteen hour trip which climbs to 7,874 feet above sea level. There is a short stop at Divisadero for pix of the mammoth Copper Canyon. The lines best scenery is between Divisadero and El Fuerte on the western side of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The train has two to three passenger cars with 64 seats, plus a dining car and bar car.

SOUTH AMERICA

Another great back to school show and tell summer rail trip is aboard the Hiram Bingham to the Lost Citadel of Machu Picchu, the last stronghold of the Incas. The trip departs from Andean city of Cuzco, Peru. It traverses through a thick jungle, along the Urubamba River, and across two 13,000-feet high mountain passes finally arriving in Machu Picchu. The train ride is a little over three hours. You and your kids will be treated to a historic guided tour given by natives and several hours of self-exploration before the train departs back down the mountain.