The best part of the muggy days of summer are knowing that they end and that something starker and lovelier is on its way. You know it if you've lived your whole life in the Northeast. You know it if you've driven up the winding byway that is Route 9. You know it if you've hiked through the Catskills and the Adirondacks as the first whispers of chill creep into the air. You know it when you see it -- or them, rather. Scientists call it senescence. The rest of us call it the changing of the leaves.
Your top autumnal priority should be ensuring that you see this annual assault gold, ruby, and hazel overtake the green, and -- if you live in Northeast, or have any plans to travel here -- Amtrak sounds like it will be your best bet. For the last few years, the inter-city passenger rail service has rolled out its vintage Great Dome Cars for leaf-peeping tourists on two separate train lines, the Adirondack and Downeaster. This year is no different.
From now until September 24, Amtrak will run its Great Dome Car on select trains on its 145-mile-long Downeaster route (with stops between Boston and Brunswick, Maine). The vintage cars were built in 1955 and outfitted with upper levels that feature windows on all sides, including their roofs -- which make them perfect for gawking at nature's mutable splendors. Amtrak's encouraging passengers to shuffle in and out of its Great Dome Cars to allow everyone a change to see the foliage, but we should say this: seating is strictly first-come, first-served on the Dome Cars.
The best of this is that it's available at the same price as regular Amtrak service. You just have to make sure you're riding a train fitted with one of these cars. Fortunately, that's not guesswork. According to Amtrak, here are the trains that will be fitted with these special cars until September 24. If you're booking trips, make sure you grab one of these on the Amtrak site:
- Monday-Friday trains: #682, #683, #688, #689
- Saturday trains: #692, #693, #696, #697
- Sunday trains: #690, #691, #698, #699
The trip is far from prohibitively expensive. For example, a Sunday ticket from Boston's North Station to Brunswick on the Downeaster #691 costs just $25, as of publication time. The one-way trip takes around 3 hours and 25 minutes.
Amtrak's other Great Dome Car line, the Adirondack, typically starts its fall foliage service a little later in the season -- last year's began at the end of September -- and dates and specific trains have yet to be announced. Nonetheless, it promises to be even more spectacular and an even bigger bang for your buck. The Great Dome Cars get hooked onto Amtrak trains in Albany and from there speed along a scenic route from upstate New York all the way up to Montreal, an 11-hour journey that costs just $53 one-way.
Either way, you win.