My top 10 best train watching Hot Spots

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Friday, January 26, 2018

Our special issue, Hot Spots, is available now, and it has me excited about traveling to great train watching places this year. We broke down our 100-page guide into three categories: Places to watch a lot of trains. Places that are scenic wonders. And places that are icons in our common obsession. Like everyone else, I have my favorites. Here’s my top 10, and be sure to get your own copy of Hot Spots at


1. The Loops near Old Fort, N.C. A sentimental favorite from near where I grew up. It is 13 twisting rail miles crammed into 3 air miles. There are 1,001 places on this railroad that are utterly fascinating to see how a railroad climbs a mountain via cuts, fills, bridges, and tunnels. Model railroaders would copy the route but people would claim it was unrealistic.

2. Sherman Hill. The stuff of Big Boys, gas turbines, and DD40X legends, three mainline tracks west of Cheyenne, Wyo., bespeak of the fight for traction and large volumes of trains. I made my first trip there in 1987, and I never tire of the place. I love Otto Road!

3. Rochelle, Ill. OK, the viewing platform at the diamond may not yield the most original photos, but sometimes the photos are secondary. It’s fun just to sit, watch, socialize, and let the trains do all of the work. That and two mainline railroads that are crazy busy.

4. Omaha – Council Buffs. Thanks to my wife’s family being from here, I get to this location a lot. It’s got variety — Amtrak, BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Iowa Interstate. It’s got bridges, junctions, directional running. In short, a lot in a little space with plenty of action.

5. Roanoke, Va. Any compass direction you go yields great mountain railroading. But I am most fond of heading west of town on legendary Christiansburg grade. Here the original Norfolk & Western plays tag with the former Virginian, and then clings to the hillside for elevation. It’s as curving and twisting as it gets.

6. Byron Hill – Duplainville. In our backyard here in Wisconsin. Canadian National has created a mainline jumping with traffic that’s scenic. Add in the diamond with Canadian Pacific and the hill southbound out of Fon du Lac, the marsh at Theresa, and the sweeping curve at Slinger, and you’ve got yourself one amazing, action-packed main line. Check out our video for sale at

7. Joint Line, Colorado. Who doesn’t like directional running on the edge of the Rockies? It’s not as busy as it once was, but it’s still a tonnage pipeline south of Denver for UP and BNSF. The area just north of Palmer Lake is among the last places along the Front Range that is blissfully undeveloped. Incidentally, we updated our On Location video of 25 years ago with new content as our Hot Spots brand so you can see it as well as read about it. Buy it here

8. Rathole, Kentucky. A tonnage and scenery fan’s dream come true. Most of the tunnels went away 50 years ago, but the deep cuts and tall bridges are still a draw. Norfolk Southern between Cincinnati and Chattanooga never disappoints.

9. Echo Canyon. Sandwiched in between scenic Weber Canyon and impressive Wasatch grade, Echo Canyon is a literal gorgeous delight on the Union Pacific main line. I’m especially fond of the I-80 rest stop overlook that really brings out the colors of the red rocks in the morning sun and puts the trains in perspective.

10. Horseshoe Curve, Pa. Pennsy history. Dramatic mountain crossing. Heavy tonnage. Norfolk Southern puts its heart and soul into this fantastic spot that should be on every train watcher’s list of places they must see. We’ve also got a Hot Spots video on this one, too! Get it here

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