Riding the Thunder Mountain Line

Riding the Thunder Mountain Line

Northern Pacific Railroad Books

Around the rest of the world, trains are an everyday mode of transportation — whether it’s the high-speed bullets of Asia and Europe, or the achingly slow, rustic rides we’ve endured in Sri Lanka and Bolivia. But in the States, nobody takes the train anymore. In fact, American train rides are such a rarity that they’re now sold as touristic experiences.

Train Is Coming

The Thunder Mountain Line offers such an experience, billing itself as Idaho’s only scenic train ride. We joined a Sunday morning tour and rumbled along the edge of the Payette River, enjoying the scenery between Horseshoe Bend and Banks.

Before the train set off, we took a quick tour of the cars with Larry, who would be the official greeter/guide/storyteller during the ride. Most of the cars that make up the Thunder Mountain Line come from a rather unexpected source: Long Island. They’re decommissioned commuter rail trains which have been stripped and refurbished for comfort and charm. The attentive passenger might notice that the ceiling pattern still features New York’s state seal.

There were about five cars making the trip on our journey. First-class passengers got their own section with dining tables and a full-service bar. One car had been transformed into a souvenir shop, and another held the kitchen. The coolest car, though, was The Texan, which can be rented by private parties. It’s fully outfitted with a living room and bedrooms, and Larry told us that, for a baherlor party, they’ll often drive this car up to Banks, leave it for the night, and then pick it back up the next day.

The train lumbered slowly along the river for an hour and a half, each way. We disembarked for a short pause in Banks, where, to my confusion and terror, the crew tried to get us to participate in a Chicken Dance. I thought they were kidding at first, but nope — there were even costumes. We politely demurred. All good fun, I suppose, but a jarring interlude in what had been a morning marked by class.

Back on the train, we washed the memory of the Chicken Dance away with drinks from the bar, and settled down onto the outside benches to better enjoy the view. For train enthusiasts, or anyone looking for an enjoyable and unique way to admire some beautiful Idahoan nature, the Thunder Mountain Line offers a great day out.

Thunder Mountain Line – Website
Location of the Office

Idaho Car Rentals

Norhtwest Train
Old Lock
Train Worker
Train Signal
Train Stell
Train Breaks
Old Train Tracks
Train Guide
Train Ceiling
Wild Wild West Train
VIP Train Ride
Train Wine
Train Stories
Train Air Conditioning
Idaho chicken Dance
Train River


  • Tony

    Very sorry about the Chicken Dance.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm
  • Smell Ya Later

    Nice pictures, except you don’t show pictures or talk about the last car. Disguising. Cheep. Smelly. Gross.It smells as if it has NEVER been cleaned.There was pee on the walls of the bathroom.The seats were torn.The SMELL. The smell. the smell.It was not cheep for our family but was the biggest waste of money and the most embarrassed I have ever been when we took family on this “great train ride” through beautiful (and smelly) Idaho.No wonder that little town is failing. Pick it up a notch.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm
    • Juergen

      Hey Jen, sorry to hear about your experience. We didn’t notice any smells or
      torn seats. Not sure when you took the train ride but our ride was actually very
      pleasant. Did you get in touch with the Thunder Mountain Line?

      September 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm
    • Debbie Duran

      Please call me at the office, our train has been upgraded considerably,we would love to have you back on board!208.369.6454 

      September 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm
  • Debbie Duran

    The “Last Car” was retired and pulled from service last year.It was vintage car in all original condition from the 1940’s. In comparison to the other cars it was very “Vintage” I am happy to say all cars on the consist have been updated,and first class and executive cars are very luxurious!Please visit our website and when booking we now have pictures of the cars on line so you know where you will be sitting and can upgrade to different classes of service and amenities.*Note: All cars have air conditioning and heating for those chilly months!

    September 28, 2012 at 8:18 pm