There are many different routes to choose from, from a short day trip to a neighboring city, to a cross-country excursion, with seemingly endless options in between. The best thing about train travel is that you get to see everything you’re traveling through. Endless hills of lush green trees, quaint towns lost in time, corn fields that stretch out into forever, stunning, shimmering lakes - you will witness all these breathtaking scenes that you would normally be flying over. The experience is absolutely gorgeous, reminding you what a beautiful country we have right here. The obvious downfall of traveling via train is that it takes a pretty long time. But, it’s definitely worth it. Voyages could be as short as a few miles,, or you can venture across the U.S. in a little over three days. There is also the option to buy your tickets in segments, where you can jump off at stops to sight-see. We'll give you all the tips to make train travel your new favorite mode of transportation. But first off, here are the most stunning routes to take:
Amtrak CascadeRoute: Vancouver, BC - Seattle - Tacoma - Portland - Salem - Eugene Length: 10 hours, 25 minutes
This scenic route along the Pacific Northwest shows you the lush landscapes of Oregon and Washington, Mt. Saint Helens, and the Columbia River Gorge, before ending its journey in Canada. Since it also travels along the Pacific Ocean, you can look out onto the water and catch a whale sighting, bald eagle in flight or other majestic wildlife.
California ZephyrRoute: Chicago - Denver - Glenwood Springs - Emeryville (San Francisco) Length: 51 hours, 20 minutes
This route is a fan favorite for a reason. On the California Zephyr, you will see the Sierras and Rocky Mountains on the way to Denver, travel through the 6.2-mile Moffat Tunnel, witness beautiful lakes (Donner Lake and the Great Salt Lake), and marvel at Colorado’s canyons.
Coast StarlightRoute: Seattle - Portland - Los Angeles Length: 35 hours
Another popular train route, the Coast Starlight allows you to see all the beautiful scenes in California, Oregon, and Washington that you miss on a plane. Quaint towns dotted along the way, overflowing with trees, along with the major West Coast cities. Stretches of land uninterrupted by people, buildings or cars. Oceanviews, Mt. Shasta, the Cascade Ranges and everything beautiful that personify this edge of country.
Pacific SurflinerRoute: San Luis Obispo - Santa Barbara - Los Angeles - San Diego Length: 5 hours, 45 minutes
You can almost hear The Beach Boys playing their surf hits on this route. This train glides along the coastline of Central and Southern California, showing you scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Sunset LimitedRoute: New Orleans - San Antonio - Los Angeles Length: 48 hours
This is a great way to experience the great Southwest. Travel along the Rio Grande as you take in Amtrak’s most southern route, along the Mexican border, covering California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. You will see the Sonoran desert, pass through old cities filled with Native American and Old West history, and along swampy bayous.
The Essentials: Price, Logistics & What to Pack
As with any trip, make sure to pack all your essentials in a handy backpack. You can check your larger luggage in at the train station to pick up at your destination, and are allowed to bring up to two 50lb. bags on board. Here are 3 of the most important things you'll want to ensure you have: 1. Entertainment. It's wise to stock up on books or magazines to read, movies or TV episodes to watch, and any crafts you want to work on. There will be parts of the country where you will have zero reception, so it’s advisable to download anything you can for these moments. Having everything available digitally also makes for less bulk in your bag. Each seat has it’s own charger, so you can snap postcard-worthy pics through the large windows, listen to all those podcasts, and keep everything charged. 2. Moneybelt. Since you will be sleeping among other travelers, keep your ticket, money, ID, and other important items close by, or in a money belt for safe keeping. A good idea is to use your backpack as a pillow, or tuck it under your feet so you’re always in contact with it. If you’re not booked in a sleeper car room, bring a blanket, pillow, and make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes! 3. Face wipes. You can bring liquids on board without restriction, so feel free to bring all your necessary toiletries. Wipes are a genius addition to any travel bag and can be used all over your body for instant refreshment.
The price per route will vary greatly according to several factors. First, the earlier you book your trip, the lower the fare will be. You can book your fare up to 11 months in advance. Just like plane tickets, there are peak times of travel that affect the price, usually the summer and holidays, and in the Northeast, what day you travel and time. There are discounts for being a student, AAA member, military personal and family, passenger with a disability, and more . You could also get multi-ride tickets, rail passes, or take advantage of other money-saving deals here . Need to Know: If you have sleeper car accommodations, all meals are included, but the dining car, lounge car and/or cafe cars are available to everyone. Have a sit-down meal or just grab a snack and drink, it’s up to you. You can also pack snacks or meals to bring on board. Alcohol is only allowed to be consumed in private areas, i.e. sleeper cars, but we’re sure people stash more than water in their portable bottles. Speaking of sleeper cars , they cost a bit more than regular accommodations, but include meals, access to showers, a private bed, wi-fi and more. If you choose to bypass this however, you will still be comfy. The seats are comfortable and recline to make for restful sleep. The bathrooms are all relatively clean. Make sure to visit the observation car, should your train have one. This is an area with seats facing massive floor-to-ceiling windows and glass ceilings, where you can really take in the gorgeous views. There will be stops where you will be able to step off the train momentarily to stretch, get some fresh air, have a smoke, or take some pictures.