5 Scenic Amtrak Routes You Need to Check Out

Amtrak scenic routes
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 70154

Amtrak offers a host of spectacular scenic routes that will make your next getaway unforgettable. Comfortable, convenient, and often cheaper than air travel, here we outline some of the best scenic train routes Amtrak has on offer.

Why Travel by Train?

You don’t need to fly to faraway destinations in order to have an exciting vacation. Skip the long, boring check-in lines and unpredictable delays at the airport and book yourself a ticket on one of Amtrak’s scenic routes instead. Train travel produces significantly less carbon emissions than air travel and, if you travel coach, is much cheaper. Plus, you get to see not only one new place but four or five at the very least. And the best part is, you can sit back and take in the breathtaking scenery between train stops instead of endless cloudgazing. 

1. From Chicago to Seattle: Empire Builder

Glacier National Park offers beautiful views of undisturbed nature.
Glacier National Park offers beautiful views of undisturbed nature.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 12019)

Spend 46 hours traveling through the rugged landscapes of the American West. Running between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, the Empire Builder covers extensive sections of the famous Lewis and Clark trail. Upon departure from Chicago, you will enjoy majestic views of the Mississippi before crossing the next day into the North Dakota plains and traveling over the spectacular Gassman Coulee Trestle. From there, you will enter Montana Big Sky country, passing by the ever-popular Glacier National Park. Then it’s onward to Spokane and then Seattle if you choose, skirting the Columbia River Gorge and taking in breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and Beacon Rock as you go.

  • Chicago – St. Paul/Minneapolis – Spokane – Portland/Seattle
  • Duration: 46 hours
  • Daily Departure
  • Learn more here.

2. Amtrak Route to LA: Scenic Southwest Chief

From the train, you'll enjoy perfect views of the red cliffs of Sedona.
From the train, you'll enjoy perfect views of the red cliffs of Sedona.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / lpiland)

The Southwest Chief carries passengers from Chicago to Los Angeles and is a stand-out favorite of Amtrak enthusiasts as it roughly follows much of the same path as the scenic and iconic Route 66. A particularly spectacular highlight of the Southwest Chief is passing through the painted desert in Arizona and soaking up great views of the fiery red cliffs of Sedona. The Southwest Chief covers around 2,265 miles in 43 hours.

  • Chicago – Kansas City – Albuquerque – Flagstaff – Los Angeles
  • Duration: 40+ hours
  • Daily Departure
  • Learn more here.

3. Along the West Coast: Coast Starlight

Coastal Starlight - an Amtrak favorite.
Coastal Starlight – an Amtrak favorite.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / dfsym)

35 hours on the Coastal Starlight route with be an unforgettable travel experience. This glorious west coast odyssey runs daily between Los Angeles and Seattle, passing through the Bay Area, Sacramento and Portland as it goes. The scenic coastal vistas along the route are unmatched and truly diverse. Whether it’s the pristine Pacific Ocean coastline, snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, or verdant forests and valleys, the ever-changing landscapes will constantly grab your attention and fire your imagination.

  • Seattle – Portland – Sacramento – Los Angeles
  • Duration: 35 hours
  • Daily Departure
  • Learn more here.

4. Sunset Limited: Visiting the South by Train

The ethereal Bayou landscapes of Louisiana.
The ethereal Bayou landscapes of Louisiana.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / FunkWD)

Amtrak’s southernmost scenic route, 48 hours onboard the Sunset Limited takes you from Louisiana to California. Running in each direction, passengers can kick back and enjoy the scenery as the train winds its way through Bayou Country, skims past the Mexican border, and continues onward through southwestern desert landscapes and Californian mountain ranges. This particular route also allows for some extra flexibility, where travelers can add additional scenic routes to their itineraries if they desire. These connecting services include the Texas Eagle, Coast Starlight, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquins scenic routes.

  • New Orleans – San Antonio – Tucson – Phoenix – Los Angeles
  • Duration: 48 hours
  • Departures: Three Days a Week
  • Learn more here.

5. California Zephyr: The Most Scenic Amtrak Route

Wide open space in Nebraska.
Wide open space in Nebraska.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / RJA1988)

Experienced travelers all agree that the California Zephyr is undoubtedly the most scenic Amtrak route available in North America. An epic 51 hours of travel time covers the lofty heights of the Rockies as well as the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range as you travel westwards. The Zephyr runs between Chicago and San Francisco, traversing the endless plains of Nebraska to Denver, across the Rockies to Salt Lake City, and then through Reno and Sacramento before arriving in San Francisco.

  • Chicago – Omaha – Denver – Salt Lake City – Emeryville (San Francisco)
  • Duration: 51 hours 20 minutes
  • Daily Departure
  • Learn more here.

More Scenic Amtrak Routes: Honorable Mentions

Silver Service/Palmetto

These services run between the bustling cities of New York and Miami, spending 28 hours traveling through the history-rich countryside of the Deep South. Once onboard, passengers will be able to enjoy striking scenery not usually accessible by other modes of transportation, with the Florida Bayou being a real highlight.

Adirondack

A shorter scenic Amtrak route covering 380 miles in 11 hours, The Adirondack travels from New York to Montreal as it winds its way through the picturesque Hudson Valley. The trip also takes in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains and most travelers agree that this route is at its best during fall when the landscape puts on a vibrant display of fall colors.

You’ll find more routes on the official website.

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