Last Updated on October 27, 2020
As someone who loves traveling the world by train I have a bucket list of scenic Amtrak train trips I can’t wait to experience in the US. If you are planning to take a train journey across America there are some great train trips to choose from.
In this article you can find some of the best ways to travel across America by train including some Amtrak USA rail journeys that are true classics.
Top 6 scenic AMTRAK train journeys to take across America
The Empire Builder
by The Hot Flash Packer
The Empire Builder Amtrak train runs from Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon to Chicago, Illinois. Two trains start from Seattle and Portland and they combine in Spokane, Washington to make the remainder of the journey. The train makes its way along the northernmost track in the continental USA.
Highlights of the train ride in Washington state include the coastline between Seattle and Everett and the longest train tunnel in the USA in the cascade mountains.
In Montana, the most scenic part is in the west part of the state as the train makes its way around the southern border of Glacier National Park.
The view from the train west towards the Rocky Mountains is gorgeous. By eastern Montana and North Dakota, you are in the high plains. It’s easy to see wildlife along the train that includes fox, pheasants, deer, and antelope.
In Minnesota, the train runs along the western side of the Mississippi river. Waterfowl and Bald Eagles are common sights. The full journey takes about 45 hours.
by Lauren of The Down LO
The California Zephyr is one of Amtrak’s most iconic lines, running straight across the country from Chicago to San Francisco. It’s a good way to get a taste of America’s diverse scenery with views of everything from the coast to the plains.
Major stops include Denver, Salt Lake City, Omaha, and Oakland. The whole route takes a little over two days but even just going between a few states, you can experience a full meal service (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and the comradery of the train experience.
Wi-Fi is virtually non-existent in some of the middle of the country so people actually talk to each other, play guitar and break out the cards. It’s a throwback to the golden era of travel before the stress of airport security and oversized baggage.
For the true overnight train experience, book a sleeper car so you can retreat to your cabin in peace and have private bath and shower facilities.
The Amtrak Cascades
by Hannah Henderson Travel
The 4.5-hour train ride from Vancouver to Seattle on the Amtrak Cascades takes advantage of the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Winding its way down the Fraser River in Vancouver to Boundary Bay and the Strait of Georgia; where you cross the border to Washington State.
The train line follows the coast for much of this Amtrak train trip, down along Bellingham Bay, Possession Sound, and Puget Sound. Be sure to arrive at Vancouver Pacific Central Station early to join the check-in queue as soon as it opens.
The coveted coast-side seats are given away first, so it pays to be early! You will go through customs and passport control in Vancouver before boarding the train. At the border, guards will board the train, but it is usually a quick process. If you can, get the morning train, leaving around 6:30am.
You will see the dawn and all the wildlife that comes awake with it. Bald eagles fish in Samish Bay, and turkey vultures soar in the morning hues. If you are lucky, you might see dolphins or even killer whales in the Puget Sound. The Amtrak Cascades route runs all the way to Eugene, Oregon, but ceases to follow the water after Tacoma, WA.
The Coast Starlight runs from Seattle to Los Angeles along the west coast of America. This sleeper service covers a distance of 1377 miles and takes over 35 hours from point to point.
Choose from a number of different accommodation options on the train – I recommend the superliner roomettes. During the day you can enjoy the privacy of your own berth which is converted into bunkbeds in the evening while you are at dinner.
Previous to 2018 you could also access the wonderful Parlour Car which has since been removed as a cost cutting measure. Hopefully Amtrak will reinstate this soon as it was a wonderful experience.
Along the way the train stops at a total of 28 stations. At some of these there is enough time to get off and stroll along the platform but don’t stray too far away or you may be left behind! Enjoy the wonderful scenery too from the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta to the Pacific Ocean shoreline there is plenty to see on the Coast Starlight.
The Amtrak Acela Express
by Get Lost With Jackie
One great convenience for those living in NYC is its close proximity to other cities on the East Coast and with Amtrak travel – visiting Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC or Baltimore is as easy as hoping on the Amtrak Acela train.
The Amtrak Acela Express is Amtrak’s flagship route in the Northeast which connects Washington DC to Boston – with 14 stops (including Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City).
Traveling from NYC’s Penn Station to Philly’s 30th Street Station is a quick one hour and 20 minute ride on the Acela, which boasts hourly service during peak rush hours and travels at speeds up to 150 mph. While the rides are quick on the Acela, there is no shortage of views!
Traveling in to/out of Philadelphia will give riders beautiful views of the Philly City skyline and if you can depart around sunset – you can watch the sun go down over the city, right from your seat on the train!
Other amenities on the Acela worth nothing is the upgraded WiFi, electrical outlets at your seat, adjustable lighting and access to the Café Acela car. If you’re looking for an enhanced experience you can opt for the Acela Express First-Class option which comes with complimentary in-seat meal service, complimentary beverages, hot towel service as well as access to Club Acela lounges!
New York City to Albany
by Travel Collecting
The three-hour Amtrak train trip from New York City to Albany, NY is one of the loveliest train trips in the world. Almost the entire trip runs right alongside the Hudson River. Sit on the left leaving NYC or the right heading south towards NYC. As you leave the city, the cliffs of the Palisades are directly across from you.
Soon enough you pass the brand new Tappan Zee Bridge and then enter the mid- and northern Hudson Valley. This side of the river was the site of many summer mansions of New York City’s richest people in the 19th century – and with good reason. The view of the wide river, sparkling in the sunshine and framed by rolling green hills is beautiful.
You don’t need a million-dollar house to enjoy it though – just a train ticket. Highlights include several lighthouses, the West Point military academy, and the Catskill Mountains in the background.
There are frequent trains throughout the day between NYC and Albany. This leg is also part of several longer Amtrak train trips including Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, and the Empire Service. The trip is beautiful any time of year, but my favorite times are late spring and summer when everything is especially lush and fall when the colors of autumn are stunning.
Enjoy your train travel adventure
Have you have taken any of these scenic train trips across America? Which train journey across America would you love to experience?
I am sure after reading about the Amtrak train journeys in this article you will have added some more great train journeys to your bucket list. Traveling by train is a fantastic way to explore the world and has many advantages over other methods of transportation.
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