These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (2022)

“Life’s a journey not a destination.”

That’s a lyric from the 1993 Aerosmith song, “Amazing,” and a quote frequently featured on picture frames, wedding invitations, and wall hangings made from distressed wood. (Props to Aerosmith for that profound line. Let’s not forget, this is the same band responsible for the deeply philosophical single “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”)

And no form of travel makes the journey itself as powerful an experience as taking the train. Unlike a car or bus, where your views mostly consist of bumper stickers and asphalt, railroad tracks snake through rural terrain, immersing you in natural beauty. Of course, in America, the primary provider of train travel is Amtrak.

There are only a handful of non-Amtrak train routes in the United States. Special shoutout to the Grand Canyon Railway! It’s a gorgeous journey on par with the Amtrak superstars below. Book an experience on the Grand Canyon Railway here.

On Wanderu, you can book Amtrak routes that criss-cross the country, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Puget Sound. But as any semi-literate Instagram user can tell you, not all photo ops are created equal. (In fact, we hear pics taken on fall foliage train trips earn twice the Likes.)

Before you book, check out our roundup of the most scenic Amtrak routes in the U.S. — including what you’ll see along the way, and which specific stretches deserve your undivided attention.

1. Pacific Surfliner: San Diego, CA to San Luis Obispo, CA

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (1)

Soak up the sun on this oceanfront route that curls up the Southern California coast to L.A. and beyond. The Pacific Surfliner parallels the beach for large swaths of this 268-mile ride, so close that the sea spray collects on the car windows. (Bonus: San Diego is one of our “10 Most Beautiful Cities in the U.S.,” so spend some time there on the front or back end.)

From this comfortable vantage point, you can watch surfers eat it on particularly nasty waves, and admire the impressive physique of volleyball players in the sand. (In a strictly non-objectifying way, of course.) If you’re a beach bum yourself, even better: The Surfliner is equipped with storage racks for surfboards.

Book the Full Trip:San Diego, CA to San Luis Obispo, CA
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:San Diego, CA to San Juan Capistrano, CA
Oxnard, CA to San Luis Obispo, CA

2. Sunset Limited: New Orleans, LA to Los Angeles, CA

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (2)

This train traverses much of the American Southwest. And whether you were born on the Bayou or just go giddy for gumbo, The Big Easy makes for the perfect starting point (or final destination).

On this trek, you’ll pass through some particularly diverse landscapes, from the marshy inlets of Louisiana to the dry desert of West Texas. In fact, at numerous points between Del Rio, TX and El Paso, TX, you can peer right over the border into Mexico.

Book the Full Trip:New Orleans, LA to Los Angeles, CA
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:New Orleans, LA to Houston, TX
El Paso, TX to Tucson, AZ
(Video) 82hrs on Amtrak's MOST SCENIC TRAIN! - The California Zephyr

3. Amtrak Adirondack: New York, NY to Montreal, QC

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (3)

Prep your leaf peepers for this expedition through the Hudson River Valley. Stunning in any season, the Adirondack is at its best in autumn, when The Dome Car is added to the train for 360-degree fall foliage admiring. (If it’s indeed leaf peeping you’re after, check out our guide for more details on when to go.)

A portion of the route between the Green and Adirondack mountains actually sidles the shoreline of Lake Champlain, for some truly gorgeous views across the water.

Book the Full Trip:New York, NY to Montreal, QC
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:New York, NY to Albany, NY
Saratoga Springs, NY to Plattsburgh, NY

4. Empire Builder: Chicago, IL to Portland, OR

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (4)

Often vaunted as among the most picturesque routes of the entire Amtrak fleet, the Empire Builder’s reputation precedes it. Think of it as the Chris Hemsworth of trains, if the other trains were the two lesser-but-still-pretty-attractive Hemsworth brothers. Highlights include the prairies of North Dakota (no, seriously), and a significant span in Montana through Glacier National Park.

A fork in the road presents itself in Spokane, WA, where the Empire Builder alternates routes to either Seattle or Portland. Pick Portland: The passage through the Columbia River Gorge is practically a religious experience. (🙏)

Book the Full Trip:Chicago, IL to Portland, OR
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:Shelby, MT to Spokane, WA
Pasco, WA to Portland, OR

5. The Pennsylvanian: Pittsburgh, PA to New York, NY

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (5)

On its surface, a train ride across the Quaker State sounds as boring as an episode of “The Walking Dead” where no one dies. But in actuality, the Pennsylvanian promises dramatic sights on par with “Game of Thrones” Season 6. (We prefer to forget Seasons 7 and 8.)

Right out the gate is the Golden Triangle in Pittsburgh — where the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers converge — and a pass through Pennsylvania Dutch Country provides a glimpse of that throwback Amish swagger. But the true gem of the journey is the historic Horseshoe Curve (pictured above), where the track effectively doubles back on itself in one grand semicircle.

(Video) Amtrak map USA: Understand America's train routes

Book the Full Trip:Pittsburgh, PA to New York, NY
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:Johnstown, PA to Huntingdon, PA
Lewistown, PA to Lancaster, PA

6. California Zephyr: Chicago, IL to San Francisco, CA

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (6)

Prime your lungs for high altitude: This train is taking you up, up and away. The California Zephyr crosses both the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas, including a segment through the infamous Donner Pass. (Named after the Donner Party, a team of pioneers in the winter of 1846 who resorted to cannibalism after being snowed in. 🍴🧠😋)

Among the other highlights on your itinerary — a series of canyons in Colorado, the Moffat Tunnel, and a short spell along the southernmost tip of the Great Salt Lake.

Book the Full Trip:Chicago, IL to San Francisco, CA
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:Denver, CO to Salt Lake City, UT
Reno, NV to Sacramento, CA

7. The Southwest Chief: Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (7)

Slither through the painted rock formations of northern New Mexico and Arizona knowing you’re just a limestone’s-throw away from the Grand Canyon.

From end to end, the full route hits eight states, starting (or ending) in Chicago, but the Southwest Chief’s primary highlights are westward from Colorado. Think pueblos and missions and sandstone as red as your sunburn. (You should really put some aloe on that.)

Book the Full Trip:Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA
Book the Most Scenic Stretch:La Junta, CO to Flagstaff, AZ

8. Coast Starlight: Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (8)
(Video) 5 Best Train Trips in America

Consisting of the same sexy oceanside stretch between Oxnard and San Luis Obispo as the Pacific Surfliner, the Coast Starlight runs routes north-south between the Pacific Northwest and SoCal. Beyond just beachfront, this train zigs past Mt. Shasta and zags through the valleys and forests of Northern California before entering the Cascade Mountains.

An added perk: Much of this track mimics our West Coast Wine Itinerary, so don’t be shy about stopping for a beverage. 💁💁‍♂️

Book the Full Trip:Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:Los Angeles, CA to San Jose, CA
Redding, CA to Eugene, OR

9. Vermonter: Washington, D.C. to St. Albans, VT

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (9)

Pack a thick-knit sweater and give yourself the true New England treatment with this northeastern excursion.

A significant portion of the journey criss-crosses the Vermont/New Hampshire border along the Connecticut River, as the gorgeous Green Mountains loom in the west. Moving into Massachusetts, you’ll pass through The Berkshires, a foliage-rich region filled with quaint towns and villages. And arriving into New York, you’ll be treated to an impressive view of the city’s skyline before diving underground.

Book the Full Trip:Washington, D.C. to St. Albans, VT
Book the Most Scenic Stretch:Stamford, CT to Essex Junction, VT

10. Lake Shore Limited: Chicago, IL to New York, NY

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (10)

Sashay along the shoreline of America’s Great Lakes on this route connecting the Midwest to The Big Apple.

Just outside of Chicago, you’ll swing along the southernmost point of Lake Michigan before disappearing into Indiana corn land, only to reemerge in Ohio. A segment starting in Sandusky pretty much parallels the coast of Lake Erie all the way up to Buffalo. Upstate New York is striking unto itself, as the train passes the Erie Canal before tracing the Mohawk River southbound.

Book the Full Trip:Chicago, IL to New York, NY
Book the Most Scenic Stretches:Toledo, OH to Depew, NY
Rochester, NY to Schenectady, NY
(Video) Amtrak California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco

11. Amtrak Cascades: Eugene, OR to Vancouver, B.C.

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (11)

We’ve already made much ado about the Pacific Northwest, but that’s for good reason. Lush and verdant, this route would get the Jolly Green Giant all hot and bothered. 🍆

Between Portland and Tacoma, you’ll be treated to views of Mount St. Helens, an active volcano that last erupted in 1980. The best portions, however, are those in and around the Puget Sound. This train treads the coastline of a series of bays up to Everett, Bellingham and beyond the U.S./Canada border. (Bellingham actually makes for an excellent off-the-beaten-path pit-stop. Check out our guide to learn what you can do there.)

Book the Full Trip:Eugene, OR to Vancouver, B.C.
Book the Most Scenic Stretch:Seattle, WA to Vancouver, B.C.

12. The Cardinal: Chicago to New York

These Are the 12 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes in the U.S. (12)

Take me home, country road: This final tour traverses the Ohio/Kentucky border, West Virginia and neighboring northern Virginia.

After the gentle hills of horse country, you’ll watch white-water rapids pass your window before ducking into the Allegheny Mountains. The trip then comes to a climax as you descend into the sultry Shenandoah Valley, with forest so thick you’ll lose yourself in the trees.

Book the Full Trip:Chicago, IL to New York, NY
Book the Most Scenic Stretch:Cincinnati, OH to Charlottesville, VA

Travel by Train with Wanderu

Keep in mind that seasonality can have a huge impact on your experience with any of these routes. For instance, traveling in fall can really enhance a stretch that’s somewhat dull in other months. (To learn more about fall foliage specific routes, read our full article on the subject.)

If you’re eager to escape the sounds of the city, Wanderu is here to help. These scenic Amtrak routes are sure to inspire and invigorate, providing you with front-row seats to the most stunning natural settings in the entire U.S.

(Video) The Don'ts of Amtrak Train Travel in the US

Even better, you can earn Amtrak Rewards by booking through Wanderu, which means your trips will practically start paying for themselves once you get rolling. In the sweet, sweet words of yet another Aerosmith hit: “Train kept a-rolling all night long.”

FAQs

What is the most scenic Amtrak route? ›

AMTRAK'S COAST STARLIGHT. Amtrak's Coast Starlight is considered one of the most scenic routes in the Amtrak system, offering the very best views of the Pacific Coast, from the cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway to the peaks of the Cascade Mountains.

What are the most scenic Amtrak routes east coast? ›

The Cardinal Amtrak route is one of the most scenic on the East Coast, with travel through the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

Where is Amtrak most popular? ›

Combined Amtrak ridership for all trains on these corridors is as follows for FY19: Chicago-St. Louis, 756,062 Chicago-Carbondale, 331,150; and Chicago-Quincy, 226,772.

Do you tip your Amtrak attendant? ›

General Guidelines: Tipping is NOT required, but is considered correct for the service crew personnel on the train. Recommendations: Snack bar attendant: roughly 10%. Dining car: 15% of menu prices (sleeping car passengers may want to note this when ordering their meals).

Are Amtrak seats comfortable? ›

All the carriages in the train are air-conditioned, seats are comfortable and positioned so that each passenger has a leg rest and far more space than on the plane - and also can freely throughout the train. A feast for the eyes is provided outside the large windows, as you admire the scenery of America passing by.

How long is a train ride from East Coast to West Coast? ›

Across the United States by train...

Coast to coast, 3,397 miles from New York to San Francisco in 3 days by train, a journey of a lifetime for as little as $197.

How many bags can you take on Amtrak train? ›

Each traveler can check up to 4 bags (2 free and 2 at $20 per bag). Size/weight limitations apply.

What is the longest Amtrak route? ›

he Texas Eagle is the longest train route in the United States operated by Amtrak. Alone, the train navigates 1,306 miles daily between Chicago, Illinois to San Antonio, Texas; but three days a week, it operates with the Sunset Limited—a train route that runs between New Orleans, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California.

What is the nicest train to travel on? ›

The Best Train Trips in the World: 2021 Readers' Choice Awards
  • El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo, Spain. ...
  • The Pride of Africa Rovos Rail, Africa. ...
  • Palace on Wheels, India. ...
  • Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express, Asia. ...
  • Belmond British Pullman, Europe. ...
  • The Ghan, Australia. ...
  • Rocky Mountaineer, North America. ...
  • Seven Stars in Kyushu, Japan.
Jan 24, 2022

How much does it cost to take a train across the US? ›

So, How much does it cost to travel across America by train? It costs $499 for the cheapest rail to take you from one coast to the other via an Amtrak Train. However, more expensive trips are priced at $3,499-$6,649 which include more destinations, amenities and stops.

Which is the nicest Amtrak train? ›

The Top Three Most Scenic Amtrak Trains
  • Empire Builder. All aboard the Amtrak Empire Builder for a 2,200-mile journey through the Wild West. ...
  • 2. California Zephyr. ...
  • Coast Starlight.
Jun 26, 2020

How clean are Amtrak trains? ›

All Amtrak trains are equipped with onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every 4-5 minutes. There are enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols at stations and onboard Amtrak...

What is the busiest Amtrak station? ›

List of busiest Amtrak stations
RankStationCity
1Penn StationNew York City
2Washington Union StationWashington
330th Street StationPhiladelphia
8 more rows

Are there TVS on Amtrak trains? ›

The standard bedrooms in the Viewliner sleepers all have a toilet and a fold down sink in the room. The newest cars also have a tiny TV screen with 3 or 4 movies that can be viewed.

Do Amtrak trains have private bathrooms? ›

For customers seeking both privacy and savings, Roomettes feature two comfortable seats by day and upper and lower berths by night. Each room includes a big picture window, newly upgraded bedding, pillows, towels and linens, and access to a private restroom and shower in your car.

Can you sleep in Amtrak coach? ›

It IS possible to sleep in a coach seat. Our wide reclining chairs with tons of legroom and adjustable footrests will have you sleeping like a … well … you know. This gives you that warm and cozy feeling even as you're traveling across America! Load up your cell phone or tablet with a few movies.

Should I bring a blanket on Amtrak? ›

Any luggage you bring on board needs to be in your custody, stored in overhead racks, under seats, or in designated baggage areas. Travel necessities like pillows, blankets, computer cases or medical devices are allowed.

Can you bring snacks on Amtrak? ›

Bringing Your Food Aboard

You may bring your own food and beverages onboard for consumption at your seat or private Sleeping Car accommodations. However, you can only consume food and beverages purchased in Dining and Lounge Cars in those cars.

Is it cold inside Amtrak trains? ›

For the most enjoyable experience, especially during a long-distance journey, you'll want to wear clothing that is super comfortable, along with warm socks. Oftentimes, the train cars can get cold, even if you're not seated by the doors that connect the cars together.

Can you smoke on Amtrak? ›

All Amtrak trains, Thruway buses and stations are entirely non-smoking. No one may smoke anything in any area on trains, on Thruway services, in stations or in any other location where smoking is prohibited. This includes: Electronic smoking devices, such as electronic cigarettes.

Are Amtrak sleeper cars worth it? ›

Are Amtrak Sleeper Cars Worth It. Amtrak sleeper cars are a great way to see the country in a private accommodation. Getting a sleeper car is worth it as you'll be getting free meals and bags included. When you add up the cost savings of a hotel in addition to the other benefits, the Amtrak sleeper car is a good value.

How long is a train ride from California to New York? ›

How long is the train journey from Los Angeles to New York? The distance between Los Angeles and New York is approximately 2446 miles, or 3936 kilometers. The average train journey between these two cities takes 82 hours and 59 minutes, although the absolute fastest you could get there is 69 hours and 6 minutes.

What can you not bring on a train? ›

The following items are prohibited onboard the train: non-service animals, firearms and ammunition, hover boards, corrosive or dangerous chemicals and materials, incendiaries, martial arts and self-defense items, archery equipment, devices containing propellants, sharp objects, and similar items.

Does Amtrak look through your bags? ›

If you're traveling by train and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent asks to search your bags, you have the right to refuse.

What am I allowed to bring on Amtrak? ›

Each passenger may bring two personal items, 25 lbs. (12 kg) and 14 x 11 x 7 inches each, and two carry-on items, 50 lbs. (23 kg) and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each, onboard. Make sure you have a tag with your name and address on the outside of all your bags.

How fast do Amtrak trains go? ›

It is the nation's only high-speed intercity passenger rail provider, operating at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph) over current infrastructure. More than half of Amtrak trains operate at top speeds of 100 mph (160 kph) or greater.

What is the longest train in USA? ›

The longest train in the USA is Amtrak's Texas Eagle between Chicago and Los Angeles via San Antonio, a distance of 2,728 miles (4,390 kilometers).

What is a bedroom on Amtrak? ›

For customers seeking plenty of comfort and room, Bedrooms feature: 2x the space of a Roomette. A sofa and armchair by day. Upper and lower berths by night. Newly upgraded bedding, pillows, towels and linens.

What is the most luxurious train in the US? ›

The Grand Canyon Railway

For the most luxurious experience, be sure to book the Luxury Parlor or Luxury Dome class of service — the adults-only cars have private bars and open-air platforms.

How Safe Is Amtrak? ›

There is no TSA or other security to go through before boarding the train. But rest assured that Amtrak is keeping track of everyone traveling by train. Amtrak Police as well as Amtrak staff is there to help you should you have any issues on the trains. If any issues come up, Amtrak staff is quick to take care of it.

Can you get a bed on a train? ›

Amtrak's Sleeping Car (often called "Sleeper Car") accommodations provide overnight travelers the choice of a roomette, bedroom, bedroom suite (two adjoining bedrooms) that can accommodate one to four people, and Accessible bedrooms. In a roomette, daytime seating converts to beds at night.

Which country has the most expensive train in the world? ›

With prices starting from $2,910 for a cabin ticket on a trip exploring the Treasures of India, and going all the way up to $23,700 for a journey exploring the Heritage of India in a presidential suite, the Maharajas' Express is the most luxury train in the world.

What is the price of a sleeper on Amtrak? ›

Private Rooms on Amtrak Auto Train Now Available for as Low as $99.

Are there showers on Amtrak trains? ›

Showers For Roomette, Family, and Accessible Passengers

Amtrak bedrooms have a small bathroom that contains a toilet and shower. Passengers with roomettes, family rooms, or accessible accommodations have access to the public shower with an attached dressing room in each sleeper car.

Do Amtrak trains have WiFi? ›

To ensure you stay connected while traveling, we offer free basic WiFi service in select trains and stations throughout the country.

How much does it cost to take Amtrak from Chicago to California? ›

Good to know
Average price (round-trip)$292
Average price (one-way)$146

How much does it cost to take Amtrak from Chicago to San Francisco? ›

Information on this train trip
Daily Trains3
Average Ticket Price$252
Minimum Trip Duration2d5h
Average Train Trip Duration2d9h
Train Companies on This RouteAmtrak
2 more rows

Do overnight trains have showers? ›

Sleeping accommodations on board Amtrak are considered "Sleeper Service," which means passengers are entitled to a range of hotel-like amenities. These include fresh linens and towels, a hot shower, complimentary bottled water ice, soft drinks, and hot coffee.

Is train travel safer than flying? ›

Trains also are safer than planes, in part, because many train stations have open-air platforms where travelers board, Dr. Aaron Rossi told USA Today in October. That's far less risky than the indoor settings of airport security lines and waiting areas where passengers gather and sit before boarding.

Are masks required in Amtrak sleeper cars? ›

While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19. Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.

Why is Amtrak Cancelling trains? ›

Amtrak temporarily reduces train service amid Omicron surge within its ranks. Amtrak said on Friday that it will temporarily reduce service on some trains because of staffing challenges stemming from a surge in cases of the Omicron variant among workers.

What is the most scenic Amtrak route? ›

AMTRAK'S COAST STARLIGHT. Amtrak's Coast Starlight is considered one of the most scenic routes in the Amtrak system, offering the very best views of the Pacific Coast, from the cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway to the peaks of the Cascade Mountains.

What state has the most Amtrak stations? ›

California has the most Amtrak stations in the United States.

What states use Amtrak? ›

Amtrak trains stop in almost all U.S. states. The exception is South Dakota, Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska. To learn about where trains stop and where they go, view the list of Amtrak routes in each state below.

What is the most luxurious train in the US? ›

The Grand Canyon Railway

For the most luxurious experience, be sure to book the Luxury Parlor or Luxury Dome class of service — the adults-only cars have private bars and open-air platforms.

Is the train ride from Seattle to Portland Scenic? ›

Can I take a train from Seattle to Portland? Yes, Amtrak's route, the Cascades, is less scenic than driving, but still offers views of the Tacoma waterfront and Mt. Rainier. The journey is about three and a half hours.

Can you get on and off the California Zephyr? ›

Yes you can, but your tickets should be reserved and ordered as "multiple stop" type ticket so you're scheduled to get off, stay a day or two or more, and then reboard to your final destination.

What is the longest Amtrak route? ›

he Texas Eagle is the longest train route in the United States operated by Amtrak. Alone, the train navigates 1,306 miles daily between Chicago, Illinois to San Antonio, Texas; but three days a week, it operates with the Sunset Limited—a train route that runs between New Orleans, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California.

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