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

From the mountains to the coastline, Amtrak's scenic routes offer beautiful views for every travel taste. ️
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Written by Alisha McDarris
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Train travel in the U.S. is often underrated and ignored in lieu of faster or more direct ways to get from point A to point B. But traveling by rail can be less stressful than air travel (if a bit more time consuming) and more sustainable. Plus, it can offer more dynamic views — all without the hassle of driving.

So whether you’re open to hopping on a train for the landscapes outside the window or as a more leisurely way to explore places en route to your final destination, these Amtrak scenic routes are sure to impress.

1. Pacific Surfliner

This 9-hour route starts in sunny San Luis Obispo, California, and travels south through Santa Barbara and Los Angeles to arrive in San Diego (or vice versa). It is one of the most popular routes in California, according to Amtrak. And for good reason.

Along the 351-mile route, complete with extended portions that hug the stunning California coastline, you can book a ticket that allows you to hop off in Anaheim, California, for a trip to Disneyland, take the metro into downtown Los Angeles or sample wine in the Central Coast. Or just sit back and enjoy the views of the rocky Pacific Ocean coastline.

The route offers 13 daily services between San Diego and Los Angeles, as well as five between Santa Barbara, California, and San Diego. This makes planning a trip up and down Southern California a breeze.

2. California Zephyr

For a longer excursion, consider the California Zephyr, one of the best Amtrak routes for cross-country travel. Extending from Chicago to San Francisco, this route takes over two full days to complete (51 hours and 20 minutes, to be precise).

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You may want to consider upgrading to a roomette or bedroom suite on this journey.

Just don’t spend time snoozing during daylight hours: The route takes you through the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, through Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada.

You’re not going to want to miss these views. Daily departures are available for the cross-country trip.

3. Coast Starlight

If it’s the famously beautiful U.S. West Coast you’re keen to see, hop on the Coast Starlight, a particularly picturesque Amtrak route if you like mountain, forest and ocean views. The train runs from Seattle to Los Angeles over 35 hours, but if you stay glued to a window, the epic landscapes just outside might make the time fly by.

You can hop off in Portland, Oregon, or nearby Klamath Falls to visit Crater Lake National Park. You can take a break in California for wine testing. Or, you might just enjoy the world rolling by outside your window.

Daily departures are available, as are first class private rooms so you can kick back and relax.

4. Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is one of Amtrak’s best routes for exploring Northern states between the West Coast and the Midwest. The trip takes about 46 hours as it travels between Seattle or Portland, Oregon, and Chicago.

And while traveling just for views of mountains in Montana, plains in North Dakota and through cities like Minneapolis is a worthwhile endeavor on its own, you can also take an overnight (or longer) pit stop in Glacier National Park; Spokane, Washington; and Fargo, North Dakota, among other destinations.

There are daily departures so you can easily plan out your trip.

5. Lake Shore Limited

If it’s waterfront views and access you’re after — be it for a refreshing dip in the Great Lakes in the summer or expansive fall foliage in autumn — the Lake Shore Limited route will get you there.

This scenic train wends from Chicago to New York City via Boston. A good chunk of the way runs alongside Lake Erie, and you’ll also get views of Lake Michigan, the Berkshires and the shining lights of Cleveland, Ohio.

Fancy a stop-off? Marvel at Niagara Falls, experience history in Boston or explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park, all while following the route of a famous Native American Highway. The trip takes 19 hours and offers daily departures.

The bottom line

Whether you crave mountain views, fields of waving grain, waterfront vistas or just about anything in between, these Amtrak scenic train rides rise to the occasion. Choose your fare class wisely to make the longer trips as comfortable as possible, and book stop offs to make the adventure even more memorable.

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