The 5 Best Cross-Country Amtrak Trips

Amtrak offers scenic, affordable cross-country train rides across the United States from sea to shining sea.
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Written by Carissa Rawson
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Edited by Meghan Coyle
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Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train F59PHI diesel locomotive

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Watching the world whirl by as you roll across the country can spark nostalgic joy. Perhaps this is the reason many travelers take cross-country train rides. Whether you're heading North or South, let’s take a look at the five best cross-country trips that Amtrak offers.

Why take a cross-country tour on Amtrak?

Trains can be an excellent alternative to cars, especially since you never need to stop and rest. And because your accommodation can be included with an Amtrak ticket, you won’t need to pay for hotels along the way either.

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Although an Amtrak trip takes longer than a flight, you’ll have a lot more room. Depending on the type of ticket you book, you’ll be able to choose from wide leather seats, a first class cabin or even a room to yourself. Even better, private rooms come with their own bathrooms and showers.

1. The Northern route

There are a few different ways to travel cross-country via Amtrak, but one of the best is the Northern route.

Starting in Seattle, this trip takes you into Idaho, across Montana, then through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin before ending in Chicago (though you could continue farther east if you’d like).

This gives you the opportunity to see some of the best scenery in the United States, with vast swaths of rugged country just outside your window.

2. Route 66

Ever heard of Route 66? This iconic highway was the most famous way to drive across the U.S. before faster, more convenient freeways took over. Although Amtrak doesn’t follow the historic Route 66 exactly, it makes a pretty good effort.

Starting in Chicago, you’ll journey southwest to Iowa, then down to Kansas and New Mexico. From New Mexico, you’ll head west to Arizona and then into California.

3. Through the mountains

If you want to take the most direct route across the U.S., you’re going to have to go through some mountains, and this journey takes you through not one, but two mountain ranges.

Enjoy the Sierras and the Rockies on this route, which starts in San Francisco, travels across Nevada, passes through Utah and then tracks through Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa before ending in Chicago.

4. The Southern route

The Southern route starts in Washington, D.C., and ends in Los Angeles.

Along the way, you’ll get to see Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before detraining in the City of Angels. If that sounds exhausting, don’t worry, you’re free to take unlimited naps throughout the trip.

5. The West

Taking a cross-country train trip doesn’t mean you’re stuck traveling coast to coast.

Instead, consider one of the many coastal routes Amtrak offers, like the one from San Diego all the way north to Seattle (and you can continue on into Canada if you’d like).

This Western route hugs much of California’s coast before veering inland to travel through Oregon and Washington. Although it may be shorter than some other cross-country trips, it more than makes up for it in views. Have you ever wanted oceanfront scenery speeding by as you relax with a glass of wine? This route makes it possible.

If you’re considering Amtrak’s cross-country routes …

America may not have the most extensive train network compared to other countries. However, it is home to Amtrak, the biggest railroad provider in the U.S. Among its many routes are several cross-country journeys that pass through half a dozen states.

There are many reasons to consider train travel over other forms of transportation. Nostalgia aside, these scenic journeys can be an affordable way to see much of the U.S. without relying on a car to get around. Plus, depending on the ticket you book, you can also take advantage of beds, showers and meals on board the train.

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