The 6 Most Scenic Amtrak Train Routes

Flying to your destination may save time, but aside from fluffy clouds and a pretty sunset, there's not much in the way of scenery. And while a road trip is fun, that requires you or your car mate driving -- so eyes on the road! That's why we love trains; they'll take you where you need to go, while you and your travel companion get to sit back and take in the scenery. For trips within the United States and Canada, Amtrak operates more than 300 trains daily, many offering truly spectacular views at excellent prices. Check out the six most scenic Amtrak routes and get on the right transportation track.

1. Adirondack: New York City to Montreal

Photo Courtesy of Lake Placid Region via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Lake Placid Region via Flickr

The Adirondack line is easily one of the most scenic of Amtrak’s routes; from New York City to Montreal (or vice versa), riders take a 10-hour journey through gorgeous areas of New York and Canada. Manhattanites or Montrealers can escape their bustling cities for trips through the Hudson Valley and Adirondack Mountains, the latter in particular being favorite in the fall for its foliage viewing. Some popular spots passengers will see along the way include Hudson, Lake George, and Saint-Lambert, plus loads more charming little towns. The train is equipped with a cafe car for sandwiches and snacks, as well as Wi-Fi, but we’d recommend skipping checking your email and sticking to posting photos of your ride — tag @oysterhotels and #oystertravel and we may regram them! A one-way value ticket costs about $68.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • For a night in NYC, check out the hip Bowery Hotel for a lovely boutique stay. Located in the trendy and bustling East Village area, Bowery Hotel has a cool lobby bar, a popular Italian restaurant, bright and beautiful guest rooms, and free bike rentals.
  • For Montreal dwellers, we love the cozy and historic Hotel Nelligan. This upscale, boutique property has a stellar location in the heart of Old Montreal, attractive rooms — some with fireplaces and balconies — a trendy seasonal rooftop terrace, and a well-reviewed French restaurant.

2. Sunset Limited: New Orleans to Los Angeles

Photo Courtesy of Aimee Custis via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Aimee Custis via Flickr

If you have 48 hours to devote to a one-way train ride, the Sunset Limited route is a fabulous pick. This is Amtrak’s southernmost route, allowing travelers to hop on in New Orleans and then make their way through San Antonio, Tucson, Palm Springs, and finally to Los Angeles. This line departs three days a week in both directions and gives riders a chance to see the bayou, desert, and southern California, with a pretty sunset included. For those looking to make the most of their journey, hop off in Alpine, Texas to go to the magnificent Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande river, or in Tucson to visit Saguaro National Park. There’s no Wi-Fi, but the train is outfitted with both a cafe and dining car. A one-way value ticket costs $163 and both small dogs and cats are allowed on board.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • If you’re staying in New Orleans, the Windsor Court Hotel is a luxurious option with a pool. It’s set walking distance from the French Quarter, and offers a popular Southern restaurant, stellar spa, and swish, elegant rooms with high-end amenities.
  • For celeb-seekers in Los Angeles, Chateau Marmont is a popular hangout among the famous L.A. crowd. Additionally, it attracts travelers with its fantastic setting above Sunset Boulevard, two excellent restaurants (which give priority to guests), and small outdoor pool.

3. Empire Builder: Chicago to Portland or Seattle

Photo Courtesy of Loco Steve via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Loco Steve via Flickr

For a northern route, the Empire Builder begins or ends in Chicago, running through Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Fargo, Spokane, and either Seattle or Portland (they conjoin at Spokane). Passing through major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail and crossing the breathtaking Glacier National Park in Montana, travelers will see roaming wildlife and the Great Plains. Travelers looking to learn the most about this rugged landscape should book a spring or summer trip, as National Park Service guides are onboard during these months to provide educational opportunities between Seattle and Shelby, Montana from the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. Family bedrooms and suites are available. Running daily, the trip lasts 46 hours and the train is outfitted with a cafe and dining car. A one-way value ticket is around $174.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • For a luxurious stay in Chicago, the Waldorf Astoria is a top pick for business and leisure travelers. The sleek hotel has impressive rooms with separate tubs and showers, an upscale restaurant and bar, huge spa and health club, and free Wi-Fi. Plus, all but Standard Rooms have fireplaces.
  • If you pick Portland over Seattle, the Ace Hotel is a cool and quirky, boutique hotel. It has a convenient, walkable location, trendy rooms that reflect Portland’s vibe, and a coffee shop on-site. Additionally, the Clyde Common lobby bar has a fun atmosphere at happy hour.

4. Coast Starlight: Seattle to Los Angeles

Photo Courtesy of Kunal Mukherjee via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Kunal Mukherjee via Flickr

With breathtaking scenery throughout the journey, the nearly 1,400-mile Coast Starlight route runs daily between Seattle and Los Angeles. For riders that board the train in Seattle, the 35-hour trip will take them through popular cities like Portland, Santa Barbara, and then Oakland. With snowy views of the Cascade mountain range, the striking Mount Shasta, and stretches of the Pacific Ocean, it’s no doubt a beautiful ride bookmarked by two popular travel destinations. Scenic vistas are particularly lovely from the Sightseer Lounge Car, and cars with up to four beds are available. Two different educational programs from the National Park Service are available on this route. The Amtrak train is outfitted with a cafe and dining car. A one-way value ticket is around $115.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • The Hyatt at Olive 8 is a sleek, eco-conscious pick in downtown Seattle. This upscale hotel incorporates eco-friendly touches throughout, and offers well-maintained rooms with flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and showers. A destination spa, farm-to-table restaurant, wine bar, and large fitness center add to its value.
  • The 43-room Maison 140 Beverly Hills is a romantic boutique option in Los Angeles. Although features are limited here, the property stands out with its Chinoiserie and Parisian-inspired rooms, charming lobby bar with nightly absinthe happy hours, and central Beverly Hills location.

5. California Zephyr: Chicago to San Francisco

Photo Courtesy of Loco Steve via Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Loco Steve via Flickr

The California Zephyr Amtrak line is filled with exceptional scenery between its Chicago starting point through Denver, the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, the Sierra Nevadas, and its final stop in San Francisco. Highlights include the Moffat Tunnel that cuts through the Continental Divide, the rugged Glenwood Canyon in Colorado, Winter Park ski town, and freshwater Donner Lake in California. National Park Service guides are also on board for specific stretches to provide information on the landscape. Trains run daily on this route and the whole trip will take approximately 51 hours and 20 minutes. The train has both a cafe and dining car, and like other Amtrak trains, small dogs and cats are allowed. A one-way value ticket costs $163.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • For a night in Chicago, the Millennium Knickerbocker is an upscale pick at reasonable rates. This historic, 1927-opened property is just steps from the Magnificent Mile and it even provides free history tours. Stellar features include warm, up-to-date guest rooms, a Martini Bar, and striking Crystal Ballroom.
  • For the best luxury stay in San Francisco, consider the stately St. Regis, which has a great location on the border of the SoMa, Union Square, and Financial District. A 24-hour pool at the Remede Spa, 24-hour butler service for suites, and large, swish rooms are just a few of the property’s standout features.

6. Pacific Surfliner: San Luis Obispo to San Diego

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner California coast train

Photo courtesy of Glen Beltz/Flickr

A (relatively) short and sweet train route, the Pacific Surfliner is a roughly six-hour journey from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. This California route hugs the beautiful Pacific Coast and goes through charming small towns such as Solvang, stunning Santa Barbara, and several Los Angeles areas. Special racks are available for surfboards, plus there are the usual bicycle racks. Wi-Fi and a cafe serving meals, snacks, and alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages are available. Business class and coach seats can be reserved. A one-way value ticket costs $61.

Our Hotel Picks:

  • For a budget-friendly pick in San Luis Obispo, consider the Best Western Plus Royal Oak Hotel. It’s situated off the 101, allowing for easy access to downtown, golf courses, and beaches. Hotel features include free hot and cold breakfast buffets, spacious rooms with microwaves, a large outdoor swimming pool, and happy hours with free drinks and snacks.
  • For a beachfront stay in San Diego, one of the best luxury options is L’Auberge Del Mar. This 121-room hotel has homey rooms with private balconies or terraces, many of which overlook the ocean. A full-service spa, outdoor pool and hot tub, and well-regarded farm-to-table restaurant add allure.

Editor’s Note: Train ticket costs are accurate as of publishing date.

You’ll Also Like: