Don’t feel like driving to that beautiful national park? Take the train instead.

By Skye Sherman
September 12, 2020
Advertisement

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

There’s arguably never been a better time to check national parks off your bucket list. Many types of travel, especially international trips, are off the table for now, and current safe-travel practices demand staying domestic, avoiding crowds, and sticking to wide-open spaces (read: national parks).

But instead of a road trip, which requires frequent stops, why not get there via Amtrak? America’s train system has upped its cleaning protocols, so you can rest assured your space is sanitary. You can even book a private room, whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with your family. Private rooms also provide the comfort of a place to lay your head on a long route — seats convert into beds when you finally grow tired of the free Wi-Fi and scenic views out your window.

Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations, many of them within or near national parks, and you can even bring your bike, fishing gear, or camping equipment on board if you plan to adventure into the parks. So, all aboard for these six amazing Amtrak routes that you can take to national parks.

1. Southwest Chief to Grand Canyon National Park

Credit: Courtesy of Amtrak

When it comes to family vacations and national parks, it doesn’t get much more iconic than the Grand Canyon National Park. Get to America’s most famous natural wonder by train aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, passing through eight states (and cities like Kansas City, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and more) along the way. Out your window, you’ll get a taste of why the American West is so often described as “majestic” — expect sprawling mountain ranges, deserts, and canyons lining the route.

Disembark in Flagstaff to take a two-hour shuttle to the Grand Canyon or a bus to the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams for an added dose of Wild West entertainment (and another scenic train ride). From Flagstaff, you can also drive four hours to Zion National Park in Utah.

2. Silver Service/Palmetto to Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park

Credit: Getty Images

Miami may not be the first location that comes to mind when planning a national park trip, but did you know it’s the only city in the United States with two national parks on its borders? Hop aboard Amtrak’s Silver Service/Palmetto line and you can explore both Biscayne National Park, of which 95 percent is underwater, and the Everglades National Park, which spans one and a half million acres of swampy wetlands and untamed wilderness across the southern tip of Florida — a diverse and delicate ecosystem vital to the state’s environmental health. The route stretches all the way down the east coast of the United States, from New York City to the sunny beaches of Miami, stopping in hot spots like Savannah, Charleston, and Washington, D.C., along the way.

Another bonus of the Silver Service/Palmetto route: If you hop off in Columbia, you’re only a half-hour drive from the awe-inspiring old-growth forests of Congaree National Park, the only national park in South Carolina. Disembark in Washington, D.C., and you’re an hour and a half from the waterfalls and wetlands of Shenandoah National Park and its famous Skyline Drive, beloved in the fall for its impressive leaf-peeping opportunities. You can also reach Shenandoah National Park on Amtrak’s Crescent train between New York and New Orleans by hopping off in Charlottesville, only a half-hour away.

3. Coast Starlight to Crater Lake National Park

Credit: Getty Images

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight runs the length of the West Coast, connecting Seattle and Los Angeles, and is easily one of its most beautiful routes.

You can stop in cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara along the way, but the true highlight is Crater Lake National Park, home to the deepest lake in the United States. The epitome of Pacific Northwest beauty, Crater Lake National Park has it all: You can hike a dormant volcano, camp, drive the Scenic Rim, and wander old-growth forests.

To reach Crater Lake National Park via Amtrak, disembark at the Klamath Falls stop and take the seasonal Crater Lake Trolley, which drops you off in the park within an hour and a half.

4. Lake Shore Limited to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Credit: Getty Images

For a national park adventure packed with hills, dense forests, and plenty of places to hike and kayak, plan a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the only national park in Ohio. If you board the Lake Shore Limited line and hop off in Cleveland, you’re only a half-hour drive from the park. Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited route connects New York and Chicago — a 19-hour trip that rumbles along the breathtaking Great Lakes shoreline and through the scenic Finger Lakes region.

5. Texas Eagle to Hot Springs National Park

Credit: Getty Images

Dreaming of a visit to the “American Spa”? Hop aboard the Texas Eagle, which links Chicago to San Antonio (and beyond, all the way to Los Angeles). Ride to Malvern, Arkansas, where you can disembark and take a quick half-hour drive over to Hot Springs National Park. Aboard the Texas Eagle, you can expect to cross the Mississippi River, take in the beautiful Ozarks, and venture deep into the Texas countryside.

Whether you float in the relaxing natural pools or tackle the Sunset Trail, there are many ways to enjoy the Hot Springs National Park.

6. Empire Builder to Glacier National Park

Credit: Courtesy of Amtrak

Glacier National Park contains some of the most striking scenery in the nation, and Amtrak makes it easy to get there, thanks to their Empire Builder line, which stretches from Chicago to Portland and Seattle. Along the route, you’ll track the Lewis and Clark trail, cross the plains of North Dakota, and pass through Montana’s Big Sky Country, but Glacier National Park still stands out above the rest — it’s the “Crown of the Continent,” after all.

Park highlights include glacially carved peaks and lakes, stunning views, five National Historic Landmarks, and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. In other words, there’s a lot to choose from, but make sure to hit Going-to-the-Sun Road and the gorgeous Hidden Lake.

To reach Glacier National Park on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route, you have a few options. The West Glacier stop is located at the western gateway to Glacier National Park, the East Glacier Park station can be found at the eastern entrance, and the Essex stop is located within the confines of the park.