Scenic Train Travel: On the Right Track
America's most scenic train routes
Many long-distance trains provide a brochure to enhance sightseeing, and some trains even have a guide on board to narrate trips through particularly scenic territory. But long-distance passengers will get the most out of train travel by researching the itinerary in advance. Because some trains traverse beautiful areas at night, it's good to know which direction affords better daylight views. The trains that sell out fastest in summer and other peak seasons are the California Zephyr, the Southwest Chief, and the Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle).
California Zephyr, Chicago-San Francisco
Offers one of the most spectacular train rides in the world, scheduled to pass the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada by day.
Southwest Chief, Chicago-Los Angeles
Spends a day traveling through Indian country with a Navajo guide between Albuquerque and Gallup. Eastbound is better.
Coast Starlight, Los Angeles-Seattle
Goes more than 100 miles along the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Barbara; then, the next day, transits the Cascades over a beautiful line north of Chemult, Oregon. Northbound is better.
Adirondack, New York-Montreal; Vermonter, Washington-St. Albans, Vermont; and Ethan Allen, New York-Rutland, Vermont
All are daylight trains that travel through beautiful terrain for most of their routes.
Cardinal, Chicago-Washington, D.C.
Travels through the bottom of the New River Gorge and over the Alleghenies.
Capitol Limited, Chicago-Washington Goes through the Alleghenies and down the Potomac River valley.
Three Rivers Cities, Chicago-New York
Passes through the Alleghenies (no sleepers for now).
Lake Shore Limited, Chicago-New York
Travels along the Hudson River valley by daylight in both directions.
All four of the trains from Chicago to New York or Washington traverse beautiful mountain and river country. On all these routes, eastbound travel is always preferable; except for the longest days of summer, three of the westbound trips pass the best scenery at night.