Travelling by train is, in my humble opinion, one of the best ways to see the world. You don’t have to worry about which side of the road to drive on, or where the next petrol station is. Sure, it may take longer, but you still get to soak up all that overlanding scenery – a luxury lost when you fly. The USA has no shortage of rail journeys intersecting its mainland, especially Amtrak, which operates over 21,000 miles of track through over 500 destinations. You’d be mad to travel any other way. Here are just six of our favourite routes to get you started:
THE ROUTE: Chicago to Emeryville
Lauded as one of the most scenic routes in North America, the California Zephyr has been chugging from Chicago to Emeryville (for San Francisco), via Nebraska, Denver and Salt Lake City, since 1971 under Amtrak. The 2,438-mile itinerary takes two days and nights and is completed at a gentle pace, giving passengers plenty of time to admire ranges like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas; not to mention take advantage of photo opportunities at Moffat Tunnel, Truckee River and Donner Lake.
If you’re looking for a trip that crosses borders, this is literally it. It’s also a rail route of great contrasts – you’ll go from the buzzing bright lights of Broadway to the tranquil shores of Lake Ontario, pausing to feel the thunder of Niagara Falls in between. You’ll need your passport, and visas for Canada and the USA of course, but what’s a bit of paperwork when you get to observe an ever-changing patchwork of landscapes and skylines from the comfort of your seat?
THE ROUTE: Los Angeles to San Diego
It’s easy to see why the Pacific Surfliner is one of Amtrak’s busiest routes. It meanders along the Southern California coast, offering unique vistas where natural Pacific beauty abounds and the laid-back vibes are in huge supply. Families in particular will love this train ride, as it steers you directly through Anaheim – the gateway to the state’s Disneyland, as well as the Disney California Adventure Park.
THE ROUTE: Boston to Washington
The most popular Amtrak route, over 40 trains run along the Northeast Corridor every day. From Boston, the locomotives pass through New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore before reaching Washington DC. The journey mixes coastal views with verdant vistas and vast cityscapes, but it’s most attractive feature is that it conveniently links the USA’s most iconic eastern hubs.
THE ROUTE: Seattle to Los Angeles
Coast Starlight offers some of the most varied topography seen on any Amtrak route, easily making it the most spectacular. Keep your eyes peeled for the snow-carpeted peaks of the Cascade Mountains, abundant fertile valleys and neverending stretches of coastline that look as though they’ve been plucked straight from a romance novel. No matter how long 35 hours sounds, I guarantee you won’t get bored of these undulating coastal landscapes. And on the minute off chance you do, this route has a lounge car with movies and games, as well as a range of meals, snacks, sandwiches and drinks on offer.
Silver Star / Silver Meteor
Traversing almost the entirety of the USA east coast, visiting Charleston and South Carolina on the way, these two Silver services are Amtrak’s most fun-loving routes – the atmosphere is upbeat as you stop at dozens of exciting destinations. And while it’s great for youngsters looking to explore Orlando attractions like Busch Gardens and the Disney and Universal parks, what we really love is the parts at the ends of the line: the soaring skyscrapers of the Big Apple and the technicolour, Latin-infused neighbourhoods of Miami.