Take a Train Vacation!

Take a Train Vacation!

Amtrak Empire Builder - Montana
Amtrak Empire Builder – Montana
Amtrak Empire Builder – Family Vacation!
Amtrak Empire Builder – Family Vacation!

Our family’s train vacation was one of our best!  Seeing America by rail can make for a great family vacation.  It took me several months to convince my skeptical family that this could be a fun trip, but they eventually came around and are now looking at Amtrak’s other rail lines for future vacation ideas.

For our rail vacation, the train was part of the destination itself.  In Summer 2013, we rode the rails on Amtrak for 3,500 miles with stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, Glacier National Park, Seattle, and Sacramento and side excursions to Mount Rainier National Park, Yosemite, and San Francisco.

Our Train Vacation Itinerary:

Train Vacation:  Philadelphia to Chicago

Day 1:  Amtrak Pennsylvanian; Pittsburgh; Depart on Capital Limited

Day 2:  Amtrak Capital Limited; Chicago; Depart on Empire Builder


Train Vacation:  Chicago to Glacier National Park

Day 3:  Amtrak’s Empire Builder:  North Dakota , Montana

Day 4:  Glacier National Park


Train Vacation: Glacier National Park to Seattle

Day 5:  Seattle

Day 6Mount Rainier National Park


Train Vacation: Seattle to Sacramento (& beyond!)

Day 7:  Amtrak Coast Starlight:  Washington, Oregon, Northern California

Day 8:  Arrive in Sacramento;  Tour Old City Sacramento Underground

Day 9Yosemite National Park

Day 10:  San Francisco

Day 11:  Point Montara Lighthouse; Pacific Coast Highway; Fly home

Getting to see America by rail is a truly unique perspective that I really underestimated from the start.  Like you, I read all of the positive press about train travel yet the skeptic in me envisioned a family whining about boredom and dreading re-boarding after each stop…thankfully this never happened on our vacation!

Here are some of the reasons that we found train travel so enjoyable:

1.      It’s Comfortable:  Unlike air travel, you will have plenty of personal space on a train vacation!  The coach seats are reclining chairs with foot rests.  There are 120v outlets for your phone, computer, or other gadgets. You can take a  leisurely stroll through the cars and visit the cafe car, sightseeing car on superliners, or just walk to stretch your legs.  There is also plenty of luggage storage area and ample space to open your suitcase and swap out items if you need to.

Amtrak Pennsylvanian - Comfortable seating in coach!
Amtrak Pennsylvanian – Comfortable seating in coach!

2.      It’s Social:  If you decide to eat in the dining car, you will likely get paired up with others.  This is lots of fun.  We met some great people and enjoyed relaxing meals as the train travelled through some awesome scenery.  In the sightseeing car, ,we played card games with our fellow travelers, shared stories and laughs…and even homemade foods!  We departed each ride as if we were leaving a party with our friends.

3.      The Scenery!:  Our rail vacation took us through some magnificent scenery.  Most highways are surrounded by pavement, gas stations, strip malls, sound barrier walls, and there’s very little to capture the mind’s eye or imagination. Train travel will take you on a much different path!  It was hard to stop watching the farm country, grasslands,  mountain ranges, and the small towns that make up America’s heartland.  We saw bald eagles fishing on Puget Sound, farmers working the fields of North Dakota, deer grazing in Montana, and much more.  The train’s route takes you on a historical path and it will be hard to not keep looking out of the window.

Amtrak Cascades - Observation Car
Amtrak Cascades – Observation Car

4.      The Food:  As our boys are getting older, our vacations seem to revolve around meal time.  The train did not disappoint our ravenous crew!

We travelled 2 of the 5 trips with sleeper car upgrades.  These upgrades not only come with comfortable beds it also includes table service meals during the trip!  The food was very good and I’m glad that we were able to get the dining car experience.

For the 3 trips in coach, we packed loads of snacks and drinks and sat together in the sightseeing booths.  When it came time for dinner, we ordered from the cafe car menu.  The entrees were tasty and reasonably prices (many options that were less than $8).

Going to the grocery store and loading up on snack foods is the way to go if you have multiple mouths to feed and you’re travelling in coach!

Amtrak Pennsylvanian - Cafe Car
Amtrak Pennsylvanian – Cafe Car
Amtrak Empire Builder - Dining Car
Amtrak Empire Builder – Dining Car

5.      It’s Relaxing:  I was very nervous to see how our family would cope with the 30-hour train ride from Chicago to Glacier Park (the longest leg of our trip), and yet we left the train as if almost sad to go.

The train travels at nearly 80 mph and yet it’s fairly smooth and quiet.  The train stops are often an hour or two apart, at which time you might have the option to jump off, take a few pictures and hop back on.  A few stops even allowed us time to go to the store and see some of the town’s monuments.

There is so much more that you’ll see when you travel America by rail!

Amtrak Empire Builder - Sleeping Car
Amtrak Empire Builder – Sleeping Car

Seeing America by rail was a great experience and something that we plan to do again.  I have to give Amtrak credit for running a very efficient customer-service oriented business with a courteous staff.

It’s worth noting that train travel can be an hour or two late, as weather, freight cars, and other unforeseen events can delay trips (so plan a time buffer for each stop).

It’s also worth noting that Amtrak’s costs were as advertised with no added fees, taxes, or other costs.  The only things that are extra are meals if you choose to buy them and sleeper car upgrades (which are cheapest when reserved several months in advance!).

Amtrak Empire Builder - Glacier Park Station
Amtrak Empire Builder – Glacier Park Station
View of Glacier Lodge from Glacier Park Amtrak Station
View of Glacier Lodge from Glacier Park Amtrak Station

Take a ride back in time, see America by rail and you’ll gain a perspective and appreciation of part of our country’s hard working history!


Train Vacations: So many options…

Here are the Amtrak trains that we rode (so far): 

The Pennsylvanian:  This train travels over 400 miles from Penn Station, New York City to Pittsburgh, crossing through the Amish Country of Lancaster, along the banks of the Susquehanna, and around the famous horseshoe bend in Altoona.

Capitol Limited: Travelling 780 miles from Washington, DC to Chicago, IL, this train takes you through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, where you’ll awake in the windy city!  We rode on this train from Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Empire Builder:  Take this historic trail of the Great Northern Railway 2,205 miles from Chicago to Seattle.  You’ll go through Milwaukee, St Paul-Minneapolis, North Dakota, Montana, Glacier National Park, Spokane, and the Great Cascade Mountains!  We took this entire journey with a stop at Glacier National Park and we won’t soon forget the magnificent views from the Great Northern!

Coast Starlight:  The Coast Starlight starts in Vancouver, British Columbia and travels 1,649 miles south to sunny San Diego!  We travelled the 824 miles from Seattle to Sacramento along the scenic coastline of Puget Sound, though the breath-taking forested mountains of Oregon, Crater Lake National Park, and the valleys of Northern California.


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