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6 Amazing Train Journeys Across the USA

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6 of the Best Train Trips in the US

If you’re looking for the very best train trips in the US, I’ve got a few great suggestions to start you off.

I adore train travel, and have undertaken some massive train journeys in the last few years. From delving into the American south on an epic East Coast journey, to travelling through northern India on a luxury train, to travelling overland from Singapore to Vietnam almost entirely by train… I’ve been lucky enough to do some amazing trips. 

These are some of my top picks for the best American train journeys. Whether you travel from coast to coast across America, or simply traverse one state, there’s so much to see from the window of a train. Which one of these would you love to try first?

6 of the Best Train Trips in the US

Don’t forget; you might need a visa to visit the USA. If you’re coming from abroad, check the visa requirements before you travel. Luckily, British citizens visiting the USA for a holiday don’t need to apply for a visa. Instead, you can apply for an ESTA, which is basically a visa waiver available for certain countries. It can really make life a lot easier if you’re travelling to the USA. 

Coast to Coast Across America

How Long? 73 hours (approx)

6 of the Best Train Trips in the US
Passing through Glacier National Park on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle.

The epic 3,000-mile coast to coast train across the USA takes three nights (without stopovers) and involves two trains. 

On the East Coast, your starting point can either be New York City or Washington DC. From whichever city you choose, you can take an overnight train to Chicago – the Lake Shore Limited from NYC or the Capitol Limited from DC. In Chicago you can change to one of three trans-continental trains to either Seattle, San Francisco, or LA. Whichever way you do it, this coast to coast train trip across America is sure to be an epic adventure! 

READ MORE: 15 Really Cool Things to do in NYC

California Zephyr, Chicago to San Francisco

How Long? 51 hours

best train trips in the US

Amtrak’s famous California Zephyr often ranks among the best train journeys in the world, and it’s certainly one of the best train trips in the US. It’s often said that after taking this train, you’ve seen more of America than most Americans!

At a whopping 2,438-miles through seven states, it’s easy to see where the sentiment comes from! From Chicago’s stately Union Station, the California Zephyr carries passengers through the flatlands of Nebraska, the Rocky Mountains, the canyons of the Colorado River, the Utah Desert, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

Once you arrive in San Francisco, you can spend a few days exploring one of the most iconic cities in the US – then extend your trip with one of the many awesome weekend getaways in Northern California – like the brilliant Tuolumne County. Or, if you stop in Utah along the way, check out these great things to do in Salt Lake City.

RELATED POST: 11 Stops for a Road Trip in Tuolumne County California

Crescent, New York to New Orleans

How Long? 30 hours

Best American Train Trips

I took the Amtrak Crescent just over a year ago, and it was where I fell in love with American train travel! The 30-hour train ride from New York City’s Penn Station, down the East Coast all the way to New Orleans, was the perfect way to see this side of the country.

On this slow chug from North to South you can literally see the country, and the weather, changing. I left behind snow in New York and watched the landscapes change and warm up as we made our way through thirteen states including Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. Although it’s less well-known than some of the more popular Amtrak routes, I really fell for this epic American rail journey!

To see more of those southern US states, there’s also the City of New Orleans train, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans – passing through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi along the way. If you decide to stop off and explore Tennessee, here are some of the best places to stay in Nashville.

Coast Starlight, LA to Seattle

How Long? 36 hours

Best Train Trips in the US
This route contains some pretty spectacular coastal scenery!

On the other side of the country, the Coast Starlight is the West Coast counterpart to the Crescent. Amtrak’s most popular route, the Coast Starlight offers up incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains.

Waterfalls, lush forests, and snow-capped mountains all pass by, as well as long stretches of the Pacific shoreline. So you may struggle to tear your eyes from the window! Book a seat on the western side of the train for coastal views. 

Texas Eagle, Chicago to San Antonio

How Long? 32 hours

6 of the Best Train Trips in the US

Another of the epic train trips in the US, the Texas Eagle cuts diagonally across the country through four states. Travelling the 1,306 miles through the western United States is the perfect way to enjoy this part of the country. And you can really get a sense of just how big Texas truly is!

Wind down through Wild West country; across the Mississippi River, and through the Ozark Mountains towards the pine forests of East Texas.

Once you arrive in Texas, I strongly recommend spending some time in San Antonio – here’s why! Check out my guide to spending a day in the city – or spend longer if you can!

The Alaska Railroad, Anchorage to Fairbanks

How Long? 12 hours

Best Rail Journeys in the USA

The last of my top picks for the best train trips in the US is the Denali Star route on The Alaska Railroad.

Running from Anchorage, the train heads north through the Denali National Park to Fairbanks – the largest city in interior Alaska. Fairbanks is also one of the coldest cities in the US, perfect for some wintertime adventures!

These are some of the most spectacular mountain views in Alaska, and the perfect way to explore the so-called “Last Frontier” of America.

Highlights of the Denali Star route include crossing the Hurricane Gulch Bridge some 296 feet above the creek, as well as spectacular views of Mount Denali, the tallest peak in the USA.  

Have you taken any of these incredible train trips in the US? Or do you have another amazing American rail journey to add to the list? Scroll down to leave a comment! 

6 thoughts on “6 Amazing Train Journeys Across the USA”

  1. travelswithalbertine

    Great post. I did the Lake Shoreline from NY to Chicago, then the California Zephyr to San Francisco and then the Coast Starlight up to Portland and then Seattle via Yosemite! It was an amazing experience I have yet to write about. Some years ago I also went across the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Edmonton. I’d like to do them all now!

  2. Myself and my partner travelled across the USA on the California Zephyr and the Maple Leaf in 2017. It was amazing; the best trip we’ve ever taken.

    We took detours along the way. We jumped off the Zephyr at Grand Junction, Colorado and drove a loop from there to Bryce Canyon MP, Zion NP, Grand Canyon and Vegas. Once we arrived in Chicago, we took a couple of days to explore and then did a side trip up to Toronto by plane, bus to Niagara Falls and then walked over the border back into the US before catching the train down to New York.

    Unfortunately, it definitely wasn’t slow travel. We did it all in 3 weeks due to limit on our leave allowance, but the entire journey we just kept saying how much we wished we had more time and that we would do it again when we had more time.

    Amtrak is my absolute favourite (but like you, i found the dining with strangers thing awkward!!)

    1. Oh wow, that sounds like one hell of a trip. Must have been amazing to cover so much ground! Travelling that quick can be exhausting, and you always feel like you’re leaving too soon don’t you?! But still an amazing adventure and it sounds like you saw a ton in a short space of time.

      With you on the dining thing. Although it did add help mix up the trip a bit for me!

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