Big, shiny Amtrak trains travel to major cities in the United States and traverse some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Their rugged charm sets them apart from the more mundane modes of transportation, and while this may not be the fastest way to get around, it’s perfect for sightseeing. You can choose your companions, read a book, let your thoughts roll, sleep horizontally, and generally enjoy most of the comforts of home. It is much more fun than being isolated above the clouds or passing endless billboards on the roads.
Amtrak operates nearly every passenger train in the United States, and the following are among the most enjoyable scenic routes:
The California Zephyr is one of the best trains in the world, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco through the heart of the United States and the high plains of Colorado, then up into the Rocky Mountains via the Oregon Trail. The pioneers came this way, as did the gold diggers, the pony express, and the first continental telegraph. After Salt Lake City, you will cross the Bonneville Salt Flats and the beautiful but dangerous Sierra Nevada.
Sunset Limited’s epic journey takes you coast to coast from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The train zips across the Mississippi River over the Huey P Long Bridge in Crescent City before traveling through swamps, snowy egrets, alligators, mansions, and sugar cane fields. After San Antonio it joins the Rio Grande, taking a day to cross the sagebrush and mesquite prairies of Texas.
The Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and the Pacific, following part of the Santa Fe Trail first used by Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors, wagon trains, and stagecoaches. Cross the Mojave Desert and past Dodge City’s famous Boot Hill Cemetery. From Williams in Arizona you can travel to the Grand Canyon by train.
The Crescent runs from New York to New Orleans through the Blue Ridge Mountains and idyllic Shenandoah National Park with its dogwood and cedar trees. Beyond Atlanta links sleepy southern cities with quaint general stores and sun-bleached homes. The train also dramatically crosses Lake Pontchartrain, gliding a few feet above the water on a six-mile carriageway.
The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles via Washington, Oregon and California. Drive past some of the tallest mountains in America, like the volcanic Mount Hood, as well as the emerald forests and waterfalls of Twin Peaks Country. Beyond San Luis Obispo, race along cliff-top tracks with splendid views of the waves and Pacific beaches.