This 2,438-mile Train Trip From California to Chicago Offers Views of the Rockies and Sierra Mountains Like You've Never Seen Before (2024)

With a reputation for being one of the most beautiful train routes in North America, Amtrak’s California Zephyr travels daily between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area on a 51-hour, 20-minute trip traversing 2,437 miles.

"The California Zephyr passes through two mountain ranges that are gorgeous," Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari told Travel + Leisure, referring to the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas. "In some places, you can see views that can't be seen from the road because a lot of the railroad tracks were there well before cars were invented and roads were paved."

Passengers can take any portion of the route during its daily journeys through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, which include stops in major cities like Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Grand Junction, Salt Lake City, and Reno, as well as Naperville, Lincoln, Fraser, Glenwood Springs, Davis, and Truckee. Although the Bay Area stop is on the East Bay in Emeryville, connections to both Oakland and San Francisco are available on the Thruway bus service.

Throughout the journey, there are plenty of stunning viewpoints. "Climbing out of Denver, you can look down from the train and be above the Mile High City as you first make your way through a whole series of tunnels that bring you up to a place called Fraser and Winter Park," Magliari said. "The train continues on winding its way through the mountain. You pass through Salt Lake City in darkness, but pop out in time to be through Reno when you're in the Sierras."

During this stretch, he said the charm comes in riding on the hand-built railroad between Reno and Sacramento, which is "part of the original transcontinental railroad route built during the Civil War to unite the country." That’s not the only historical aspect of the route — the name California Zephyr also dates back to the train that ran from 1949 to 1970, before Amtrak even began.

This 2,438-mile Train Trip From California to Chicago Offers Views of the Rockies and Sierra Mountains Like You've Never Seen Before (2)

Amtrak Train 5 leaves Chicago’s Union Station at 2 p.m. each day and pulls into Emeryville at 4:10 p.m. two days later, while Train 6 departs Emeryville daily at 9:10 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 2:50 p.m. two days later. Both have lunch and dinner service the first day, three meals the middle day, and breakfast and lunch the third.

Travelers can choose from a variety of accommodations aboard the train, from coach seats to bedroom suites. Five types of Superliner rooms are available across two levels, starting with the Roomette, measuring between six-foot-six to six-foot-eight in length and three-foot-six wide. It has two seats by day that are transformed into an upper and lower bed at night, with access to a shared restroom and shower in the car.

Those craving more space and a private bathroom can upgrade to the Bedroom with twice as much space, at seven-foot-one to seven-foot-six long by six-foot-six to six-foot-eight wide. Sleeping two adults, this space has a sofa and separate chair that turn into an upper and lower bed at night, as well as an in-room sink, restroom, and shower.

Families can even go twice as big with the Bedroom Suite, which can sleep up to four adults. This is basically two Bedrooms attached, offering two of everything in the standard size. There’s also a Family Room, designed for two adults and two children, with seating for four during the day and two upper beds and two lower beds at night, plus a private restroom and shower. Passengers with disabilities can book the Accessible Bedroom, which can sleep two adults in an upper and lower bed. These accommodations have accessible features in the private restroom, as well as more space, with rooms as long as nine-foot-five and wide as six-foot-nine.

Across all the Superliner rooms, the beds have newly upgraded bedding, pillows, towels, and linens, and customers also have a dedicated first-class attendant, lounge access, and priority boarding.

For those who prefer more standard seating, Amtrak’s coach class is available, with reclining seats that have tray tables, reading lights, and electric outlets — and with two-by-two seating, there are no middle seats.

Those staying in private rooms also get all meals included in the dining room, with seasonal menus featuring a variety of entrees, like omelets and quesadillas for breakfast and burgers and salads for lunch. The three-course dinners, which include wine, come with appetizers like caprese skewers and coconut shrimp, entrees like flat-iron steak and Atlantic salmon, and dessert like chocolate toffee mousse and lemon cake. Depending on availability, coach passengers may also be able to purchase dining car access once on board. Guests can choose to have the meals in their rooms, too.

All passengers have access to the cafe, which offers food a la carte, from breakfast items to burgers, tamales, and hot dogs throughout the day.

The California Zephyr also offers checked baggage service and trainside checked bicycles, and allows small cats and dogs on board (check for restrictions).

No matter what portion of the route you take, the California Zephyr offers a way to experience America's landscape like no other, especially through some of the nation’s greatest mountain ranges, making it a glorious experience. Magliari said, "The difference between the California Zephyr and some of the other Western routes is simply more miles in the mountains."

This 2,438-mile Train Trip From California to Chicago Offers Views of the Rockies and Sierra Mountains Like You've Never Seen Before (2024)


What Amtrak train goes through the Rocky Mountains? ›

Experienced travelers say the California Zephyr is one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America. As you climb through the heart of the Rockies, and further west through the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, you may find it hard to disagree.

What is the most scenic train in California? ›

1. Coast Starlight. A train adventure spanning from Washington to Southern California, the Coast Starlight is a daily route between Los Angeles and Seattle that passes through beautiful Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and Portland.

Where does the California Zephyr stop? ›

The line empties out into the California Central Valley, and then runs along the San Pablo Bay, with stops in Sacramento and Davis. It crosses the Benicia Bridge and has stops in Martinez and Richmond. The trip ends in Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland.

How much is the California Zephyr? ›

Coach seats are the most affordable, followed by roomettes and bedrooms. Here are estimated California Zephyr 2023 prices if you travel the entire route: $150-$300 for coach seat. $700-$1,300 for a roomette (meals, water and coffee included)

Can you eat in the observation car on Amtrak? ›

However, you can only consume food and beverages purchased in Dining and Lounge Cars in those cars. Personal food and beverages are allowed in the upper level of Superliner Sightseer Lounges.

Does California Zephyr include food? ›

As an exclusive, complimentary offering for customers traveling in First Class private rooms, traditional dining service is provided in the Dining Car on the Auto Train, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle (between San Antonio ...

How much is a bedroom on the Coast Starlight train? ›

As of 2023, expect to pay the following one-way if you travel the entire Coast Starlight route: $100 for a coach seat. Over $500 for a roomette. Over $900 for a bedroom.

Can you sleep on the Coast Starlight? ›

If you can sleep on an airplane coach seat, you can probably sleep in business class. People will be getting on and off throughout the night, but it's much quieter than in coach, and definitely more comfortable than an airplane.

Are there luxury sleeper trains in the US? ›

While trains are primarily used today in the U.S. as a means of commuting to and from work, luxury train travel experiences are still in motion on trains like America's Trains Southern Comfort line, featuring lavish sleeping cars, and the Napa Valley Wine Train offering food-and-wine day experiences.

How much is a bedroom on the California Zephyr? ›

The roomette is about $522 for 2 people (think – transport and lodging for 1 night). The family bedroom is about $1287 and the Superliner Bedroom is $1519. You can read more about the rooms over here.

What is the best side to sit on the California Zephyr? ›

Generally the right side of the train provides the best views west of Reno.

What is the most scenic train ride from Chicago? ›

After your stay in Chicago, begin your journey west as you board the California Zephyr towards San Francisco. Along the way, engulf yourself in absolute beauty as you pass through the frontier of the Colorado Rockies.

How many times a week does the California Zephyr run? ›

The California Zephyr offers three departures per week, giving passengers options that best coincide with their travel plans. For their time onboard, guests may select from coach seating or upgrade to private sleeper accommodations.

How many times a day does the California Zephyr run? ›

There are two trains per day that run on the California Zephyr route from Chicago to San Francisco. The trains depart from Chicago Union Station at 10:00 AM and 7:00 PM, and arrive in San Francisco's Emeryville station at 11:45 AM and 9:45 PM the following day. The travel time is approximately 51 hours and 20 minutes.

How much is a roomette on Amtrak California Zephyr? ›

Since the entire journey was 52 hours, we had to decide whether to travel by coach seats or the superliner roomette. The cost of tickets to travel by coach (for 2 people) was $516USD while the superliner roomette costs $645.

Where is the train that goes through mountains in Colorado? ›

Hop aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and experience a one-of-a-kind adventure through the Royal Gorge and Colorado Rockies. Departing daily from the Santa Fe Depot in Canon City.

Does Amtrak go to Rocky Mountain National Park? ›

Amtrak's California Zephyr offers train access to the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park via the Granby Station.

What is the train that goes around the mountain in Colorado? ›

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway operates all year round. The round trip is about three hours (one hour up, 40 minutes at the Summit, and one hour and 10 minutes back down to the Depot), so arriving 30 minutes ahead of time means it's about a four-hour experience.

How much is the train ride through the Rocky Mountains? ›

3 more rows


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jonah Leffler

Last Updated:

Views: 5594

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jonah Leffler

Birthday: 1997-10-27

Address: 8987 Kieth Ports, Luettgenland, CT 54657-9808

Phone: +2611128251586

Job: Mining Supervisor

Hobby: Worldbuilding, Electronics, Amateur radio, Skiing, Cycling, Jogging, Taxidermy

Introduction: My name is Jonah Leffler, I am a determined, faithful, outstanding, inexpensive, cheerful, determined, smiling person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.