News & Politics  |  Travel

The Five Best Train Journeys in the U.S.

You won't forget some of these views.

Train tracks. Photograph by Kholodnitskiy Maksim via Unsplash.

To read more from the the train travel guide, click here.

The pros—and cons—of five long-distance routes that provide the biggest bang for your buck.

Coast Starlight: LA to Seattle

35 hours; daily

Pros: Unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and Cascade mountain range; waking up in an Oregon pine forest.

Cons: Busy West Coast ports ensure busy freight-line traffic, too; frequent delays on the route.

California Zephyr: Chicago to San Francisco Bay area (Emeryville)

51 hours; daily

Pros: Spectacularly traverses both the Sierra Nevada and the tunnel-rich Rocky Mountains range.

Cons: If you’re claustrophobic, six miles of darkness in the Moffat Tunnel may freak you out.

Empire Builder: Chicago to Seattle or Portland

46 hours; daily 

Pros: Stops several places on the periphery of Glacier National Park, including Essex, home to the train-themed Izaak Walton Inn.

Cons: Inevitably, you’ll be asleep during some magnificent scenery.

Southwest Chief: Chicago to LA

41 to 46 hours; daily

Pros: Red rocks aplenty in the Southwest, particularly as the train snakes through isolated New Mexico canyons.

Cons: Flagstaff is arguably the most charming little city on the entire route, and the station is right downtown—but with no time for a walk-off visit.

Sunset Limited: LA to New Orleans

45 to 48 hours; three days a week

Pros: A sweeping panorama: California desert, Texas high country (4,500 feet at Alpine, gateway to Big Bend), and swampy Louisiana bayou.

Cons: Everything’s bigger in Texas, indeed: It takes an entire day to get across the state.

This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Mary Melton

Mary Melton is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. On Twitter and Instagram, she’s @marymeltonla.