‘Life is a train, get on board.’ – Khaled Hosseini.

Amtrak’s big shiny trains travel to all major US cities and cross some of America’s’s most spectacular landscapes. The following are just a few of the many enjoyable and scenic passenger trains routes to travel and enjoy. Check out 5 of the most awe-inspiring train journeys in the United States…

The California Zephyr

California Zephyr train

One of the world’s great trains, the California Zephyr goes from Chicago to San Francisco by way of America’s heartland and the high plains of Colorado, climbing into the Rocky Mountains via the Oregon Trail.

Pioneers came this way, as did gold prospectors, the pony express and the first continental telegraph. After Salt Lake City, you cross Bonneville Salt Flats and the beautiful but dangerous Sierra Nevada.

The Sunset Limited

Sunset Limited train

This epic journey takes you from New Orleans to Los Angeles after the train makes a dizzy crossing of the Mississippi River on the Huey P Long Bridge, leaving the Crescent City to travel among bayous, white egrets, alligators, mansions and fields of sugar cane.

After San Antonio the Sunset Limited joins the Rio Grande, taking a day to cross the sagebrush and mesquite prairies of Texas.

The Southwest Chief

Grand Canyon

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 stage coaches.

You cross the Mojave Desert and pass Dodge City’s famous Boot Hill burial ground. From Williams in Arizona you can travel to the Grand Canyon by train.

The Crescent

New Orleans French Quarter

This inspiring train goes from New York to New Orleans by way of the Blue Ridge Mountains and idyllic Shenandoah National Park with its dogwoods and cedars. Beyond Atlanta lie sleepy southern towns with quaint general stores and sun-bleached houses.

The Crescent also makes a dramatic crossing of Lake Pontchartrain, skimming a few feet above the water on a six-mile causeway.

The Coast Starlight

San Francisco

The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles via the states of Washington, Oregon and California. The train passes some of America’s highest mountains, such as volcanic Mt Hood, as well as the emerald forests and waterfalls of Twin Peaks country.

Beyond San Luis Obispo the Coast Starlight runs on tracks set high on cliffs, with splendid views of the Pacific surf and beaches.

The Texas Eagle


From Lake Michigan to the Alamo, the Texas Eagle makes a journey of more than a thousand miles down the centre of America, travelling from Chicago through Lincoln land then crossing the Mississippi before continuing through the Ozarks to Arkansas and Texas.

Pine forest and lakes north of Dallas give way to cattle country as you approach San Antonio, where through coaches to Los Angeles join the Sunset Limited.

The Empire Builder

Glacier National Park

America’s northern plains were mostly wilderness until the freewheeling tycoon James J Hill built his Great Northern Railway between St Paul, Minnesota, and Seattle.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder takes its name from the train called after him, which ran on this route during the heyday of rail travel, and it crosses the Mississippi River then travels more than 2,200 miles past wheat fields, cattle ranges, forests, mountains and spectacular glacial lakes.

John Pitt is a train travel enthusiast and author of Bradt’s USA by Rail guidebook. The fully updated ninth edition can be ordered on Amazon

  USA by Rail book