Amtrak routes with the most breathtaking views


When it comes to planning an Amtrak trip, there's just one major question: which route should you take? Well, it all comes down to what types of landscapes you want to see.

The California coast? The dramatic greenery of the Pacific Northwest? The options are endless – and you can always do a partial journey instead of a full one or train-hop from one route to another.

But no matter your route, or whether you take in the scenery from your seat or the observation car, you’ll quickly see how the journey truly is the destination.

Start – Chicago; End – Emeryville (San Francisco)

California Zepher

This is a true cross-country experience right through the middle of America. For almost 2,500 miles and a bit more than 51 hours, you’ll have a first-row seat to some of the nation’s best scenery.

The postcard-perfect views will continue as the route soars through the High Sierra. Near the historic Donner Pass, the train will reach its highest point and you’ll see Donner Lake below.

You may also see various wildlife, like bald eagles flying overhead as the train continues on to the Pacific.

Start – Chicago; End – Los Angeles

Southwest Chief

See the American West up-close-and-personal. Unlike the horizontal route of the California Zephyr, the Southwest Chief does more of a diagonal as it passes plains, rivers, mountains and deserts.

Keep an eye on the scenery as it changes from Midwestern prairies to snow-capped Colorado mountains to sun-baked pueblos to the Sedona Red Cliffs, taking routes and switchbacks only fit for a train.

Start – Seattle; End – Los Angeles

Coast Starlight

If you want to follow the US west coast (well, minus San Diego), the Coast Starlight will provide you with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean as you head south to Los Angeles – or north to Seattle.

In addition to watching waves, you can take in the rich, dripping forests and snowy peaks of the Pacific Northwest. Just past the California border, the train curves around the base of Mount Shasta.

From there, the landscape changes remarkably as you leave verdant, foggy NorCal behind for the golden hues of the state's farmland, wine country, and eventually SoCal's dusky, scrubb-strewn hills.

The southern terminus is Los Angeles' handsome Arts and Crafts train station, from which you can easily catch a bus elsewhere – including LAX – or pick up another train route.

If you were traveling north from LA to Seattle, you have a choice to make. Once the train hits Eugene, Oregon, some opt for the Amtrak Cascades route to go even further north to Vancouver, BC.