I’ve been reading the comments on my post “The Five Most Accessible Stadiums in the MLB,” and I know that many of you had strong opinions about my rankings (don’t worry, I’ll be writing an update that highlights some of the best counterarguments you submitted in the comments section and on social media).

However, fortune favors the brave, so I’m jumping into the breach once more–this time with the top five most scenic summertime Amtrak routes.


Coast Starlight
Frequently considered by many to be the most scenic train route in America, this line tops the list due to the variety of landscapes you’ll see as you zoom along the Pacific Coast. With the Santa Ynez Mountains in the south and the Cascades in the North, you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself from the windows on this trip. Start or end your trip at the tasteful Art Deco Union Station in LA, and connect with the opposite terminus in Seattle. You can even head all the way north to Vancouver via Amtrak’s Cascades route, a beautiful stretch of track in and of itself.


California Zephyr
If you’d like to mimic the route of our first ever Transcontinental Railroad, this is the way to do it. Zip from Chicago through the Rocky Mountains all the way to San Francisco. Along the way, you’ll visit mountain and desert cities like Denver and Salt Lake City, and swoop through the Moffat Tunnel, which famously cut down transit times drastically through the Continental Divide. As this trip is a little over 50 hours, it’s the perfect train to grab a bed in the Superliner Sleeping Cars to truly enjoy scenic views of the Rocky Mountains.


Empire Builder
One of the most famous scenic routes out there, this line passes goes from Chicago to Seattle, and passes through beautiful midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Spokane. The highlight, of course, is Glacier National Park. Amtrak offers multiple trip packages to visit this gem of a national park, including 4 and 10 day excursions with activities like boat cruises included. It’s hard to beat wilderness like that. And it’s one of the routes I’ll get to ride this summer for Summer by Rail 2018!


A short but deservedly well-known line, this route travels from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. Along the way, you’ll soak in some stunning vistas of the marshes and waters that pock the Northwest corner of our country, known collectively as the Salish Sea. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, which roost by the hundreds in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area. Since you’ll be entering Canada you’ll need your passport, but don’t worry too much about customs: some riders say passing through via train is even easier than by car. I’ll be riding this service–which even includes some modern Talgo equipment–on my way from Seattle to Vancouver and back again.


You wouldn’t just be lucky to land on this railroad in Monopoly, the storied Pennsylvanian route that runs from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia offers plenty of sites as well. Major cities aside, this line also passes through pastoral Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the Allegheny Mountains that have inspired countless painters, and rounds the oft-photographed Horseshoe Curve as well. Visit Independence Hall and other historic destinations in Philadelphia, or enjoy the Warhol Museum and other cultural hotspots in Pittsburgh.

If you have thoughts–whether it’s a route I missed, or a particular segment of one of the above routes I glossed over–please let me know! I’ll take the best posts on Twitter and the comments section and post an update once I’m on the road in June.



  • Thomas Girsch says:

    I’d put the EB ahead of the CZ, and I’ve never been on the Starlight. But otherwise, I like your rankings. The Pennsylvanian in particular is a good sleeper pick, as it is very scenic where the train passes through Pennsyltucky.

    Still, I suspect some Cardinal fans will be miffed. 🙂

    • Lynn Aldrich says:

      I’d put the CZ ahead of EB, but I have to say the Southwest Chief is the train I support, in part because that train took me to and through so much of New Mexico that I fell in love with the state (“Land of Enchantment”) and retired to NM. It was always cool to be on the train on the Horseshoe curve in PA and see all the people taking pictures of the train, but the SWChief has the S-curve (in NM) where you get to alternately see the front and back of the train.

  • T Byrne says:

    You need a top 10 list, not just five. I’d add (and probably mix the order with your 1-5) the following:
    A. The Adirondack. Travels through a lot of early US history, and spectacular scenery. End stations in NY and Montreal are in two of the world’s great cities.
    B. Crescent. A lovely trip through the southeastern US.
    C. The Downeaster. This is the counterpoint to the Starlight, albeit 2 -1/2 hours vs a couple of days. I’ve ridden this train a lot (full disclosure, I live in Maine) and always enjoy the trip. Good crews and friendly, lively passengers. Go see the Sox and end up in Maine after the game. It’s good.
    D. Acela. BOS to WAS, fast, good performance, quicker that air, NY to Boston or DC, downtown to downtown. Great cities to stop in.
    E. Southwest Chief. By no means commuter rail, but a great means to see the southwestern US. Late afternoon views are stunning.

    I am one who believes the journey justifies the trip, not necessarily the destination. I travel by train to see the country and new places, meet new people (several of whom have become long-time friends), and to have time to decompress while traveling. The combination is always a success.

  • Jacob;you missed a marvelous eastern day trip;the adronideck; from NYC To montreal Canada;the scenery along the Hudson river and upstate and near the Canadian border is unreal; and it is a day trip.

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