Empire Builder

Amtrak Empire Builder Route Guide

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Empire Builder Route Overview

The Amtrak Empire Builder will show you the best of the northern United States with incredible views of Puget Sound, Glacier National Park and the Mississippi River. The Empire Builder travels from Chicago to Seattle and back, giving you access to major cities, and some of America’s great wilderness all on the same trip.

The Empire Builder also has a route that goes to Portland instead of Seattle.

Train Info

Observation Car Yes
Dining CarYes
Distance2,206 Miles
Time46 Hours
Top Speed79 Mph
Average Speed50 Mph

Ticket Options

On the Empire Builder you can purchase tickets in these categories (sample summer fares for 2 people shown):

  • Coach ($300)
  • Superliner Roomette ($896)
  • Superliner Bedroom ($1,731)
  • Superliner Family Bedroom ($1,087)

Amtrak often runs 2 for 1 sales on coach tickets as well as roomettes. If you are planning well in advance, check out our guide to getting 2 for 1 tickets during the BOGO sale.

Meals and Metropolitan Lounge access are included for all sleeper car passengers.

Scenic Views

The best scenic view on the Empire Builder are on the north side of the train. From this side you’ll have great views of the Mississippi River, Glacier National Park and Puget Sound. If your room or seat is not on that side, check out the observation car for great views in both directions.

Major Sites

Most people vacationing on Empire Builder will either ride all the way to Seattle, Portland or Chicago, or get off in Whitefish, Montana to visit Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park

Major Stations

The major and notable stations on the Amtrak Empire Builder are Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul – Minneapolis, Fargo, Whitefish (gateway to Glacier NP), Spokane, Portland, and Seattle.

States Visited

The Amtrak Empire Builder route will take you through the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The route that goes to Portland will also go through Oregon.

Station Reviews

The Empire Builder route has terminus stations of Chicago on one end and Seattle or Portland on the other. All 3 of these cities have stations with Metropolitan Lounges to make your wait before boarding more enjoyable.

All 3 stations also offer free checked baggage, up to 2 bags per person of 50lbs.

Union Station – Chicago

Union Station in Chicago is perhaps the finest Amtrak station in the country. It offers easy access in the heart of Downtown Chicago and features the best Metropolitan Lounge you will find. There are plenty of fast food restaurants within the station where you can get food to bring back to the new 2 level Metropolitan Lounge. The entire station has a nice decor that makes you feel like you are about to take a special trip.

Union Station Chicago
Union Station in Chicago

If you’d like to stay close to Union Station before or after your visit we recommend the Hyatt Place Chicago Downtown – The Loop, which is about a 5 minute walk from the station. We have also stayed at the La Quinta near the station, which is usually a little cheaper. This was a nice new hotel in a good area. Our train was quite late and we walked to the La Quinta at 2am with our bags without problem.

King Street Station – Seattle

The King Street Station is a surprise, as it has a beautiful interior and good location downtown next to the Seattle sports field complexes. There is no food available inside, but there are a few restaurants and cafes within walking distance. There is also no Metropolitan Lounge at this station.

Amtrak King Street Station
King Street Station

The King Street Station may have the most convenient hotel near it in the entire Amtrak system. If you are staying a night or two in Seattle we recommend the Embassy Suites Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square. The hotel is just steps from the Amtrak station and we could see the entrance to the station from our room. On top of that we found the hotel to be amazing and the staff was very friendly to us.

View of the Amtrak Station From Our Window
Portland Union Station

The Amtrak Station in Portland is located in the lively Pearl District. If you’ve never visited, you’ll enjoying the shopping and restaurants in this area. Portland Union Station offers a Metropolitan Lounge which is modern and well appointed.

Portland Union Station
Portland Union Station

Recommended hotels in the area within walking distance are:

Trip Planning

The Empire Builder is a great train trip to link with a few other trains. If you are looking for a longer vacation, consider something like our 14 day Amtrak trip. On this trip we took the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle, the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago, and the California Zephyr from Chicago back to San Francisco.

You could also link the Empire Builder with the Lakeshore Limited and do a true coast to coast trip from Seattle to New York and the fly back.

Note that the Amtrak stations in Seattle, Chicago and Portland are not near the airports, so if you are flying into those cities to start this route you’ll need to get a cab or Uber to the Amtrak station.

Booking Tickets

Tickets for Amtrak can be booked at Amtrak.com or using their app on your phone. Reservations can also be made by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL.

Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 5 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 1 million images in the last 20 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.