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The 8 Most Scenic Amtrak Routes

8 best amtrak cross country train rides
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America is filled with scenic beauty and Amtrak trains are the best way to see the entire country. We’ve run down the 8 most scenic Amtrak routes in the United States for your next Amtrak vacation. All routes run in both directions and feature stunning views of the countryside.

California Zephyr

The California Zephyr is the most scenic train ride in America and one of the top routes in the world. This line starts in Chicago and travels through the plains of Nebraska before reaching Denver. Once past Denver, the real show begins in the Rocky Mountains and the canyons of Colorado. Other highlights include the Moffat Tunnel that runs through the Continental Divide, Glenwood and Gore Canyons, and Donner Lake in California.

The California Zephyr covers 2,438 miles in 51.5 hours with a top speed of 79 mph. The best views of the canyons in Colorado are to the south, so get to the observation car early to claim a spot. This is our top pick for the most scenic Amtrak routes in the United States.

California Zephyr in Colorado

California Zephyr Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • Observation Car
  • No WiFi
  • Coach Price $176

Coast Starlight

The Coast Starlight is the star attraction if you are interested in ocean views from the train. This stretch of track in California, Oregon and Washington is unrivaled in the country for spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Los Angeles, you’ll hug the coast through California, travel through Portland and arrive in Seattle. On clear days you’ll get amazing views of Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier when heading into Seattle, making this one of the most scenic Amtrak routes.

The Coast Starlight covers 1,377 miles over 34 hours with a top speed of 79 mph. The west side of the train offers views of the ocean and the east will feature views of the mountains in Washington.

most scenic amtrak routes
Riding the Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • Observation Car
  • No WiFi
  • Coach Price $101

Empire Builder

The Empire Builder will surprise you with stunning views of Puget Sound, Glacier National Park, and the Mississippi River. Traveling from Seattle or Portland to Chicago over 3 days will give you as wide a range of views as you can get in the Amtrak system. The Empire Builder travels 2,206 miles in 46 hours with a top speed of 79 mph.

The best views from the Empire Builder are on the north side of the train.

most scenic amtrak routes
Empire Builder at Puget Sound

Empire Builder Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • Observation Car
  • No WiFi
  • Coach Price $150

Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited is the southernmost cross country train route in the United States. From New Orleans to Los Angeles you’ll see a part of the country that most people will never see by car. The landscape changes dramatically as you leave the bayou of Louisiana and make your way across the mighty Mississippi River. The desert landscapes of New Mexico and Arizona will great you before arriving in Los Angeles.

Views are good from both sides of the train, but we prefer the south side as you’ll get to see the US and Mexico border near El Paso, Texas. The Sunset Limited travels 1,995 miles in 46 hours with a top speed of 79 mph.

most scenic amtrak routes
Crossing the Mississippi River on the Sunset Limited

Sunset Limited Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • Observation Car
  • No WiFi
  • Coach Price $150

Adirondack

The Adirondack travels from New York to Montreal and gives tremendous views of the Hudson Valley. This is one of Amtrak’s best routes for taking in the fall foliage during the fall. Passengers will fall in love with the Adirondack Mountains and the charming small towns of New York. The Adirondack covers 381 miles in 11 hours.

most scenic amtrak routes

Adirondack Features:

  • WiFi
  • Cafe
  • Coach Price $70

Pacific Surfliner

Taking passengers from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, the Pacific Surfliner is another premium route with ocean views. You’ll be able to bring a bike or a surf board on this route due to special racks provided. The route will take 8 hours and cover 350 miles with a top speed of 90 mph.

most scenic amtrak routes

Pacific Surfliner Features:

  • WiFi
  • Cafe
  • Surf Board Racks
  • Coach Tickets $61

Southwest Chief

A favorite of Amtrak enthusiasts, the Southwest Chief will take passengers from Chicago to Los Angeles. This Amtrak route loosely follows the famous Route 66 route in the western part of the United States. Some of the highlights you’ll see are the painted desert and the Red Cliffs of Sedona.

The Southwest Chief travels 2,265 miles in 43 hours with a top speed of 90 mph.

Sedona, Arizona

Southwest Chief Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • Observation Car
  • No WiFi
  • Coach Price $175

Crescent

The Amtrak Crescent goes from New York City to New Orleans, showing you the best of the east coast. You’ll be treated to big city views, the mountains of the southeast and the bayou of Louisiana. One of our favorite views on this route is of Lake Pontchartrain as you enter New Orleans. To see the best view of the lake you’ll want to be on the west side of the train.

The Crescent covers 1,377 miles in 30 hours.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Crescent Features:

  • Dining Car
  • Cafe
  • WiFi
  • Coach Price $150

Scenic Amtrak Routes Overview

With so many scenic Amtrak routes in the system, you can easily combine a few of them to make a longer vacation. We took advantage of the Amtrak buy one get one free sale to put together a 14 day Amtrak vacation.

Before buying your tickets for one of the most scenic Amtrak routes, check out our guide to buying Amtrak tickets and the route guides on our YouTube Channel.

Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 2 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 750,000 images in the last 15 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.