Summer Train trip out West
August 3-September 19, 2018
7 states in 7 weeks, yeah that was amazing and exhausting at the same time.
We had long been planning a train trip around the US and finally were able to make it happen. How did we choose the places? By geography, train route, and those friends weʼd been promising to come visit and never made it out there.
Would you believe that like half of them were remodeling their bathrooms? That was just one of the challenges with coming up with the route but all the pieces fell into place just in time for us to leave Erie, PA at 3am that Saturday morning. We were just wrapping up our time with Neilʼs family on our annual trip to see all of them and weʼre quite familiar with the Erie Amtrak station since weʼve frequented it the most of all the Amtrak stations.
Many times during college we made the 12 hour trek across all of NY state riding the Amtrak and it seemed like such a great way to travel. Then we rode the rails around California but for much shorter 4-6 hour jumps. Have you ridden the Amtrak recently? We love how much room there always is. Not to mention that you can arrive at the station 10 minutes before it leaves and just hop on, no TSA and much less headaches. Thereʼs also the matter of luggage. Do you dread having to fit everything into one giant bag just so you donʼt have to pay for all of them individually, well thatʼs not the case with the train! If there were going to be something that we didnʼt like about the train, we would know by the end of this trip!
We ended up spending 80 hours overall and despite a couple delays, and the one day when we had to eat in the snack car and have it sustain us all day, it was terrific! Weʼve got the overnight routines down to a system now. Bring your sleep mask, earplugs, comfy clothes and a blanket or sheet to cover up and youʼll sleep pretty ok. Iʼd say thatʼs accurate, the sleeping part is a bit rough but the seats recline, the curtains close, itʼs dark and thereʼs no announcements at night. If this doesnʼt sound like something youʼd be up for, thereʼs always the roomettes where you can have a bed!
Concerned about eating? Those of you who know me, know me as the Food Goddess. Not only because I truly love food and eating but also Iʼm pretty excited about taking photos of my food and sharing it with others. The train has you covered! Many of the lines have “dining cars” and you can order steak, salmon, risotto, wine, much more than you can find at the snack bar. The prices are pretty on par with regular restaurants too. And yes, it tastes good.
So see, you can eat, sleep and even work during those 30 hour stretches of time. Regarding work, Iʼd say half the routes have WIFI and itʼs ok. Really good enough for most of the things youʼd probably be trying to do. So when you feel like you have been visiting friends for a week and really havenʼt put any “work time” in, youʼre good to go. Probably the hardest part is working while you pass all that beautiful scenery! Man is there a lot of open land out there! We got to travel through a canyon in Utah that only allows trains and kayaks, nobody else. It was Amazing! Needless to say we didnʼt get much work done that day.
Date we left
Total trip time (hours)
Cost (for both of us)
Grand Junction, CO
Grand Junction, CO
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City, UT
Long Beach, CA*
Long Beach, CA
San Jose, CA
As you glance through our itinerary you’ll notice that the entire trip wasn’t by train but it was pretty close. There are a handful of Amtrak routes that go from East to West across the US but we were having a hard time finding just the right route when we left Minneapolis. We would have had to go back to Chicago and spend an extra overnight in order to make our way to Grand Junction so we got creative. We brought up the Amtrak route south of the Empire Builder and found out that we could hop onto the California Zephyr by meeting the train in Osceola, Iowa. So all we had to do was find a way from Minneapolis to Osceola, IA and, tadah!, the Jefferson Buslines appeared. We actually found out that they traveled a pretty good distance from North to South so maybe we’ll use them again someday.
There was only one flight on this trip and that was from Salt Lake City, UT to Long Beach, CA. It would have been possible to do this route by train but in order to fit into our hosts schedules, we opted for the 2 hour flight instead of taking another 8 hour or more train trip. It turns out the Long Beach airport is pretty darn cool. The gates are all outside but you know, California does it a little different. 🙂
Once we were in Southern California, we decided it was time to drive up the Cali coast again. We had done it once before when we moved to California back in 2013 but this time we could stop in multiple grape growing regions and check out some of our favorite scenes from the movie Sideways. (Of course, this turned into a pretty giant #WineAndCheeseFriday entry, so check out all of those details here!) Just as a note though, there are tons of Amtrak routes in California so we could have done a pretty similar route by train as well.
So have we convinced you to take the Amtrak on your next adventure? We’ve given you some great reasons why you should try it out. And as you can see from the prices, it’s a pretty good deal for two people to travel all around the US. The argument we’ve heard from others is that it takes too long compared to a flight. It really doesn’t when you add in TSA and all that time you spend around the airport in addition to your flight time. Also keep in mind you get to walk around whenever you feel like it. Ok I’m jumping off the soapbox now.
If you’re curious about all the legs of the trip and what we did once we got off the train, don’t worry, those entries will be posted soon!