Traveling Across the United States By Train

Blue and Grey Amtrak Locomotive at Grand Junction Station. Can see passenger cars behind it

In August 2020, my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip across the country via Amtrak. We decided to start in Emeryville, California and go all the way to Penn Station in NYC with a connection in Chicago, Illinois. Find out how our initial leg of the trip went from Emeryville to Chicago!

Schedule of the Amtrak California Zephyr train schedule and route with the associated arrival and departure times
Amtrak California Zephyr Schedule (Courtesy of Amtrak)

To get to from Emeryville to Chicago we booked a private bedroom that came with its own attendant, complementary meals, in-room bathroom, and in-room seating accommodations. We decided to go this route because we knew that we would be on this train for two nights and wanted a relaxing private stay. In addition to our bedroom, Amtrak also offered coach seating, roomettes, bedroom suites, accessible bedrooms and family bedroom accommodations on this route.

Image of rolling golden hills in the background of the Amtrak bedroom hallway
View from Amtrak Bedroom Hallway (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews / Time to See the World)

As the trains that traverse from Emeryville to Chicago are bi-level, we got automatically assigned to a second-floor bedroom space (Amtrak automatically assigns your room location after booking; we did not have a choice in the room that we were staying in). Our room provided us a with a good amount of space for our luggage and gear. In our room, we were treated to a couch (that would convert to our bed at night), a folded-up sleeping bunk, an individual arm chair, a bathroom that included a shower and toilet in the same space, a sink, and some storage facilities. Additionally, we had our own temperature control and power outlets in our space.

For being on a train, we found our room quite comfortable for our two-night journey. When we were not in our room, we would either travel to the dinning car for our meals (when we decided to not have our meals delivered to our space) and the observation car. The observation car was the true star of the show. The observation car treated us with large windows that angled up and over our heads providing a clear sight to the views above. This was super important on a beautiful route like this one.

Amtrak observation car with red booths and white table with windows next to the booth and an angled window above the table
Amtrak Observation Car (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews / Time to See the World)

One of the main reasons to take an Amtrak train across the country is the ability to experience America’s natural beauty. On this route, we started in the farmlands of California before continuing on to the mountains of Lake Tahoe, to the desert of Nevada, to the canyon walls of Colorado and the plains of Chicago.

View of a a brown valley with green and yellow brush surrounding a river that was seen from the California Zephyr
Amtrak California Zephyr (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews / Time to See the World)

Onboard, we were treated with fantastic care by the conductors and attendants. They were very friendly with us and always were checking in to make sure that we were having the best time possible. One of the parts of the trip that I cannot comment too much on is the food. Due to traveling during COVID, Amtrak got rid of its normal multi-course dining experience. For our journey, we were provided with a single microwaved entree, a side dish and a dessert. While this was good enough, we do wish we got to experience the regular dining experience. Now that Amtrak has gone back to more traditional services on this route, we believe it would highly add to the dining offerings.

One of the major concerns around traveling by train is delays. On our route we were lucky to not experience any major delays and actually came early into Chicago. Throughout the journey, we were given the opportunity to get off at specific stops to stretch our legs before boarding to our next stop.

Amtrak California Zephyr (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews / Time to See the World)

Overall, we were quite happy with our experience traveling on Amtrak. While it may not be the fastest way to travel across the country, the train was by far the prettiest. If you are able to, I highly recommend taking an Amtrak train across the country. The great service and natural beauty of a cross-country train is something not to miss and is still one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.

Check back for Part 2 of our journey from Chicago to Penn Station in NYC!

Kyle’s Tip: When deciding on a train trip, make sure you consider the direction and time of travel of your trip. This is because the direction of travel determines what you will see at day or at night. Thus, I recommend deciding on which sights you would like to see and then pick a direction of travel that aligns with what you want to see.

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