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America's Best Train Tours

Great American Train Getaways

by Jim Loomis

When you're yearning to get away to the country's great open spaces, there's no better way than by rail. Check out these American train getaways that are sure to impress:

The Empire Builder has become Amtrak’s premier train. It operates daily both ways between Chicago and Seattle or Portland (two nights), passing through the fertile farmlands of Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and the spectacular Cascade Mountains of Washington.

The Southwest Chief operates daily both ways between Chicago and Los Angeles (two nights). The route goes over Colorado’s Raton Pass, follows the Santa Fe Trail and crosses the dramatic deserts.

The California Zephyr operates daily both ways between Chicago and San Francisco/Oakland (two nights). It crosses the farmlands of Illinois and Iowa, follows the Colorado River through the Rockies and climbs through the Sierra Nevada mountains before descending into the San Francisco Bay area.

The Coast Starlight operates daily both ways between Seattle and Los Angeles (one night). The route goes through the Cascade Mountain wilderness of Oregon, passes in the shadow of Mount Shasta in Northern California and crosses Napa Valley.

The Sunset Limited operates three days a week both ways between Orlando and Los Angeles (three nights). The trip's highlights include Florida’s Panhandle, New Orleans and Louisiana bayous, Texas ranchlands, and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Because of damage to tracks caused by Hurricane Katrina, however, this route temporarily begins and ends in New Orleans. At press time, Amtrak could not estimate when the New Orleans-Orlando segment will be resumed.