En español | Amtrak, which runs 15 long-distance routes, offers white-tablecloth service and communal seating on most routes west of the Mississippi, and on the Auto Train. On other routes, sleeping-car passengers can dine in their cabins, or in a reserved communal area. Other passengers can buy food in the café car.
Here are six popular trips. Except when noted, they can be booked directly through Amtrak.com or using the Amtrak app.
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PHOTO BY: Amtrak
Train: California Zephyr (Amtrak)
Route: Chicago to Emeryville, California
Amtrak's pride and joy, this 52-hour journey may be the country's best rail trip, thanks to a combination of timing and scenery, with daytime travel through the Colorado Rockies and California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. The westward trip leaves Chicago in the evening, and passengers awake in the morning just east of Denver. And that's when the thrills start, with the route winding through deep canyons inaccessible to cars, through the red rock country of Utah; by Reno, Nevada; and finally rolling in to the Bay Area near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Price: Fares vary by season and time of booking. Expect prices to start at about $470 for a single roomette, $690 for a double, with meals included; and coach seats to start at about $140, meals not included; senior discounts aren’t available on the lowest-priced coach-seat fares.
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PHOTO BY: Amtrak
Train: Crescent (Amtrak)
Route: New York City to New Orleans
Starting in the bustle of Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station, this big city train has a dual personality. At the beginning of the 30-hour route, it's full of riders on the busy East Coast corridor, with stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore. But then the pace begins to slow. Travelers soon catch sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains as they pass through historic stops such as the university town of Charlottesville, Virginia, and then down to the Deep South. The route covers some of the important sites of the Civil Rights movement, including Greensboro, North Carolina; Atlanta; and Birmingham, Alabama; before arriving in New Orleans.
Price: Starts at $466 ($444 for 65-plus) for a single roomette, with meals included; $686 for a double roomette ($642 for 65-plus); coach seats start at $139, meals not included; senior discounts aren't available on the lowest-priced coach seat fares.
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PHOTO BY: VIA Rail Canada
Train: The Canadian (Via Rail)
Route: Toronto to Vancouver, Canada
VIA Rail, Canada's national rail service, runs an epic four-day trip across the top of the continent. The journey crosses by the lakes and forests of Ontario, over the vast prairies, through cities such as Winnipeg and Edmonton, and then climbs into the Rocky Mountains past Jasper before ending up on the Pacific Coast. Other memorable Via Rail overnight trips include the Ocean from Montreal to Halifax; and the Hudson Bay, linking Winnipeg to Churchill, known for its polar bears and beluga whales.
Price: Starts at $1,111 Canadian (about $865 U.S.) for a single bunk, which is private at night and open at day, with meals included. Doubles are roughly twice the single fare. A coach seat, which does not include meals, starts at $490 Canadian (about $382 U.S.). Senior discounts aren’t available on the lowest-priced fares.
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PHOTO BY: Marc Glucksman/Amtrak
Train: Southwest Chief (Amtrak)
Route: Chicago to Los Angeles
This 43-hour journey takes riders over the Mississippi through eight states. It was once the route to see movie stars, who took advantage of what was then an all sleeping-car train, allowing them to travel cross-country in style. Before that, the famed Fred Harvey Company built luxury hotels and restaurants along the line to entice passengers to explore the West.
From Chicago, the route heads west through Iowa and Kansas, across the Continental Divide in Colorado, and then through the desert Southwest. During a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Native American vendors sell crafts to passengers, as they have since train travel began here more than a century ago. Various proposals have suggested substituting part of the route through Kansas with bus service. But for now, this venerable line remains on the tracks.
Price: Fares vary by season and time of booking. Expect prices to start at about $605 for a single roomette, with meals included; $840 for a double roomette; and coach seats to start at about $150, meals not included; senior discounts aren’t available on the lowest-priced coach-seat fares.
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PHOTO BY: Amtrak
Train: Coast Starlight (Amtrak)
Route: Seattle to Los Angeles
This coast-hugging route takes in sweeping Pacific views, Cascade Mountain crossings and California's fertile Central Valley. From Seattle, the morning starts with a ride past Puget Sound, and over the next 36 hours, passengers stop in Portland, Oregon, marvel at towering Mount Shasta in California, and watch surfers catch waves off Santa Barbara until the train pulls into L.A.'s grand Union Station.
Price: Fares vary by season and time of booking. Expect prices to start at about $420 for a single roomette, $580 for a double roomette, with meals included; and coach seats to start at about $100, meals not included; senior discounts aren’t available on the lowest-priced coach-seat fares.
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PHOTO BY: Rocky Mountaineer
Train: Rocky Mountaineer
Route: Vancouver to Alberta, Canada
Although passengers don’t sleep on the train, this private company’s comfortable overnight two- and three-day trips traverse the Canadian Rockies during the daytime, and then stop at hotels for overnight accommodations. (It also offers a “Rockies to the Red Rocks” trip connecting Denver to Moab, Utah.) In Canada, the trips, which run April through October, play up the region’s wildlife, gliding through forests and by snow-topped mountains. Travelers can customize their trips, visiting sites such as Lake Louise, Jasper and Calgary.
Price: Starts at $1,287 per person, double occupancy, for a two-day, one-night trip, meals and hotel accommodations included; senior fares occasionally offered during special promotions.
Virginia native Larry Bleiberg is president of the Society of American Travel Writers, a frequent contributor to BBC Travel and the creator of CivilRightsTravel.com.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 3, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new information.
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