When pressed to pick Amtrak’s most scenic train, I’ll talk about the Cardinal and the Adirondack and the Empire Builder or the Coast Starlight. But I always end up picking the California Zephyr. Amtrak runs the Zephyr every day in both directions between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Assuming the train is running on time, it leaves Denver around 8:00 in the morning and it’s really a special experience from there. (Click on any photo to enlarge it.)
Climbing steadily up into the Flatirons, the train passes through something like 28 tunnels and often runs right along precipitous drops of many hundreds of feet. But all the while, the view back in the direction of Denver just keeps getting better and better.
After stopping at the ski resort of Winter Park and then the little town of Granby, the Zephyr follows the Colorado River through a series of valleys and canyons for 110 miles to Glenwood Springs.
Over the next four hours, the Zephyr stops at Grand Junction, then crosses into Utah and you’ll go through canyons with sheer walls of multi-tones of red rock. Our timing was perfect the other day, because those cliffs were really lit up by the setting sun.
Pretty special … but the next day, the Zephyr crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains over Donner Pass, and that’s an equally amazing ride.
Amtrak’s most scenic train ride? For my money, you really cannot beat the California Zephyr. Just don’t ask me to decide whether it’s the first day or the second that offers the better viewing.