Which Amtrak train offers the most scenic route?

That’s probably the question I’m most often asked, and it’s a tough one to answer. Certainly all of the western trains have plenty to offer. But pressed to pick just one, I’ll probably go with the westbound California Zephyr.

Originating in Chicago, the Zephyr departs in the mid afternoon and right about dinnertime, crosses the Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa. Denver is there the next morning right around breakfast and for the rest of the day you’ll be passing through some really glorious areas … first climbing up into the Rockies and under the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel, then following the Colorado River through a whole series of canyons to Glenwood Springs and then Grand Junction.

There’s plenty more to see the next day, too. The Zephyr runs along the Humboldt River which finally just spreads out and disappears into the Nevada desert east of Reno. From there is up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, across Donner Pass (photo above)and down into Sacramento and finally the Bay Area.

Will Chicago to San Francisco on the Zephyr cost more than flying? Of course! But that two-night journey in a sleeping car is much, much more than simply an alternate mode of travel. It’s part of your whole vacation experience. You not only get your transportation, you get all that magnificent scenery and the time to savor it, plus two nights with no hotel bill to pay and – don’t forget this! – your sleeping car fare includes all your dining car meals. For husband and wife in either a roomette or a bedroom, that means a total of twelve meals.

And, folks, you just can’t beat that!