The Zephyr-Amtrak’s “Most Scenic”.

The question I’m most often asked is which of the long-distance trains is the most scenic.

I really like the Empire Builder and I think I’ve probably ridden the Coast Starlight more than any other train . . . of course, that was before that cretin removed those wonderful parlor cars from the train. But I invariably end up awarding the “Most Scenic” title to the westbound California Zephyr. 

And that raises an interesting point. Most people are surprised to hear that a train can be more scenic heading in one direction than it is going the other way. In fact, the Zephyr is a perfect example. 

Train 5 (the westbound Zephyr) departs Chicago at 2:00 in the afternoon, and gets to Denver around 7:00 the next morning. After about an hour to refuel the locomotives and wash the windows, you’re off again. 

Departing the mile-high city of Denver, the Zephyr begins its ascent into the Rockies, climbing through several great long “switchback” loops to gain some 4,000 feet in elevation, finally passing through the six-mile long Moffatt tunnel at 9,239 feet above sea level. From there, the Zephyr follows the Colorado River for some 200 miles through a series of spectacular canyons to the town of Grand Junction.

But if you’re on the eastbound Zephyr and if you’re running at all late, or if it’s the late Fall or Winter, it will be dark when you get to Winter Park and the Moffatt tunnel and begin the descent into Denver. 

So, yes, I do think the California Zephyr is Amtrak’s most scenic train, but if you have a choice, pick the westbound train.