Which Train? Which Season? Which Direction?

Without doubt, the question I get most frequently is what’s my favorite long-distance train ride? And that’s really hard because the scenery varies dramatically from, for example, the desert you pass through on the Sunset Limited or the Southwest Chief to the magnificent evergreen forests you see from the Empire Builder. 

Some of the scenery is seasonal, too. At any time of the year, it’s hard to beat the ride north from New York City to Montreal on Amtrak’s train 69, the Adirondack. But at the height of the Fall colors? That’s when it’s truly an unforgettable experience!

There’s another factor that doesn’t occur to most people: with some of the long distance trains, one direction can be more scenic than the other.  

For instance, if you take Train 8, the eastbound Empire Builder from Seattle, you’ll pass through the lovely Wenatchee Valley after dark. You’ll have to be awake around 5:00 a.m. on the westbound train to see where 90 percent of our apples come from, but it’s well worth waking up bit early.

And on the westbound California Zephyr you have the spectacular climb up into the Rockies after departing Denver around breakfast time. Unfortunately, for much of the year, that magnificent stretch comes after dark if you’re on the eastbound train.

I have long been a great fan of VIA Rail’s train #1, the Canadian, running between Toronto and Vancouver, and I surprise people by suggesting they consider talking that train in the middle of winter. The scenery is just as spectacular and it’s a much smaller train, meaning  it’s easier to get a seat up in the dome. And the fares are a lot less, too.

There’s a bit of a downside to train travel in the winter months: shorter days mean fewer hours to be enjoying the passing scenery. For me, however, coming back to my cozy roomette after a nice dinner and a glass or two of wine in the dining car, climbing into my berth and listening to Hawaiian music through my earbuds while snowy vistas are passing by outside my window . . . Well, I am one happy camper!