Amtrak to National Parks: 10 easiest rail vacations

National parks are popular destinations whether you’re planning to drive, fly or take an Amtrak train to visit the natural wonders in the United States. If you’re planning a rail vacation, keep in mind that many Amtrak vacation packages can be misleading, as not many national parks are actually near stations. Some trips require a bus ride as long as five hours after getting off the train!

If you don’t want to drive or be on a bus for hours, check out this list of national parks that are closest to Amtrak stations. Parks are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Biscayne National Park

Drive Time: 50 minutes
Station: Miami
Route: Silver Star, Silver Meteor

Biscayne National Park reef
Photo courtesy National Park Service

Biscayne is an island national park with coral reefs and mangrove forest near Miami and the Silver Meteor and Silver Star Amtrak routes. Drive time is less than hour from the city, at which point you’ll board a boat to get to the park. Guided eco-tours are available, including boat rides, snorkeling and scuba diving tours to see shipwrecks.

2. Crater Lake National Park

Drive Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Station: Klamath Falls
Route: Coast Starlight

Crater Lake National Park
Photo by Jeff Hollet/Wikimedia Commons

Exit the Coast Starlight train at Klamath Falls if you want to visit Crater Lake National Park. Before the pandemic, the Crater Lake Trolley departed from the Amtrak station and provided a two-hour sightseeing tour. Check to see if the trolley is operating when planning your trip.

Otherwise, Enterprise is a 20-minute walk from the Amtrak station and they also have a free pickup service. Drive time to the national park is about 45 minutes. Consider staying at one of the lodges, cabins and campgrounds nearby. Note that southbound trains arrive at night, so you may not be able to get a rental car until the following day.

3. Cuyahoga Valley

Drive Time: 27 minutes
Station: Cleveland
Route: Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited

Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Photo by akrontrekker/Flickr.com

A short drive from the Cleveland Amtrak Station, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has waterfalls, a scenic train ride, hiking trails and other outdoor activities. There are a couple lodging options in the park or plan to camp. Many hotels are also next to the park. The only downside is that trains arrive in Cleveland in the middle of the night or very early in the morning.

4. Everglades National Park

Drive Time: 1 hour
Station: Miami
Route: Silver Star, Silver Meteor

Everglades National Park
Photo by Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular natural attractions in the United States, the Everglades can be reached by rental car or tour from Miami. At Everglades National Park you can hike, bike, camp, kayak and fish. Note that some areas of the park may close due to flooding and it’s best to visit December through April before the temperatures rise.

5. Glacier National Park

Drive Time: 15-30 minutes
Station: East Glacier Park, Essex, West Glacier, Whitefish
Route: Empire Builder

Glacier National Park
Photo by David Broad/Wikimedia Commons

The closest national park to Amtrak is Glacier National Park in Montana. Empire Builder trains depart from Chicago, Portland, Seattle (and many places in between) and stop four different stations that all have lodging options. Travel to Whitefish for rental cars and a wider variety of accommodations. Bus tours also depart from the Glacier Park Lodge, Izaak Walton Inn and Whitefish, making this national park trip even easier.

6. Indiana Dunes National Park

Drive Time: 16 minutes
Station: Michigan City
Route: Wolverine

Indiana Dunes National Park
Photo by National Park Service, M. Woodbridge Williams

Indiana Dunes National Park is on Lake Michigan and a short drive from the Michigan City Amtrak Station. You can rent a car after getting off the train (Enterprise can pick you up from the station if you arrange for a ride in advance) or use rideshare services to reach the lake and the dunes. Choose from a variety of hotels and vacation rentals on or near the lake — it’s an easy trip idea, especially if you want to avoid big city crowds and enjoy water scenery.

7. Joshua Tree National Park

Drive Time: 50 minutes
Station: Palm Springs
Route: Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited

Joshua Tree National Park
Photo by NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

In California, Joshua Tree is less than an hour drive away from Palm Springs. The park is best for a day trip unless you bring camping gear and food for an overnight stay. Many hotels are in Palm Springs for a more luxurious stay. When planning your Amtrak trip, you can travel to Palm Springs on the Texas Eagle or Sunset Limited, which travel through the Southwest, Texas and Midwest.

8. Kings Canyon National Park

Drive Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Station: Fresno
Route: San Joaquins

Kings Canyon National Park
Photo courtesy Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Downtown Fresno has many amenities including an Amtrak station, hotels, restaurants, Budget Rent a Car and proximity to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Forest. Multiple national park lodges are in the park in case you want to soak in the natural beauty and have easy access to skiing and snowshoeing in winter and hiking in the summer.

To reach Fresno on Amtrak, book tickets on the San Joaquins train, which stops in California cities including Sacramento, Emeryville, Oakland and Bakersfield.

9. Rocky Mountain National Park

Drive Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Station: Denver
Route: California Zephyr

Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Scott McLeod/Flickr.com

Explore a variety of plants, animals and landscapes at the Rocky Mountain National Park. The California Zephyr train technically goes through the park, but you’ll need to exit the train in Denver in order to rent a car. The Denver Amtrak Station is conveniently next to hotels and SIXT rental cars. The other option is to book a tour from Denver and let someone else do the driving.

Camping is the only lodging option in the Rocky Mountain National Park, so plan to camp or take a day trip. If you are traveling in winter, be sure to check the road conditions before heading into the mountains.

10. Shenandoah National Park

Drive Time: 50 minutes
Station: Charlottesville
Route: Cardinal, Crescent, Northeast Regional

Image by radford wine from Pixabay

Take Amtrak to Charlottesville in order to visit Shenandoah National Park. It’s an easy drive with plenty of restaurants and hotels near the Amtrak station if you need a place to stay at the start or end of your trip. You can also camp or book accommodations at lodges or cabins inside the park.

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