How long does it take to travel across the U.S. by train?

Southwest Chief route in Colorado

It’s a long trip if you want to travel across the United States by train. It takes between two and three days and multiple trains to travel coast to coast.

If you’re up for the adventure, you can also choose from multiple start and end cities based on your preferences, which are listed below. Additional options and current train schedules can be found via the Find Train feature on the Amtrak.com homepage (the below times may be subject to change).

Note that for the fastest and easiest trip, choose from the following cities:

  • East Coast: New York City, Washington D.C. and Boston
  • West Coast: Los Angeles, Emeryville (near San Francisco), Portland and Seattle

New York City to Los Angeles

Travel Time
62 hours

Layover Time
4.5 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief

Description
This cross-country trip is great if you’d rather travel through the desert instead of traveling through the Rocky Mountains. You’ll go through the Hudson River Valley after departing from New York City then travel near the Great Lakes in route to Chicago. After changing trains in Chicago, you’ll travel through the Midwest and Great Plains to mountains in southern Colorado. The last leg of the trip is through desert in New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Major cities on this trip:

  • New York City
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Kansas City
  • Topeka
  • Albuquerque
  • Flagstaff
  • Los Angeles

Los Angeles to Washington D.C.

Travel Time
64 hours

Layover Time
4 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited

Description
This cross-country trip starts and ends in two beautiful Amtrak stations. You’ll see the Arizona Desert, Colorado mountains, Midwest farmland and Allegheny Mountains. Flagstaff is a stop on the route and the place to exit if you want to see the Grand Canyon. However, the trains that depart from Los Angeles stop in Flagstaff in the middle of the night.

Major cities on this trip:

  • Los Angeles
  • Flagstaff
  • Albuquerque
  • Topeka
  • Kansas City
  • Chicago
  • Pittsburgh
  • Washington D.C.

Portland or Seattle to Washington D.C.

Travel Time
65 hours

Layover Time
2 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Empire Builder and Capitol Limited

Description
The Pacific Northwest segment between Spokane and Portland is particularly scenic as you travel through the Columbia River Gorge. If you depart from Seattle, you’ll see Puget Sound instead. Other scenery highlights include Pacific Northwest forests, Montana Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. After traveling through the Upper Midwest you’ll arrive in Chicago. The layover there is short, so there is the possibility that you will miss the connection to the Capitol Limited train if the Empire Builder is running behind schedule. The last part of the journey is through the Alleghany Mountains and along one of the oldest railroad corridors in the United States.

Major cities on this route:

  • Washington D.C.
  • Pittsburgh
  • Chicago
  • Milwaukee
  • St. Paul-Minneapolis
  • Spokane
  • Portland or Seattle

Boston to Los Angeles

Travel Time
65.5 hours (from Back Bay)

Layover Time
4.5 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief

Major Stops:

  • Albany
  • Buffalo
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Kansas City
  • Topeka
  • Albuquerque
  • Flagstaff
  • Los Angeles

Boston to Seattle or Portland

Travel Time
68.5 hours

Layover Time
5 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder routes

Description
Trains travel near the Great Lakes through New York and Ohio to Chicago. If Chicago arrival is on time, you’ll have a few hours to sightsee before getting on the Empire Builder for a trip through the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, Montana Rocky Mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest. If you choose Seattle as your final destination, you’ll see Puget Sound. If you travel instead to Portland, you’ll travel through the Columbia River Gorge.

Seattle or Portland to New York City

Travel Time
66 hours (Chicago)

Layover Time
Almost 5 hours

Routes
Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited

Description
Empire Builder trains travel through the Pacific Northwest forests on the way to the Montana Rocky Mountains. If you depart from Seattle, you’ll see Puget Sound, or enjoy the scenery in the Columbia River Gorge with a Portland departure. After leaving the mountains, it is a long trip across the Great Plains and Midwest. In Chicago, you’ll transfer trains and travel near the Great Lakes and along the Hudson River to reach New York City.

Major cities on this route:

  • Portland and Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Whitefish
  • St. Paul-Mineeapolis
  • Milwaukee
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Buffulo
  • Albany
  • New York City

New York City to Portland or Seattle

Travel Time
66 hours

Layover Time
Almost 5 hours

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder

Description
After departing from New York City, you’ll travel through the Hudson River Valley to Upstate New York and cities near the Great Lakes. In Chicago, you’ll have some time to sightsee before boarding the Empire Builder. This train travels through the Upper Midwest, Great Plains and through the Montana Rocky Mountains near Glacier National Park. The trip ends in forests of the Pacific Northwest. You’ll see Puget Sound if you travel to Seattle. Or travel to Portland through the Columbia River Gorge.

Major cities on this trip:

  • New York City
  • Albany
  • Buffalo
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Milwaukee
  • St. Paul-Minneapolis
  • Spokane
  • Portland

Washington D.C. to San Francisco

Travel Time
70 hours (plus 30 minutes to reach San Francisco from train station)

Layover Time
5 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Capitol Limited and California Zephyr

Description
You’ll travel through multiple mountain ranges on this trip, including Allegheny Mountains, Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. The scenery is amazing. Other sights include Midwest farmland and Great Plains. Trains terminate in Emeryville, California. If you book San Francisco as your final destination, an Amtrak bus shuttle will take you into the city. Otherwise you can arrange for taxi or rideshare in Emeryville.

Major cities on this trip:

  • Washington D.C.
  • Pittsburgh
  • Chicago
  • Omaha
  • Denver
  • Salt Lake City
  • Reno
  • Sacramento
  • San Francisco (via Emeryville)

Boston to San Francisco

Travel Time
74.5 (plus an additional 30 minutes to reach San Francisco from the train station)

Layover Time
4 hours (Chicago)

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr

Description
Trains depart Boston and travel near the Great Lakes to Chicago. You’ll transfer to the California Zephyr for a journey across the Great Plains then have an amazing trip through the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Emeryville is the final train station. Bus shuttles, rideshare and public transportation are options for continuing on to San Francisco.

New York City to San Francisco

Travel Time
72 hours (3 days, plus 30 minutes to travel from the train station to San Francisco)

Layover Time
Almost 4 hours

Routes
Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr

Major cities on this trip:

  • New York City
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Omaha
  • Denver
  • Salt Lake City
  • Reno
  • Sacramento
  • San Francisco (via Emeryville)

San Francisco to New York City

Travel Time
72 hours (plus 30 minute commute from San Francisco to the train station)

Layover Time
6.5 hours

Routes
California Zephyr and Lake Shore Limited

Description
See the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains on this stunning trip from San Francisco. Trains depart from Emeryville and the scenery is amazing until Denver. You’ll have a long layover in Chicago, so there is time to sightsee before continuing east. The Lake Shore Limited is the fastest route to NYC, but you can also get on a Cardinal train if you want to see the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The Cardinal will add about four more hours of total trip time, but the layover is only three hours in Chicago.

If you book tickets on the Lake Shore Limited, you’ll travel near the Great Lakes in Indiana, Ohio and New York and then head south along the Hudson River to reach New York City.

More Information

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