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

Southwest Chief route in Colorado

To travel across the United States by rail, you’ll have to ride more than one Amtrak train. The shortest trip time without any delays is approximately 61 hours (between two and three days) , plus a four hour layover. You can also choose from multiple start and end cities based on your preferences, which are listed below with only one train change required. Additional options can be found on the Amtrak.com website when booking tickets, which will have all current schedules (the below times may be subject to change).

Note that we selected Chicago as the transfer point to calculate trip times. You can also change trains in New Orleans, but that trip option requires on overnight stay in New Orleans due to train arrival and departure times.

Washington D.C. – Los Angeles

Train Time
61 hours

Layover Time
6 hours (westbound) and 4 hours (eastbound)

The fastest cross-country trip is from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. on the Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited routes. The Mojave Desert and Allegheny Mountains are two major landmarks, and the start and end Amtrak stations are historic and beautiful.

Major stops on this trip:

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

New York City – Los Angeles

Train Time
62 hours

Layover Time
5 hours (westbound) and 6.5 hours (eastbound)

The fastest westbound trip is from New York City to Los Angeles. You’ll be riding the Lake Shore Limited and Southwest Chief routes. Choose this cross-country route if you prefer desert and lake scenery over traveling through the Rocky Mountains, and wish to start and end in New York and L.A.

Major cities on this trip:

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

Washington D.C. – Portland

Train Time
62.5 hours

Layover Time
5.5 hours (westbound) and 3 hours (eastbound)

Take a ride on the Capitol Limited and Empire Builder for a cross-country train trip between Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon. The Pacific Northwest segment between Spokane and Portland is particularly scenic, and the train stops at Glacier National Park as well.

Cities on this route:

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

Washington D.C. – Seattle

Train Time
64 hours

Layover Time
5.5 hours (westbound) and 3 hours (eastbound)

The rail trip between Washington D.C. and Seattle is also via the Capitol Limited and Empire Builder trains. You’ll have a shorter layover if you start in Seattle, but if you want to explore Chicago (the Amtrak station is near water taxis, city trains and Willis Tower) then you might want the extra time in the Windy City for a meal or to visit Navy Pier, Riverwalk or other attraction.

Cities on this route:

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

New York City – Seattle

Train Time
65 hours

Layover Time
4 hours (westbound) or 5.5 hours (eastbound)

A similar travel time as D.C. to Seattle, the New York City to Seattle option is via the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder routes. Views include Upstate New York, the Midwest, Montana and Mount Rainier.

Major cities on this route:

  • New York City
  • Cleveland
  • Chicago
  • Milwaukee
  • St. Paul-Minneapolis
  • Spokane
  • Seattle

New York City – Portland

Train Time
65 hours

Layover Time
4.5 hours (westbound) or 5.5 hours (eastbound)

The shortest train trip between New York City and Portland is via the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder Amtrak routes. There is beautiful scenery in the Pacific Northwest and near the Erie Canal and Great Lakes.

Major cities on this trip:

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

Washington D.C. – San Francisco

Train Time
69 hours

Layover Time
5 hours (westbound) and 4 hours (eastbound)

If you start your cross-country rail journey in America’s capital or just outside San Francisco, you’ll ride on the Capitol Limited and California Zephyr routes. There are amazing views as you travel through the Rocky Mountains and you’ll also go through the Allegheny Mountains east of the Mississippi River.

Major cities on this trip:

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

New York City – San Francisco

Train Time
72 hours (3 days)

Layover Time
4 hours (westbound) and 6.5 hours (eastbound)

Combine a trip on the Lake Shore Limited with the California Zephyr if you prefer to travel between New York City and San Francisco and have views of the Rocky Mountains.

Major cities on this trip:

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

More Information

Seattle Amtrak Station Guide
New York Penn Station Guide
Washington DC Station Guide
Los Angeles Station Guide
7 things to pack for an Amtrak trip
5 things to know when traveling on Amtrak

Posted in FAQ