Amtrak’s 15 long-distance train routes and the places they go

Amtrak Southwest Chief in New Mexico

In addition to providing rail service in different regions of the United States, Amtrak also has 15 long-distance routes that travel overnight (sometimes multiple nights) to destinations across the country. These trains have sleeper and lounge cars, which provide additional space on a long journey. Explore the long-distance routes below to learn about the cities, states and landmarks along the way.

Note that Amtrak does not have a train route that travels all the way across the United States. Routes that travel east and west across the country either terminate in Chicago or New Orleans, at which point a transfer to another train is required. As a result, Amtrak’s cross-country trains either travel in the eastern half or the western half of the United States, which is indicated below under region.

Rider Alert: Starting Oct. 1, 2020, all long-distance routes will temporarily operate on a frequency of three day per week due to drop in ridership related to the coronavirus pandemic (source: Reuters).

Auto Train

Region: East Coast

The Auto Train travels non-stop between Virginia (near D.C.) and Florida (near Orlando) with the option to bring a car or other vehicle with you on the train. You must reserve space for a vehicle in order to book tickets on this route and additional fees are involved. Despite that, the Auto Train is a great vacation option if you live in Virginia, and once you arrive in Florida, it is an easy drive to Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Orlando.

California Zephyr

Region: Cross-Country (West)

The California Zephyr is one of the top long-distance Amtrak routes. It travels through the Rocky Mountains on the journey between Northern California and Chicago. States you’ll travel through: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Major landmarks and destinations (besides the Rocky Mountains) include the Mississippi River, Colorado River, ski resorts, canyons and railroad museums.

Capitol Limited

Region: Cross-Country (East)

In the Eastern U.S., the Capitol Limited route connects the Midwest with Washington D.C. via Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Major landmarks and destinations include the National Mall, U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian museums, Allegheny Mountains, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Pittsburgh, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lake Erie and the Chicago Loop.

Cardinal

Region: Cross-Country (East)

The Cardinal route also travels between the Midwest and the East Coast, but near the Ohio River instead of the Great Lakes. Major destinations and landmarks include the New River Gorge, Shanandoah Valley, Allegheny Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, C&O Railroad Heritage Center, The Greenbrier (golf resort with casino), University of Virginia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

City of New Orleans

Region: Midwest/South

City of New Orleans trains travel between New Orleans and Chicago through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Memphis is a major stop along the route, and the Amtrak station is in a walkable area so you don’t even need to rent a car in order to see the sights. Other destinations and landmarks include the National Civil Rights Museum, Blues Hall of Fame, Mississippi Riverwalk, National World War II Museum and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Coast Starlight

Region: West Coast

For a stunning West Coast train trip, book a ticket on the Coast Starlight. The route travels between Los Angeles and Seattle with stations in California, Oregon and Washington. Major destinations and landmarks include the Pacific Ocean, Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, Paso Robles wineries, Santa Clara Valley, San Francisco Bay, “Mothball” World War II Fleet, Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River.

Crescent

Region: Northeast/South

The Crescent is an Amtrak route with a lot of variety. Trains start and end in New York City and New Orleans, and travel through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Major destinations and landmarks include Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., University of Virginia, Charlotte, Clemson University, Atlanta, Birmingham and Lake Pontchartrain.

Empire Builder

Region: Cross-Country (West)

Explore the Midwest, West and Northwest United States via the Empire Builder. Trains start and end in Portland, Seattle and Chicago with stops in Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The western segment of the route is particularly scenic with travel through the Columbia River Gorge. Other major destinations and landmarks include Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, Mississippi River and the Wisconsin Dells.

Lakeshore Limited

Region: Cross-Country (East)

As the name suggests, the Lake Shore Limited travels near the Great Lakes through the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. Major destinations and landmarks on the route include Chicago, Boston, New York City, Cleveland (including the many museums near the station), Lake Erie, Erie Canal, New York wineries, Hudson River Valley and Adirondack Mountains.

Palmetto

Region: East Coast

The Palmetto Amtrak route travels between New York City and Savannah, Georgia via New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Destination highlights include the free Washington D.C. museums, Old Town Alexandria, James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library and many other museums that are in walking distance of Amtrak stations.

Silver Meteor

Region: East Coast

One of several Florida trains, the Silver Meteor travels between New York City and Miami. It uses the same tracks as the Palmetto route (see above), but then continues into Florida. Major landmarks and destinations on this route include Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando, Walt Disney World, West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

Silver Star

Region: East Coast

The Silver Star stops at many of the same stations as the Silver Meteor, but also travels to additional cities including Raleigh (North Carolina), Columbia (South Carolina) and Tampa. Tickets are usually cheaper on this route compared to the Silver Meteor because there isn’t any meal service, just a cafe car.

Southwest Chief

Region: Cross-Country (West)

See America’s Southwest on the Southwest Chief. Chicago and Los Angeles are the cities on each end of the route, with stations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. Major destinations and landmarks include Historic Route 66, Mojave Desert, Grand Canyon (though you’ll need to rent a car or take a shuttle there), Flagstaff art galleries, Santa Fe National Forest, Albuquerque, Kansas City, Missouri River, Mississippi River and multiple railroad museums.

Sunset Limited

Region: Cross-Country (West)

The Sunset Limited Amtrak route also provides a trip through the Southwest, but via Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Trains travel between New Orleans and Los Angeles and also stop in major cities including Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tuscon and Phoenix (shuttle required). Notable landmarks include the National World War II Museum, Houston Aquarium, George Bush Monument, Historic Sunset Station, The Alamo, San Antonio Riverwalk and many museums.

Texas Eagle

Region: Cross-Country (West)

The Texas Eagle is the longest Amtrak route (and oddly presidential), with service between Chicago and Los Angeles. There are many stations in Texas, and trains also stop in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Major destinations and landmarks include the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, St. Louis Gateway Arch, Ozark Mountains, John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, Colorado River, San Antonio Riverwalk, the Alamo, LBJ Museum and several transportation museums.

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