Best Amtrak trips from Houston

San Antonio Riverwalk

Despite being a sprawling car-oriented city, Houston has an Amtrak station and trains that can take you New Orleans, Los Angeles and many other cities in between. The Sunset Limited route travels through the city three days each week, and if you plan carefully around the train schedule, there are several options for short and long rail adventures.

To get started, here is the list of the best Amtrak trips from Houston with good arrival and departure times. Note that you can transfer to other Amtrak routes in New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Antonio to expand your options.

Lake Charles

Sit back and relax on the train ride to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Travel time varies depending on the direction of travel, roughly 3.5 hours from Houston and 4.5 hours on the return trip. A lake of the same name is next to the city, and you can get a closer look at the water from Millennium Park (which also has a great playground), the Creole Nature Trail or with a boat or kayak rental.

However, most people visit the city for the casinos and festivals. It’s an easy adult getaway if you want to gamble, lounge at a resort pool (Golden Nugget and L’Auberge both have lazy rivers) or party at an event.

Here are the top Amtrak trip options:

  • Depart on Friday and return Saturday (one night)
  • Depart on Sunday and return Monday (one night)
  • Depart on Tuesday and return Wednesday (one night)
  • Depart on Friday and return on Monday (three nights)
  • Depart on Sunday and return on Wednesday (three nights)

Don’t be alarmed that the Lake Charles Amtrak Station isn’t in a walkable area — you can easily get around with Lyft and Uber after you arrive.

San Antonio

San Antonio Riverwalk
Photo courtesy Pixabay

If you can handle a midnight arrival and an early morning return to Houston, then a San Antonio train trip might be for you. Travel time is about five hours, and the San Antonio Amtrak Station is conveniently near hotels (Staybridge Suites is a 3-minute walk away), the Alamodome and the River Walk (pictured above).

Spanish missions are the major tourist attraction, including The Alamo. Natural Bridge Caverns, the Japanese Tea Gardens and the San Antonio Botanical Garden are also great outdoor areas to explore, plus there are many other cultural attractions and a Six Flags amusement park.

Trains depart Houston on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday evenings, and you will need to stay in San Antonio at least two nights. Trip options include:

  • Depart on Wednesday and return early Friday morning (two nights)
  • Depart on Saturday and return early Tuesday (three nights)
  • Depart on Monday and return early Friday morning (four nights)
  • Depart on Wednesday and return early Sunday morning (four nights)

Lafayette

Six hours away from Houston on the train, Lafayette, Louisiana is known for its Cajun food, festivals and historic sites, including a 19th-century bayou village. Trains depart Houston on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays around noon and arrive at dinnertime. You can stay one night in the city and have time to sightsee until the midday return train back to Houston on the following day.

Here are the popular trip options:

  • Depart on Friday and return Saturday (one night)
  • Depart on Sunday and return Monday (one night)
  • Depart on Tuesday and return Wednesday (one night)
  • Depart on Friday and return on Monday (three nights)
  • Depart on Sunday and return on Wednesday (three nights)
  • Depart on Tuesday and return on Saturday (four nights)

Once you arrive, you easily walk to restaurants and museums, and Lyft and Uber are available to take you to a hotel or vacation rental.

New Orleans

New Orleans French Quarter
Photo by Pedro Szekely

It’s a 9.5 hour train ride from Houston to New Orleans, with a noon departure from Houston on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays. On all departure days, you’ll have the option to return to Houston the next morning, but that will only give you 12 hours in New Orleans. If you mainly want to experience the Amtrak train trip along with nightlife and breakfast in the Big Easy, then this option might work for you.

Otherwise, here are other trip options based on the train schedule:

  • Depart on Friday and return on Monday morning (three nights)
  • Depart on Sunday and return on Wednesday (three nights)
  • Depart on Tuesday and return on Saturday (four nights)
  • Depart on Friday and return on Wednesday (five nights)
  • Depart on Sunday and return on Saturday (six nights)
  • Depart on Tuesday and return on Monday (six nights)

During your stay in New Orleans, don’t miss the top attractions, including the French Quarter, Garden District and the National World War II Museum. Plus there are several riverboat cruises for a unique experience on the Mississippi River or plan your visit around one of the many festivals.

Tucson

Tuscon Arizona skyline with mountains
Photo courtesy Max Pixel

For Southwest culture, food and desert landscapes, head to Tucson on the Sunset Limited. Travel time is about 25 hours and you’ll spend a night on the train. Roomettes and bedrooms are available if you prefer private sleeping accommodations. The extra cost includes meals and coffee.

Top places to visit include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which has a zoo, gardens and museum exhibits, Saguaro National Park, Mission San Xavier del Bac, Historic Fourth Avenue and the many great restaurants. Check out the event calendar for more activity ideas.

Trains depart Houston on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday evenings and you’ll arrive in Tucson on the next day in the evening. The Tucson Amtrak Station is in a walkable area next to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, and the Historic Hotel Congress is across the street.

Here are some of the most popular travel days (keep in mind that you will spend a night on the train in both directions, and a two-day stay in Tucson equals four total nights of travel):

  • Depart on Monday and return on Thursday morning (two nights in Tucson)
  • Depart on Wednesday and return on Saturday morning (two nights in Tucson)
  • Depart on Saturday and return on Thursday morning (four nights in Tucson)
  • Depart on Monday and return on Saturday morning (four nights in Tucson)
  • Depart on Wednesday and return on Monday morning (four nights in Tucson)
  • Depart on Saturday and return on Thursday morning (four nights in Tucson)

Los Angeles

Hollywood Sign Los Angeles
Photo by Russell Mondy

Los Angeles is the end-of-the-line for the Sunset Limited, and it’s an epic rail trip from Houston. Travel time is over 36 hours and you’ll spend two nights on the train. It’s an early morning arrival in Los Angeles on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but keep in mind that there is a two-hour time difference between Houston and L.A., so the 5:30 a.m. PST arrival will feel more like 7:30 a.m.

The return train to Houston departs at 10 p.m. PST on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. You could technically spend the day in Los Angeles and get back on the train same day on Wednesdays and Fridays, or spend extra time in the city and take the train or a flight home.

Rail options include:

  • Arrive on Wednesday morning, return on Wednesday evening (no overnight stay)
  • Arrive on Friday morning, return on Friday evening (no overnight stay)
  • Arrive on Friday, return on Sunday (two nights in L.A.)
  • Arrive on Monday, return on Wednesday (two nights in L.A.)
  • Arrive on Wednesday, return on Friday (two nights in L.A.)
  • Arrive on Wednesday, return on Sunday (four nights in L.A.)
  • Arrive on Monday, return on Friday (four nights in L.A.)
  • Arrive on Friday, return on Wednesday (five nights in L.A.)

More Information

Top photo credit: Randy von Liski