Best Amtrak trips from Denver

Golden Gate Bridge from Battery East

In the middle of the United States, Denver offers a variety of train trip options to the mountains, Midwest plains and the West Coast. The California Zephyr provides daily service from the city and if you travel west (highly recommended) you’ll have amazing views as you travel through the Rocky Mountains. To start planning your rail adventure, here are the best Amtrak trips from Denver that have good train arrival and departure times.

Note: Amtrak sometimes makes changes to rail schedules. Visit Amtrak.com to view current information.

Fraser/Winter Park

Winter Park Ski Resort
Photo by Robert Meszaros

It’s a short two-hour train ride from Denver to reach Fraser/Winter Park in the Colorado Rockies. There are year-round outdoor activities and a free shuttle at the Amtrak station will take you to downtown Winter Park, the Winter Park Resort and Granby. In the summer, mountain biking and hiking are popular — skiing and snowboarding are the things to do in the winter. There are also year-round events and a large number of breweries to check out.

You can technically make this a day trip as long as trains are running on time. You’ll arrive mid-morning and the return train Denver departs late afternoon.

Glenwood Springs

Pool in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Photo by Steven Martin

The Amtrak trip from Denver to Glenwood Springs takes over six hours, and is a great option if you want travel further into the Rocky Mountains. You’ll need to stay in Glenwood Springs at least one night, which gives you time to soak in the hot springs or check out the theme parktrailssnow sports, rafting and tubing. As a bonus, the Amtrak station is in walking distance of hotels, restaurants and the year-round Glenwood Hot Springs pool (pictured above).

Grand Junction

Winery in Grand Junction, Colorado
Photo by Marko Forsten

A great adult getaway, Grand Junction has beautiful scenery, wineries, unique shops and art galleries. The Colorado National Monument is the top nearby attraction — a rental car is best for driving through the area and reaching hiking trails. You can walk eight minutes from the train station to Enterprise or arrange for a pick-up (requires a rental reservation).

The Amtrak station is in a walkable area, so you don’t have to rent a car to explore downtown. Main Street is about three blocks away, and in the opposite direction you can walk to the Colorado River. Travel time from Denver is about eight hours, and you’ll need to stay in Grand Junction at least one night.

Chicago

Chicago River Skyline
Photo by Picken/Flickr.com

Chicago is the last stop on the California Zephyr route if you are traveling eastbound. It’s an overnight 18.5 hour trip with plenty of sightseeing opportunities once you arrive. World-class museumsbeachesNavy PierWrigley Field and Willis Tower are some of the popular attractions to visit. Music-lovers should also check out one of the many live music venues, and don’t miss the pizza, steak and shopping along the Magnificent Mile.

Lyft and Uber are easy ways to get around, and in the warmer months, there is a water taxi near the Amtrak station that will take you to the Riverwalk, Magnificent Mile and Chinatown. CTA city trains are also options for commuting.

Reno

Reno, Nevada sign
Photo by Ken Lund

“The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is about 25.5 hours away from Denver on Amtrak. You’ll spend a night on the train then have the option to gamble at casinos, visit museums (including the National Automobile Museum), and check out the riverwalk, a wildlife sanctuary and a ski resort.

It’s easy to get around once you arrive. The area around the Reno Amtrak Station is very walkable, plus you can get rides from Uber and Lyft or rent a car at the nearby Enterprise. Assuming the trains are on time, you’ll reach Reno in the morning and can return same day in the afternoon, but an overnight stay is recommended.

Truckee

Donner Lake kayakers
Photo by Kent Kanouse

Truckee is a small mountain town near Lake Tahoe, Donner Memorial State Park (pictured above) and the Northstar California Resort. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy year-round, and history buffs should stop by the Donner Memorial State Park’s visitor center to view exhibits on the Donner Party and Sierra Nevada railroad construction.

Trip time from Denver is 27 hours, and Lyft and Uber are transportation options. The ride to the state park is only 10 minutes from the Amtrak station, the Northstar California Resort is less than 20 minutes away, and the north side of Lake Tahoe is over 30 minutes away, with Tahoe Vista and Kings Beach the closest places to stay near the water. You can also rent a car at the Truckee Tahoe Airport, but you’ll need to get a ride from a taxi, Uber or Lyft to get there.

Sacramento

California State Capitol, Sacramento
Photo by Steven Pavlov

The capital of California, Sacramento is the home of the California State FairCalifornia Automobile Museum and the California State Railroad Museum, which features excursion train rides and a custom 1948 private rail car. There’s more history and fun to explore in the Old Sacramento Waterfront historic district. There are restaurants, nightclubs, bars, boat rides and locally-owned shops, not to mention a Ferris wheel and a carousel.

Another unique thing to do is visit one of the many farmers markets. Sacramento is near large agricultural areas that produce crops for the entire country. Kids and animal-lovers will also enjoy the Sacramento Zoo.

Davis

Davis, California is about 32 hours away from Denver via train, and is a charming city with a small-town atmosphere. The Amtrak station is next to the downtown area, and you can easily walk to restaurants, shops and hotels (Hilton Garden Inn is closest). With the University of California Davis nearby, there are campus events and amenities to check out including the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the year-round farmers market in Central Park is a must-do, and a trip to Great Bear Vineyards is recommended for wine lovers.

San Francisco

San Francisco skyline
Photo courtesy Pixabay

Emeryville is the end-of-the-line for the California Zephyr, and Amtrak provides bus service from there to San Francisco if you book your ticket with San Francisco as the final destination. Or choose Emeryville as your final stop and take a Lyft or Uber to the city. Top attractions include Alcatraz IslandGolden Gate BridgePier 39 and the Twin Peaks Lookout.

It’s 33 hours from Denver to Emeryville on Amtrak, and you will need to stay at least one night in California before getting back on a train. Emeryville also has connections to the Coast Starlight train (Los Angeles to Seattle route), San Joaquins train (closest route to Kings Canyon National Park) and the Capitol Corridor train.

More Information

Top photo credit: Frank Schulenburg