Two Amtrak routes stop at the beautiful Kansas City Union Station, the regional Missouri River Runner and the long-distance Southwest Chief route. You can take a day trip or overnight trip on one of these trains to explore small towns, big cities and even a popular national park. To start planning your trip, here are the best Amtrak trips from Kansas City that don’t require a train transfer or middle-of-the-night travel.
Jefferson City, Missouri is an easy Amtrak day trip from Kansas City. Trip time is about three hours, with arrival before noon and a return train in the early evening. The city is in a beautiful location on the Missouri River near bike trails, and there is a charming downtown area and bike rentals in walking distance of the train station.
Top attractions include the former Missouri State Penitentiary, Missouri State Capital (tours available), Missouri State Museum and the Jefferson Landing Historic Site. Complete your visit with a meal at one of the top restaurants and consider checking out the Salute to America festival in July and Oktoberfest in September.
Step off the train in Hermann, Missouri to experience old-world Europe. Settled by German immigrants, the town is about four hours away from Kansas City. Visit the Deutschheim State Historic Site, Historic Hermann Museum and Hermann Farm Museum to learn about the area or explore the local wineries and tasting rooms. For more things to do, consider planning your trip around a special event such as Oktoberfest, Wine & Jazz Festival and the seasonal German Christmas market.
Inns and hotels are in walking distance of the Amtrak station, and Uber, Lyft, a trolley and other transportation services are available. If you don’t want to stay overnight, Hermann can technically be a quick day trip. You will have about five hours in the city before the return train assuming no delays.
About 5.5 hours away from Kansas City on the Missouri River Runner, St. Louis has big city amenities and unique landmarks. The Gateway Arch is the famous attraction, but there’s more to the city than that. Other things to check out include the City Museum, Missouri Botanical Garden, craft beer scene and the massive Forest Park, which is 1,300 acres and contains lakes, nature areas, museums and the St. Louis Zoo. For extra fun, you can plan your trip around a St. Louis Cardinal game, Taste of St. Louis, Fair Saint Louis and other major events.
Head to Chicago for museums, beaches, festivals, live music, shopping and more. The trip from Kansas City takes about 7.5 hours via the Southwest Chief. You’ll arrive in the afternoon at the historic Chicago Union Station and have the option to return to Kansas City the following day. Considering all the great restaurants, nightlife and attractions, you may want to stay two nights or more.
Many hotels are in the West Loop and the Loop near the Amtrak station, and slightly further away is River North and Streeterville, neighborhoods that have hotels near the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier. In terms of transportation, there is a seasonal water taxi that stops near Union Station as well as Uber, Lyft, Divvy Bikes and CTA trains.
Las Vegas (New Mexico)
To experience the Wild West, hop on the train in Kansas City and travel 14.5 hours to reach Las Vegas, New Mexico. The city has over 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and hasn’t changed much since Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Jesse James and other outlaws walked the streets. Be sure to check out the Plaza Hotel that opened in 1882 — Theodore Roosevelt visited here in 1899 as part of a Rough Riders reunion.
The Castaneda Hotel, which was formerly a Harvey House for railroad passengers, is next to the Amtrak station if you are looking for historic (and convenient) place to stay. Other hotels, restaurants and shops are also in walking distance. Plan to stay in Las Vegas at least one night.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is a destination full of outdoor and cultural activities. Top attractions include Old Town, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, National Museum of Nuclear Science and the Petroglyph National Monument. There’s also a zoo, botanic garden and a Breaking Bad tour to check out.
Consider planning your trip around the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is a top event in the fall. The train takes about 18 hours from Kansas City, but thanks to the nearby airport, you can fly back to Kansas City if you’d rather not take the train back.
Flagstaff is a walkable city on Route 66 that is full of art galleries and restaurants. The first Dark Sky City in the United States, Flagstaff is also an amazing place for stargazing. Plus, the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Walnut Canyon National Monument and the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort are nearby for outdoor recreation and sightseeing.
You can rent a car in town (Budget is closest to the Amtrak station and provides pick-up service), but due to the evening arrival in Flagstaff, you may need to wait until the following morning to get your car. There are also many Flagstaff tours that provide transportation to major attractions, and rideshare services are options for getting around town.
Unless you want to travel in the middle of the night, we recommend getting on the westbound train to California after your stay in Flagstaff. In California you can fly back to Kansas City from several airports, or return via the Southwest Chief after a brief daytime stay in Riverside, Fullerton or Los Angeles. You’ll arrive in these cities in the morning and the eastbound train departs early evening.
For a long-distance train vacation, travel to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief. You’ll travel through mountains and deserts on this 35-hour trip and arrive at the historic Los Angeles Union Station in the morning. There’s plenty to see and do in the city, including the Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, Universal Studios, Hollywood Sign and the Santa Monica Pier.
Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are popular areas for lodging. However, you can technically explore the city for a few hours and get back on the train same day for the trip home. There are also many flights at nearby airports, or consider continuing your train trip with a transfer to the Pacific Surfliner (service to San Diego) or the Coast Starlight.