Even though Michigan has three Amtrak routes (Blue Water, Pere Marquette and Wolverine), they all travel to Chicago as the final destination, so there isn’t a lot of diversity in the places you can visit. Good news is that you can transfer in Chicago to Amtrak trains that will take you across the country. Plus, you can drive to Indiana and connect with two long-distance Amtrak trains there.
To start planning your next rail vacation, here are the best Amtrak trips from Michigan with relatively short travel times, good departure/arrival times and easy or no train transfers.
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You can travel directly to Chicago in two to six hours from Amtrak stations in Michigan, making this train tip the easiest one on the list. There are many festivals and events to check out along with top attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, 360 Chicago Observation Deck, Millennium Park, Field Museum, Chicago Riverwalk, Navy Pier, Lakefront Trail, Magnificent Mile, and Wrigley Field.
It’s best to stay in Chicago at least one night, though you can make Chicago a short day trip via all Michigan trains.
As a bonus, the first Wolverine train along with the Blue Water and Pere Marquette trains arrive in Chicago with enough time to transfer to other Amtrak routes, including the long-distance (and popular) Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and California Zephyr. See the list of best Amtrak trips from Chicago to see all your travel options.
Milwaukee is only 1.5 hours away from Chicago, so it is a quick trip and easy train transfer since there are multiple trains to choose from each day. There are several museums to explore, including the Harley-Davidson Museum that is in walking distance of the Amtrak station (otherwise, Lyft and Uber are good ways to get around). You can also go to a baseball game or choose from several brewery tours. Don’t miss Oktoberfest if you like beer and/or German culture!
A great family destination, the Wisconsin Dells is 3.5 hours away from Chicago via the Empire Builder train. There are many water parks, theme parks, wildlife parks and outdoor activities to explore during the summer — and the Dells are even a great winter destination due to the indoor water parks. You’ll arrive around dinnertime and you’ll want to stay two nights in order to have a full day to visit the local attractions.
Note that the Empire Builder departs in the afternoon, so you’ll need to be at Chicago’s Union Station by 1:30 p.m. to make the connection. Choose Wisconsin Dells when booking your trip to view all your connection options.
St. Louis is full of fun things to do and is five hours away from Chicago via train. 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.
There are multiple trains that travel to and from St. Louis each day so there are many options for length of stay. We recommend staying in St. Louis at least one night.
Eat barbecue, visit a museum, go to a baseball game and check out the historic jazz district in Kansas City. Travel time is about seven hours from Chicago with a night arrival via the Southwest Chief. Trains return to Chicago in the morning, so you’ll want to stay two nights in order to see the city.
Trains arrive next to a streetcar stop and near the River Market neighborhood, which is a vibrant and historic area with many great restaurants and shops. There are multiple hotels within a 10-minute walk of the station if you’re looking for a convenient place to stay, including Sheraton Crown Center, Hotel Indigo Crossroads and Home2 Suites.
If you are willing to drive (overnight parking available) or get a ride to the South Bend Amtrak Station, you can hop on the Lake Shore Limited train for a trip to Niagara Falls. Book your ticket to Buffalo Depew Station in New York, which is 9 hours away. After a night on the train, you’ll arrive in Buffalo in the morning. Rent a car (pick-up service available) or use Lyft or Uber to reach Niagara. You can easily spend a day at the falls and explore nearby attractions like the Aquarium of Niagara and Goat Island (where you can see Horseshoe Falls) and get back on the train that night for the return home.
Tip: With a passport, you can walk or rent a bike and cross the Rainbow Bridge to visit Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, Casino Niagara and Bird Kingdom in Canada.
At the South Bend Amtrak Station, you can also board a Capitol Limited train to travel into the Alleghany Mountains. Cumberland, Maryland is a charming mountain getaway that is 12 hours away. You can hike or bike on the Great Allegheny Passage, C&O Canal Towpath, and in Rocky Gap State Park. History fans will enjoy the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Allegheny Museum and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. For golf, spa and casino, consider staying at the Rocky Gap Casino Resort.
An Enterprise Rent-A-Car office is nearby, so call ahead and see if they can pick you up from the train station before booking a rental car. The train arrives in the morning and you have the option to return same day in the early evening. There are also several hotels near the Amtrak station, including a Ramada that is across the tracks from the station, if you want to stay overnight.
The Capitol Limited train that stops in South Bend, Indiana also travels to Washington D.C. There are many free museums, stately monuments, year-round events and a huge restaurant scene to check out. Many tours are also available to help you see the many sights. Travel time from South Bend is 16 hours and you’ll arrive at Union Station in the afternoon. At the station you can transfer to the WMATA subway red line or get a taxi, Uber or Lyft ride to your final destination.
Top photo credit: Artur Staszewski