10 best Midwest Amtrak trips

Boats on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis

There’s more than farm fields in the Midwest. There are lakes, rivers, breweries, museums and more to explore, and Amtrak can take you there. See the list below for 10 of the best Amtrak trips in the Midwest. Note that some destinations (and all destinations in Ohio) did not make this list because of the train schedules (middle-of-the-night travel).

Editor’s Note: Amtrak Guide is reader supported and we may make a small commission if you purchase a product via one of the links below. For train schedules, visit Amtrak.com.

Lake Michigan

St Joseph Michigan Beach
Photo by Moon Man Mike/Flickr.com

Lake Michigan is a beautiful place to visit and an easy train trip from Chicago. There are currently two cities where Amtrak trains stop near the water:

On Lake Michigan and the Galien River, New Buffalo is a small-town beach getaway featuring a lighthouse, marina with boat rentals, casino and a railroad museum. You’ll arrive in walking distance of downtown and a few hotels, including The Harbor Grand Hotel, Lake Country Inn, and New Buffalo Inn and Spa.

St. Joseph is very family-friendly and has beautiful beaches, parks, piers and a lighthouse. The city is livelier than New Buffalo, and area attractions include the Sarett Nature Center, Silver Beach Carousel and wineries. Trains stop in walking distance of the lake and downtown. The Boulevard Inn & Bistro and Silver Beach Funhouse are two places to stay near the Amtrak station. We recommend searching VRBO and Airbnb for more options.

Wisconsin Dells

Dells of the Wisconsin River from High Rock
Photo by Joshua Mayer

A great family destination on the Wisconsin River, the Wisconsin Dells can be reached via Empire Builder trains that travel between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Sandstone in the area was carved by glaciers (pictures above), which provides stunning scenery for boat tours and water sports. There are also many water parks and amusement parks, wildlife parks and events to check out.

Trains stop next to the walkable downtown area that has restaurants, shops and many affordable motels. A few hotels also have water parks on site, which is great for kids. Lyft, Uber and taxis are the easiest ways to get around if you need a ride.

Milwaukee

Full of breweries, lakefront parks and events, Milwaukee is a fun Midwest destination. You can easily plan a train trip around one of the many festivals, including Summerfest, German Fest, Irish Fest and the Mexican Fiesta. There are also brewery tours and museums, including the Harley-Davidson Museum that is in walking distance of the Amtrak station, or attend one of the many professional football, basketball, baseball, hockey or soccer games.

Hiawatha and Empire Builder trains stop in Milwaukee, with multiple trains traveling to and from Chicago each day. Use Lyft or Uber to get around or walk to Budget or Enterprise from the Amtrak station to pick up a car rental. Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Courtyard by Marriott and DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Milwaukee are the hotels closest to the station, and the nearby Historic Third Ward and East Town neighborhoods are popular places to stay.

Springfield

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
Photo by Randy von Liski

Springfield, Illinois is an amazing place to visit if you love history. You’ll find the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and MuseumLincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln Tomb and the Illinois State Museum here. Route 66, including some of the original segments and the Cozy Dog Drive In, is also nearby along with a Frank Lloyd Wright house.

Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains stop in Springfield and in major cities including Chicago, St. Louis, San Antonio and Dallas. The State House InnWyndham Springfield Center and DoubleTree Hotel are closest to the Amtrak station and near tourist areas if you’re looking for a convenient place to stay.

Holland

If you want to experience a European getaway without leaving the United States, travel to Holland, Michigan on the Pere Marquette route. Settled by the Dutch in 1847, the city has a windmill surrounded by gardens, a Dutch village amusement park, a charming downtown with many restaurants, shops and breweries, and over 200,000 tulips that you can view during the Tulip Time Festival in May.

On Lake Macatawa and near Lake Michigan, Holland also has parks (including the popular Holland State Park) and beaches with beautiful water views.

Chicago is the major city with a connection to the Pere Marquette route, and travel time is three hours to Holland. Trains arrive at night on the edge of downtown and return to Chicago early in the morning, so plan to stay at least two nights. Courtyard by Marriot Holland Downtown is the closest hotel to the station — walking time is less than 10 minutes.

Kansas City

Union Station in Kansas City
Photo by Ron Reiring/Flickr.com

For barbecue, distilleries, museums, a historic jazz district and more than 200 water fountains, book a train trip to Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a laid-back urban getaway with the option to experience the arts, sports and trendy venues without big-city crowds. Consider visiting in the summer and fall for the best weather and the most events.

Southwest Chief and Missouri River Runner trains stop at Kansas City’s beautiful Union Station, which has restaurants, a planetarium and a movie theater. Outside of the station is a streetcar stop and the River Market neighborhood, which is a vibrant and historic area with many great restaurants and shops. You can also walk less than 10 minute to several hotels, including Sheraton Crown CenterHotel Indigo Crossroads and Home2 Suites.

Indianapolis

Intiaz Rahim
Photo by Intiaz Rahim

Indianapolis is famous for car racing and the Indianapolis 500 that takes place in May, but there is more to the city than that. You’ll find the the largest children’s museum in the world here along with other great museums, a canal walk, the oldest bar in Indiana (which has live blues music), a Super Bowl stadium, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, and unique shops, galleries, theaters and restaurants along Massachusetts Avenue.

Uber, Lyft and bikeshare are ways to get around, but if you want to explore more of the largest Midwest city (by land area), you may want to rent a car. In terms of accommodations, there is a hotel inside the train station (Crowne Plaza) that has rail cars you can sleep in along with standard rooms. See the list of the best downtown Indianapolis hotels for more places to stay.

Note that Indianapolis does not have daily train service. Trains on Amtrak’s Cardinal route stop in the city three times each week.

St. Louis

Busch Stadium in St. Louis
Photo by Alex Lewis

 The home of the Gateway Arch, St. Louis has a variety of things to see and do. Top attractions include City MuseumMissouri Botanical Gardencraft beer scene, blues music and 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 or festival such as Taste of St. Louis and Fair Saint Louis.

Lincoln Service, Missouri River Runner and Texas Eagle trains stop in St. Louis, so you have several ways to get to the city. Lyft and Uber are easy ways to get around and there’s also MetroLink light rail. For more mobility, you can rent a car at Enterprise (pick-up service available).

If you’re looking for easy accommodations, the OYO Hotel is next to the Amtrak station or you can walk less than 15 minutes to the Drury Inn or the stunning St. Louis Union Station Hotel, which is inside the old passenger train station.

Minneapolis-St. Paul

Travel to the Twin Cities on the Empire Builder for a getaway that’s twice as fun. Minneapolis and St. Paul are full of cultural attractions, sports venues and outdoor attractions — including many lakes (Lake Calhoun pictured top of page), an incredibly scenic bike trail along the Mississippi River, and a beautiful urban park with a waterfall.

If you don’t like cold weather, plan to visit between May and September, although the Saint Paul Winter Carnival is a historic event worth checking out along with the heated skyway and winter sports in Minneapolis. The many breweries and Mall of America are also great ways to pass the time indoors.

Trains stop in downtown St. Paul near museums, parks and the historic Summit Avenue. Hyatt Place is conveniently next to the Amtrak station and several other hotels are nearby. Downtown Minneapolis is only a 15-minute drive away and you’ll want to consider booking lodging there if you want to be close to nightlife (including First Avenue, where Prince performed in the 1980s), the football stadium and Minnesota Twins baseball stadium. A Hertz rental car office is inside the Amtrak station if you want to rent a car, or use Lyft or Uber to get around.

Chicago

Chicago Cloud Gate
Photo courtesy Pixabay

For great food, live music, museums and lake time, head to Chicago. Sixteen Amtrak routes stop at Union Station, making it an easy rail destination. You’ll find great West Loop restaurants and a few hotels near the station, or you can walk to downtown Chicago, several CTA train stations and a water taxi stop after you arrive. With Lyft and Uber providing additional transportation options, you don’t need a rental car.

Consider planning your trip around one of the many festivals and events and make time to visit some of the top attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago360 Chicago Observation DeckMillennium ParkField MuseumChicago RiverwalkNavy PierLakefront TrailMagnificent Mile, and Wrigley Field.

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