The Empire Builder and the California Zephyr are two of Amtrak’s most popular routes. Both travel in the western half of the United States through the Rocky Mountains. The main difference is that the Empire Builder offers additional views of forests and rivers in the Pacific Northwest while the California Zephyr has more mountain views as it travels through the Colorado Rockies and Sierra Nevada.
Another major difference is how seasons impact views along the routes. A trip on the Empire Builder is best in the summer as early winter sunsets limit views of the scenery. However, Colorado Rocky Mountain views from the California Zephyr trains are minimally impacted by fall and winter daylight changes, making this route great to ride all year long.
For more differences and similarities between these two Amtrak routes, see the information below.
|California Zephyr||Empire Builder|
|Route Length||2,438 miles||2,200+ miles|
|Travel Time||50+ hours||45 hours|
|Type of Train||Superliner||Superliner|
|Dining Options||Café for coach passengers, traditional dining car for sleeper car passengers||Café for coach passengers, traditional dining car for sleeper car passengers|
|States on the Route||Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California||Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon|
|End-of-the Line Stations||Chicago and Emeryville||Chicago, Portland, Seattle|
|Popular Stops||Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Winter Park, Salt Lake City, Reno, Sacramento, Emeryville||Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul-Minneapolis, East Glacier Park, Whitefish, Portland, Seattle|
|Landscapes||Midwest farms, Great Plains, Colorado Rocky Mountains, Colorado River, Ruby Canyon, Sierra Nevada||Midwest farms, Great Plains, Montana Rocky Mountains, Columbia River Gorge, Puget Sound|
|Best Scenery||Colorado Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada||Montana Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest|
|National Parks||Rocky Mountain National Park (via Denver)||Glacier National Park|
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Top photo credit: Loco Steve/Flickr.com