Southwest Chief vs California Zephyr

Southwest Chief in Laguna, New Mexico

The Southwest Chief and California Zephyr are two of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Both travel between Chicago and California, but the scenery is very different. The Southwest Chief has more desert landscapes and the California Zephyr has more mountain views.

Additionally, the Southwest Chief is a shorter route and starts/ends in Los Angeles while the California Zephyr travels in Northern California. Ski lovers should also consider riding the California Zephyr as it stops near several ski resorts.

If you’re trying to decide which route is better for you, here are other things to consider:

California ZephyrSouthwest Chief
Route Length2,438 miles2,265 miles
Travel Time50+ hours43 hours
Train TypeSuperlinerSuperliner
Dining OptionsCafé for coach passengers, traditional dining car for sleeper car passengersCafé for coach passengers, traditional dining car for sleeper car passengers
States on the RouteIllinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, CaliforniaIllinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California
End-of-the Line StationsChicago and EmeryvilleChicago and Los Angeles
Popular StopsChicago, Omaha, Denver, Winter Park, Salt Lake City, Reno, Sacramento, EmeryvilleChicago, Kansas City, Dodge City, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Los Angeles
LandscapesMidwest farms, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Colorado River, Ruby Canyon, Sierra NevadaMidwest farms, Great Plains, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Apache Canyon, Southwest deserts
Best SceneryColorado Rocky Mountains, Sierra NevadaNew Mexico desert (pictured above)
National ParksRocky Mountain National Park (via Denver)Grand Canyon (via Flagstaff)

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Top photo credit: Jerry Huddleston