10 attractions on the Southwest Chief route to plan a trip around

Grand Canyon South Rim

The Southwest Chief is one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes that travels in the western half of the United States. There’s a variety of scenery you can view from the train, including farmlands, mountains and deserts, but to make your trip even more interesting, you can get off the train and check out some amazing sights along the way. Here are 10 attractions you can plan a trip around — note that you will need to book each leg of your trip separately if you get off the train for a night or more.

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Chicago River

Chicago River Skyline
Photo by Picken/Flickr.com

The Chicago River isn’t just any river. It’s been engineered to flow in a different direction than nature intended. Originally the river emptied into Lake Michigan, but this polluted Chicago’s drinking water supply. So in a stunning engineering feat, the river flow was reversed.

There are many boat tours for experiencing the water and Chicago’s stunning buildings, including the popular architecture river cruises. As a bonus, the Amtrak station (Chicago Union Station) is next to the river and you can board a water taxi nearby to reach the many tour providers and city attractions including the Riverwalk and Magnificent Mile.

National World War I Museum

National WWI Museum in Kansas City
Photo by the National WWI Museum

For one of the largest collections of World War I artifacts in the world, plan a trip to Kansas City, Missouri. The National World War I Museum has many exhibits and events, and you can walk there from the Amtrak station in about 10 minutes. The Westin at Crown Center is closest to the station and the museum, and there are other attractions nearby, which makes it easy to sightsee without a car. Be sure to eat some of the city’s famous barbecue while you’re in town.

Sandia Peak Tramway

Sandia Peak Tramway
Photo by Mike McBey

For stunning New Mexico views, head to Albuquerque for a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway. You’ll travel over 10,000 feet up into the Sandia Mountains. At the top is a restaurant and a variety of hiking trails, including trails that will take you down the mountain. You can also ski here in the winter.

The Albuquerque Amtrak Station is in a very walkable are near restaurants, hotels and things to do, but you’ll need to rent a car, get a taxi or rideshare car to reach the tramway, which is about a 20-minute drive away from downtown.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
Image by Lyssa Scott from Pixabay

Kids and adults will enjoy seeing the many hot air balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The event typically takes place over several days in October, and you can view the balloons from the ground or go for a ride. Live music, performers of all kinds, skydiving and drone light shows add to the fun.

Book your hotel room early as this event is popular. Several hotels are a short walk away from the Amtrak station, including Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Hotel Adaluz.

Flagstaff Night Sky

Coconino National Forest night sky near Flagstaff
Photo by Deborah Lee Soltesz

The first Dark Sky City in the United States, Flagstaff is an amazing place for stargazing. Plan to visit the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered), which is a short drive away from downtown Flagstaff. Taxis and rideshare services are available. You can also rent a car in town (Budget is closest to the Amtrak station and provides pick-up service).

Trains arrive in Flagstaff at odd hours, so you may want to consider booking a room at a hotel in walking distance of the Amtrak station, including at the Weatherford Hotel, Rodeway Inn, Hotel Monte Vista and Residence Inn by Marriott.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon South Rim
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

One of the most visited national parks, the Grand Canyon is a stunning natural wonder. Exit the train in Flagstaff and either rent a car, get on a shuttle or book a tour to get there. Drive time is just over 1.5 hours to the South Rim, where you’ll also find the Grand Canyon Village and visitor center. The village has restaurants and places to stay if you want more time to enjoy activities such as hiking and helicopter rides.

Route 66

Arizona Route 66 Sign
Photo by Johan Van Geijl

Route 66 travels near segments of the Southwest Chief route, with Arizona having the longest stretch of the historic road. You can get off the train at several different places to experience this US landmark — we like Kingman best as you can visit the Historic Route 66 Museum there along with several other attractions including the Kingman Railroad Museum.

Hotel Brunswick is closest to the Kingman Amtrak Station (walking time is less than five minutes) and there are also some Airbnb rentals nearby. Be sure to check out the local transportation options to learn how you can get around without a car.

Mission Inn Hotel

If you love old hotels, you’ll love the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California. American presidents and celebrities including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand and Tom Hanks have stayed at this National Historic Landmark, which started as a boarding house in 1876. Many additions later, the hotel now takes up a city block and you can eat at multiple restaurants, book a spa treatment, go on a tour and experience the Festival of Lights that takes place late November through early January.

The hotel is less than a 15-minute walk from the Riverside Amtrak Station or request an Uber or Lyft car for a quick ride. While you’re in Riverside, consider visiting the nearby California Citrus State Historic Park to learn about the history of citrus farming in California.

L.A. Film Industry

Hollywood Sign Los Angeles
Photo by Russell Mondy

Home to movie studios and celebrities, Los Angeles has a long been associated with the film industry. Popular activities include checking out celebrity homes, viewing the Hollywood sign, visiting the Dolby Theatre, exploring the Hollywood Walk of Fame, going on the Warner Bros. Studio tour and having fun at the Universal Studios theme park.

The Southwest Chief stops at the Los Angeles Union Station, where you can rent a car or use rideshare to get around. Bus tours are also a helpful way to see the sights. For places to stay near all the activities, check out hotels in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

Rose Parade

Rose Parade float in Pasadena, California
Photo courtesy Library of Congress

A New Year’s Day tradition since 1890, the Rose Parade is full of flowers, floats and marching bands. The event takes place in Pasadena, and you can travel on Amtrak to the Los Angeles Union Station then board a light rail train there to reach the parade. Look for the Gold L Line and exit at the Del Mar stop. The parade takes place about two blocks north of the station. You can use Google Maps with the transit option to get specific directions.

More Information

Top photo credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr.com