10 best stops on the Empire Builder route

Seattle Great Wheel on Pier 57

There’s more to the Empire Builder than just amazing scenery. There are many interesting places and unique attractions near stations on the route that you can plan a trip around. To get started, here are the 10 best stops for tourists. Be sure to book tickets for each segment of your trip and reserve lodging for when you’re not on the train.

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Chicago skyline
Photo courtesy Pixabay

Chicago is full museumslive music venues and tourist attractions, including the Willis Tower SkydeckNavy Pier and Wrigley Field. In the warmer months, you can visit one of the city’s beaches, go on a boat tour and take a bike ride along the Lakefront Trail. There are also many festivals to check out.

Water taxis, bike rentals and rideshare are easy ways to see the sights. Plus, you can easily walk to hotels near the Amtrak station, or choose from hotels in the Loop and nearby River North.


Downtown Milwaukee
Photo by Towpilot/Wikimedia Commons

Full of beer, festivals and lakefront parks, Milwaukee is a fun Midwest destination. There are many brewery tours and museums to check out, including the Harley-Davidson Museum that is in walking distance of the Amtrak station. Sports fans will also love all the options to attend a professional football, basketball, baseball, hockey or soccer game.

Use Lyft or Uber to get around or walk to Budget or Enterprise from the Amtrak station to pick up a rental car. Hilton Milwaukee City Center, Courtyard by Marriott and DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Milwaukee are the hotels closest to the station, or view the top places to stay in the city to plan your visit.

Wisconsin Dells

A great family destination on the Wisconsin River, Wisconsin Dells is full of fun things to do. Choose from a variety of boat tours and water sports, plus there are multiple water and amusement parks to visit.

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.

Minneapolis-St. Paul

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis
Photo by Mikael Häggström, M.D.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are full of cultural attractions, sport venues and outdoor fun — including a scenic bike trail along the Mississippi River and a beautiful urban park with a waterfall (pictured above). 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.

Trains stop in downtown St. Paul near museums and the historic Summit AvenueHyatt 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.

East Glacier Park

Glacier Park Lodge
Photo by Acroterion/Wikipedia Commons

The East Glacier Park Station is in walking distance of the historic Glacier Park Lodge (walking time is about four minutes and pickup service is available). Tour buses stop at the lodge and take you into Glacier National Park, so it is an easy place to stay if you don’t want to rent a car. However, this station and the lodge are only open from mid-spring until mid-fall.

Other amenities at the lodge include multiple places to eat, a golf course and outdoor pool. It’s important to know that there aren’t any elevators, so be sure to book a first floor room if you are unable to go up and down stairs.

West Glacier

Middle Fork Flathead River Rafting
Photo by Glacier National Park Service (NPS)

The West Glacier Station is conveniently next to West Glacier Village and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The area is great if you are able and willing to walk to lodging, including to the historic Belton Chalet, Glacier Guides Lodge, River Haus and the West Glacier Cabin Village. You can also easily walk to the Glacier Raft Company (whitewater rafting and fly fishing trips), the South Boundary Trail, a small grocery store and a few restaurants (including a classy dining experience in the Belton Chalet).

If you want to visit Glacier National Park, we recommend going to the Whitefish Station instead for rental cars, tours and shuttles.


Whitefish is a resort town full of events, restaurants and lodging options. Head to the Whitefish Mountain Resort to ski in the winter, and in the warmer months you can rent a car and drive to Glacier National Park in about 30 minutes or book a tour with Whitefish Outfitters and Mountain Shuttle. There are also many other outdoor attractions to check out, including City Beach and Flathead National Forest.

Rideshare services are an option in Whitefish and the Mountain Shuttle also provides pickup service from the Amtrak station. Another perk is the nearby airport so you can fly home if you don’t want to get back on the train.


Leavenworth, Washington
Photo by Razvan Orendovici

In the foothills of the Cascades, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town with events, shops, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and even a nutcracker museum. Winter is an especially charming time to visit with holiday lights, sleigh rides, a reindeer farm and nearby skiing/snowboarding. Hiking, whitewater rafting and other recreational activities are also options in warmer weather.

When booking your tickets, choose the Leavenworth Icicle Amtrak Station as your destination. To reach the village (where there are several hotels), plan to use the shuttle (509-548-7433).


Portland Oregon skyline with Mt. Hood
Photo via Good Free Photos

Full of parks and gardens, Portland is great for nature lovers. Mt. Hood (home to six ski areas) and the Columbia River Gorge are also nearby, which are great day trip options. In the city you’ll find many craft beers and interesting festivals to plan a trip around.

The Portland Amtrak Station is in walking distance of hotels and restaurants, so you can easily stay near the station if desired. Local transportation options include light rail, Uber, Lyft and Biketown bikes.


Seattle skyline from the water
Image by Reirura from Pixabay

Seattle is full of culture, attractions and activities for all ages. Grab a coffee and stroll through the famous Pike Place Market, go to the top of the Space Needle, visit the Chihuly Gardens, explore the waterfront and view the skyline from Kerry Park.

There are various transportation options in the city once you arrive at the Seattle Amtrak Station. A light rail station is across the street, or take Uber, Lyft or ferry to get around. There are even tours to Mount Rainier so you don’t need to rent a car to reach the national park.

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Top photo credit: Ron Clausen (Seattle Great Wheel)