The California Zephyr Amtrak route travels between Chicago and Emeryville, California through the scenic Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. This multi-day trip through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California takes about 52 hours. You can get off and on the train at any station, but you’ll have to buy tickets for each segment, and in most cases, you will need to stay at least one night in the city where you get off the train.

View the 10 best stops on the California Zephyr route to learn more, and listen to the California Zephyr podcast episode for an overview.

Things to Know

  • No WiFi
  • You have to connect with an Amtrak bus, taxi, Uber or Lyft or other form of transit to get to and from San Francisco. Choose San Francisco as your start or end station for the Amtrak bus transfer.
  • Truckee, California is the station closest to Lake Tahoe.
  • There is an observation car. Get there early for the Colorado portion of the journey.
  • Exit the train in Denver if you want to rent a car and explore the Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • All the stations in Colorado are great paces to stay for a night or two. View Colorado Amtrak trip ideas to learn more.

Accommodations

The California Zephyr uses Superliner rail cars that are two-levels tall. In addition to unassigned coach seats, there are roomettes, bedrooms, bedroom suites, family bedrooms and accessible bedrooms (learn about the different sleeping accommodations here). Many people like the upper level for better views, but sitting or reserving sleeping accommodations on the lower level is helpful if you have motion sickness or want to be closer to bathrooms and showers. An observation car is available to all passengers, so even if you sit on the lower level, you have the option to see more scenery upstairs.

Cost

The cost of Amtrak tickets varies by type of ticket, distance traveled, time of year and how early you book your tickets. Coach seats are the most affordable, followed by roomettes and bedrooms.

Here are estimated California Zephyr prices if you travel the entire route:

  • $150-$300 for coach seat
  • $700-$1,000 for a roomette (meals, water and coffee included)
  • Over $1,500 for a family bedroom (meals, water and coffee included)
  • Over $2,000 for a bedroom (meals, water and coffee included)

Schedule

There is only one eastbound and one westbound California Zephyr train in each day unless Amtrak is running a modified schedule. You can view current schedules during the ticket-booking process on the Amtrak homepage, and if you know your start and end stations, you can also use the Amtrak schedule page to view a custom timetable.

Schedule highlights:

  • Overnight, trains are in part of Utah and Nebraska.
  • Trains depart and arrive in Chicago in the afternoon.
  • Trains depart Emeryville in the morning.
  • Trains arrive in Emeryville in late afternoon.
  • Westbound trains have better arrival times in Salt Lake City.
  • You can do a day trip between Denver and Salt Lake City for views of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Sacramento
  • Reno
  • Provo
  • Salt Lake City
  • Denver
  • Omaha
  • Chicago

Station List

Highlights and Attractions

  • Mississippi River
  • Missouri River
  • Colorado River
  • Winter Park Ski Resort
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Reno casinos
  • National Railroad Hall of Fame
  • California State Railroad Museum
  • Iowa Wesleyan College
  • Gore Canyon
  • Glenwood Canyon
  • Brigham Young University
  • Mormon Temple
  • Donner Lake (Donner Party historic site)

More Information