The Empire Builder is a long-distance Amtrak route with trains that travel between Chicago and either Seattle or Portland. The two-day trip provides stunning views of America’s varied landscapes: bustling cities, the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Cascades, and the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Visit or view out the window Glacier National Park and the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. For a virtual tour, check out the Empire Builder Overview podcast episode.

Things to Know

  • No WiFi
  • Travel near the summer solstice to see the most scenery.
  • If you want to see the Columbia River Gorge, start or end your trip in Portland.
  • If you prefer to see Puget Sound and the Skykomish River over the Columbia River Gorge, start or end in Seattle.
  • Empire Builder travels to Glacier National Park, and there are four stops that offer lodging (Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex and East Glacier Park). Rental cars are also available in Whitefish.
  • If you don’t want to travel the entire route, major airports are in cities including Spokane, Whitefish, Minot, Minnesota, and Milwaukee.
  • Consider packing snacks, motion sickness medicine, cleaning wipes and a jacket/sweatshirt or small blanket for the train ride.

Schedule

You can view current schedules via Google Maps or when booking your tickets. If you know your start and end stations, you can also use the Amtrak website to create a custom timetable.

Highlights:

  • Trains depart Chicago in the afternoon and the West Coast in early evening.
  • Eastbound trains arrive in the Rockies early in the morning, which guarantees daylight views.
  • Westbound trains arrive in the Rockies early evening, so summer travel is needed to view them.
  • Columbia River Gorge travel is in the morning on westbound trains and evening in the opposite direction,

Reviews

Top tips and takeaways from online reviews:

  • Expect delays (Amtrak has to give freight trains that share the tracks priority)
  • Food decent to good but can be carb heavy (consider packing some fruit and vegetables)
  • Great way to see the country; beautiful scenery especially in the Rocky Mountains and further west
  • Roomettes convert to bunk beds, but larger people and those with mobility issues won’t be able to get into the top bunk easily or at all

Major Stops

Seattle
Portland
Spokane
East Glacier Park
Fargo
St. Paul/Minneapolis
Milwaukee
Chicago

Stations

Attractions

Chicago Loop
Willis Tower
Harley-Davidson Museum
CHS Field
Wisconsin Dells
Mississippi River
Great Plains Dinosaur Museum
Rocky Mountains
Glacier National Park
Essex/Izaak Walton Inn
Cascade Mountains
Mt. Hood
Beacon Rock
Columbia River Gorge

More Information