The Empire Builder is a daily long-distance Amtrak route with trains that travel between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest (with a choice of Seattle or Portland as a start or end point). If you travel the entire route, the trip length is approximately 2,200 miles and takes about 45 hours to complete with stops in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Along the route are stunning views of America’s varied landscapes: large cities, the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Cascades, and the forests of the Pacific Northwest. 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.

Accommodations

The Empire Builder uses Superliner rail cars that have two levels. In addition to coach seats, there are also sleeper cars where you can choose from a roomette, bedroom, bedroom suite, family bedroom or accessible bedroom. When choosing seats or sleeping car rooms, the upper level tends to have better views, but the lower level is closer to restrooms and is generally better if you are prone to motion sickness.

Cost

Amtrak ticket prices vary depending on the distance traveled, time of year and type of ticket. Below are estimated costs of Empire Builder tickets if you travel the entire route:

  • $150 and up for a coach seat
  • $650 and up or a roomette
  • $800 and up for a family bedroom
  • $1,500 and up for a bedroom

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 in the evening on eastbound trains.

Stops and 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