One Of The US' Best Train Rides Takes You From A Midwest City To The California Coast

A cross-country road trip is never a bad idea, but have you ever traversed the countryside by rail? There are few better ways to experience the peace and tranquility of the great American wilderness than amid the secluded stillness of nature from inside a train car. Amtrak's Northern Rail Experience is one of this nation's most scenic train rides, recalling the history of America's great Westward Expansion. The first transcontinental railroad, the Pacific Railroad, opened in 1869 and was later renamed the Overland Route. While this rail trail is no longer in service, many of the landmarks along its historic route can be observed on the Northern Rail Experience. Retrace the footsteps of America's most-famous pioneers along the Lewis and Clark trail on the westbound trek toward the Pacific Northwest, then capture the sacred heritage of the earliest Overland Route on the return trip.

According to Good Housekeeping, the Northern Rail Experience has been ranked as a top-five scenic train route in the United States. Guests have the option of upgrading their accommodations, switching stations, planning more time in a specific location, and even taking this route in reverse. This nine-day journey highlights four destinations and passes through 13 states. Passengers board the Amtrak train in Chicago's Windy City before heading west to the Pacific Northwest and the California coastline. Seattle, Muir Woods, San Francisco, and Sausalito are just a few of the major highlights along this trip, showcasing some of the country's most scenic backdrops and historic landmarks.

Chicago to Seattle

Boarding Amtrak's Empire Builder at Union Station in Chicago marks the beginning of this historic cross-country voyage. The first leg of this trip ventures west, carrying passengers from the streets of the Windy City to the avenues of Seattle — a 2,205-mile trek. Travelers will be able to relive the tales of American history, beginning with the voyage of the nation's famous pioneers along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail –  a testament to American history that stretches 4,900 miles across 16 states. Passengers will open up their eyes on day two of this journey to the great plains of North Dakota before the landscape quickly melts into views of the Missouri River, North America's longest river. Continuing west toward Seattle, the rail crosses the border into Montana and traverses the stunning terrain of Glacier National Park.

Passengers arrive in Seattle on day three of this journey, marking the almost halfway point of the trip. A one-night stayover in this city gives travelers time to stretch their legs and travelerblog the magnificent sights and sounds of Seattle's cityscape. Overnight hotel lodging is included with the trip, providing passengers with an extended opportunity to peruse the city streets on a guided tour through some of Seattle's most prominent hot spots. Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Seattle Center, and the Seattle Waterfront are just a few highlights guests can experience while in Seattle before re-boarding the train on the road to the San Francisco area.

Seattle to Sausalito

After scouring the streets of Seattle for the best cup of coffee, hop aboard the Coast Starlight for the voyage toward the Golden State's iconic city of San Francisco. The rail trail you'll cover on day four ventures through wooded forests of towering pines and past the sweeping valleys of Oregon. Check into your hotel of choice upon arriving in San Francisco. While a guided tour highlights some of the best sights in this city, guests have the leisure of exploring this coastal gem on their own time and schedule. Designated stops along the tour include Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf, and Downtown San Francisco.

Stepping away from the heart of this urban oasis, embark on a picturesque day trip to the enchanting West Coast forest of Muir Woods. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, this primeval forest boasts groves of coastal redwoods, marked as a National Monument in the state of California since 1908. Eight miles from the towering redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument lies the charming, laid-back coastal California town of Sausalito. Wedged on the cusp of the coastline, this hidden gem is draped in eucalyptus and boasts an abundance of colorful boutiques, farm-to-table eateries, and sun-soaked beaches. End the day by cruising back to Fisherman's Wharf for a complimentary dinner at a local San Francisco eatery. Day seven starts the return trip back to Chicago aboard the California Zephyr — a scenic voyage that's equally as breathtaking as its westbound counterpart.