Sunrise in eastern Colorado, seen from the lounge car of the Amtrak train California Zephyr. Windows in the ceiling of a lounge car are reflected in a main window of the car.
Tim Brown via Getty Images

51 Hours of Stunning Mountain Views: Travel on the California Zephyr Train

It's 2,438 miles from California to Chicago with views only seen by rail—pretty cool, huh?

Amtrak's California Zephyr has a reputation among train enthusiasts for being one of the most scenic long-distance train routes in North America. Even if you don't consider yourself a lover of locomotives, the multi-day journey from Chicago to California—we're talking 51 hours and 33 stops!—is a stunning way to see middle America, including both the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas.

Ready to add a train journey on the California Zephyr to your travel bucket list? Read on for everything you need to know about this popular long-distance Amtrak train route.

READ MORE: 18 Road Trips to Take This Summer, In Every Part of the Country

California Zephyr Train Highlights

california zephyr train ride along the colorado river

Getty Images

Known for showing off stunning views, Amtrak's California Zephyr passenger train traverses the 2,437 miles between Emeryville, California—a small city between Berkeley and Oakland, in the San Francisco bay area—and Chicago, Illinois.

The full train trip lasts 51 hours and 20 minutes to be exact, highlighting unique views that you can only get from the rails, of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Colorado's Gore, Byers, and Glenwood Canyons, Winter Park, Truckee River, Donner Lake, San Pablo Bay, and the Carquinez Strait. It also crosses the Mississippi River and Missouri River and skirts along the Colorado River, offering views of those famed waterways.

The route also has a historical component. As you glide between Reno and Sacramento, you pass over a hand-built rail line that was a part of the original transcontinental railroad constructed during the Civil War. And the name itself, California Zephyr, can be traced back to a train that ran from 1949 to 1970.

The California Zephyr has also become popular with travelers looking for unique ways to see more of the United States. Lifestyle creator Jordan Aminah highlighted her birthday trip along the corridor in a TikTok video giving viewers a first-hand account of her "train-cation," which she described as similar to being on a cruise ship.


The Beautiful California Zephyr Train Ride! 52 hours of pure bliss! #amtrak #trip #FYP #train #trainride

? FEEL THE GROOVE - Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

"One of the best parts of the trip was Moon River, where kayakers would wave and 'moon' the train passed," said Aminah. Overall she gave her train travel experience a 10/10. "The views were just indescribable," Aminah said in the video. "It's just so peaceful being able to ride. I will 100% be back."

READ MORE: The 51 Most Beautiful Places in Every State in the U.S.

Zephyr Train Route and Schedule

route map for the California Zephyr Train


Now, for the nitty-gritty. The two-day trek leaves from Chicago's Union Station at 2 p.m. and arrives 51 hours later at 4:10 p.m. in Emeryville, near San Francisco. (If you want to hit up Oakland or San Francisco, the Thruway bus service will take you there from the final stop in Emeryville.) Train 6 reverses the trip leaving eastbound at 9:10 a.m. from Emeryville and arriving two days later in Chicago at 2:50 p.m.

If you don't have 51 hours to spend, you can take any portion of the route, as it runs daily to Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. The train also stops in major cities like Denver, Omaha, Grand Junction, Salt Lake City, and Reno. (FYI, there is a longer stop in Denver, but make sure you get back on in time. This train won't wait!) Amtrak doesn't leave out popular small-town destinations, hitting Truckee, Davis, Glenwood Springs, Fraser, Lincoln, and Naperville.

Train Seating, Dining, and Pricing

As one of Amtrak's superliners, the California Zephryr offers many different seating arrangements. For example, riders can choose coach seats or bedrooms with plenty of space and bathrooms. Bedroom suites sleep up to four adults, and family rooms are made to accommodate two adults and two kids. The best part is this room has an in-room shower and bathroom!

Cost can vary by season, availability, and room type. Generally, it's $100 to $300 for a coach seat, $700 to $1,000 for roomettes, and over $1,500 for a family room. (Aminah shared that she took advantage of Amtrak's 2-for-1 ticket special, and stayed in a roomette for "about $600.") Roomettes and family rooms have all meals, water, and coffee included in the price.

Amtrak offers a variety of meal options in the dining car for the lengthy excursion. Passengers are served lunch and dinner on the initial day, all three meals on their second day, and breakfast and lunch on the final leg.

The train has a checked baggage service, which typically includes two bags, with a max weight of 50 pounds each. Amtrak also includes bicycle checking, allowing you to explore the stops on two wheels.

No matter which room you choose, you will experience the mountains like you never have before. Would you hop on for the 51-hour ride?

READ MORE: Travel Publication Names Top Three National Parks, and No. 2 May Surprise You