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Amtrak's Most Scenic Routes for Your Next Vacation

Trains have a long history in North America, but the legacy of railway travel is just beginning. Modern stations and better luxury cars elevate the experience, making railway travel a unique and underrated adventure. On Amtrak, you can travel coast-to-coast, passing through rural towns, big cities, and historic districts to satisfy every traveler in your party. The only issue is deciding which of the dozens of routes you'll take. These Amtrak routes are the most scenic, with exclusive views of the best landscapes in North America. From stunning outdoor sceneries to lively cities, there's something for everyone.

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01Best bucket list trip: The California Zephyr

From the iconic architecture and diverse communities of the cities to the snowcapped mountains and expansive deserts of the west, the California Zephyr showcases a range of stunning landscapes and cultures. The trip begins in Chicago — a major Amtrak hub — where most travelers connect to other trains and travel services. Gliding past the prairies of the Midwest, the California Zephyr climbs the Rocky Mountains in Colorado before entering the vast Utah deserts and colorful canyons. Another ascent over the Sierra Nevada Mountains leaves you near the lush forests and agricultural fields of rural California, with connections to San Francisco. Customize your itinerary with an excursion to Yellowstone, Zion, or Bryce Canyon National Parks.

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02Most breathtaking horizons: The Coast Starlight

The Coast Starlight, a famous route between Seattle and Los Angeles, is a spectacular journey alongside the breathtaking Pacific Northwest coastline and inland, through charming mountain and valley landscapes. Sit back and watch as the terrain changes from the thick forests of the Cascade and Pacific Coast Mountain Ranges to the green and gold rolling hills and valleys in Central California. Explore the most exciting cities on the West Coast, including San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, Portland, or plan a day trip to Yosemite National Park.

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03Best for winter landscapes: The Empire Builder

Follow the paths tread by famed explorers and early pioneers in the American West on the Empire Builder route. Traveling from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, this lengthy passage begins with gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. As the train heads East, you enter the great plains of North Dakota and Big Sky country, but the true gem of the Empire Builder is Glacier National Park. A majestic sight during the wintertime, the railway is one of the most comfortable and convenient ways to navigate the snow-covered park. A final ascent through the Cascade Mountains takes you to Seattle or Portland.

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04Best lakeside views: The Lake Shore Limited

Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited heads from Chicago to Boston or New York — depending on your ticket — with access to some of the most spectacular shoreline views in the United States. The journey begins on the southern coasts of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Following an ancient Native American highway alongside the Mohawk River, the route eases through the lush Finger Lakes region and along Erie Canal in Upstate New York. Hop off the train to explore the museums in Cleveland or Downtown Albany or continue to Boston to marvel at the Berkshires and soak in the local history.

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05Most awe-inspiring panoramas: The Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited route between Los Angeles and New Orleans is one of the oldest railway routes in America and Amtrak's southernmost path. The line passes through California's mountains into the deserts of the wild west, where dramatic panoramas and folklore await. The landscape transforms dramatically as you travel along the Mexican border into the Gulf Coast and Bayou country. Deboard at San Antonio and Houston for local souvenirs, or in smaller towns like Lordsburg and Tucson for a history lesson and comfort food. Big Bend National Park is worthy of a side trip, as is the surreal terrain of the Saguaro National Park cactus forest.

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06Most unexpected beauty: The Adirondack

The Northeastern United States is Amtrak's best-served region, so there's no shortage of routes from which to choose. Take the Adirondack line— which runs from New York to Montreal — and you may be surprised by the vistas outside your passenger window. Unlike New York City's crowded city streets and towering skyline, Upstate New York's landscapes are more pristine and wild. An even bigger surprise awaits at Montreal, Quebec, a French-speaking town with a distinctly European vibe. Fall in love with the cobblestone streets and charming boutiques and eateries — the experience is unexpectedly chic.

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07Best road trip upgrade: The Amtrak Cascades

America's Pacific Northwest is a must-see for any serious road-tripper, but experiencing it from the comfort of a railway car elevates the trip to a whole new level. Evergreen forests, majestic mountain ranges, and distinctive rock formations stretch out along the gorgeous Pacific coastline. From Oregon, admire the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge as you cross into Washington State under the watchful eye of Mt. St. Helens. Stop at a Seattle coffee shop or Pike Place Market before heading into Canada. Vancouver's diverse cultural districts and outdoor adventures make it an exciting destination — or the ideal city to connect to the Canadian railway and see Jasper National Park.

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08Best Civil War-era route: The Crescent

Traveling from New York City to New Orleans, Amtrak's Crescent line is a unique way to celebrate America's Southern heritage while honoring its history. Travelers can appreciate the tranquil green landscapes of the deep South in between metropolises like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, college towns like Clemson, and Greenville, one of America's favorite downtowns. Roll past the cotton and tobacco fields — an integral part of America's cultural heritage — and tour historic towns like Charlotte and Birmingham. Don't forget to sample some of the country's best cuisines, from good old-fashioned Southern comfort to gourmet restaurants and Cajun eateries along the Gulf coast.

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09Best international energy: The Maple Leaf

From the Big Apple to the biggest city in Canada, the Maple Leaf line is an exciting excursion through urban splendor and natural beauty with an international twist. To get there, you'll pass through the Hudson River Valley, a thriving wine country you can visit on a tasting side trip. The rolling hills of the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York are a beautiful sight as you head for Niagara Falls. Spend some time at the iconic waterfalls before connecting to Toronto. The Canadian destination is distinct from New York City but with a similar vibe, providing cultural and culinary treasures awaiting discovery.

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10Best of the American West: The Southwest Chief

Experience the fabled American wild west as the adventurous travelers once did. The Southwest Chief snakes from Chicago, through the grasslands of the Midwest, around the Southern Rockies, and across the vibrant southwestern deserts to Los Angeles. Don't forget to debark in Williams, Arizona, to catch the Grand Canyon Railway, a satisfying ride through ponderosa pines and arid desert to experience the Grand Canyon like never before.

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11The best of both worlds: The Silver Meteor

Are you in the mood to visit big cities or charming old towns? Do you yearn for dense forests outside your passenger window or the mighty ocean caressing a tropical shoreline? The Silver Meteor does it all, flipping the script on railway riders as it transitions from the rugged terrain of the Northeast to the white sands of Miami, Florida. Every leg of the trip is a feast for the eyes and an experience for the senses, whether you're marveling at the architecture in D.C., photographing historic towns, or reveling in the elegance of a place like Savannah, Georgia's oldest city.

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12Best for autumn foliage: The Cardinal

There's more than one route between New York and Chicago, not just for convenience's sake. The Cardinal route travels through the southeastern United States, navigating the spectacular Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Allegheny Range. The view is breathtaking in the autumn when foliage explodes in bright reds and golds — and you'll have the best views of the scenery only accessible by train. Have a spontaneous adventure in one of the small towns along the Ohio River before hitting up the big cities of Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

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13Best cowboy culture: The Texas Eagle

The Texas Eagle transports you from the Midwest into the heart of Texas, where you can embrace the frontier spirit in style. Amtrak's longest route begins in Chicago, crossing the Mississippi River and traversing through the Missouri woodlands and Ozark National Forest for unbeatable views. Once in East Texas, witness the unsung beauty of the piney woods, prairies, and lakes. Then tour the big cities — Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio — for a taste of local culture and cuisines. A trip to the Lone Star State is not complete without a hearty helping of Texas barbecue.

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14Best outdoor winter fun: The Vermonter

Most trips to the Northeast concentrate on urban metro areas, but the New England region is also home to charming towns and natural wonders worth discovering. From Washington D.C., The Vermonter passes through big cities and alongside the Delaware River into New England. Come autumn, the majestic scenery outside is perfect for nature photography, but most travelers visit during the winter. Vermont has the lengthiest ski season in the East, so pack your winter gear and plan some winter excursions to make the most of the season. Afterward, look for a bottle of Vermont maple syrup or local wine to take home.

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15Best pop culture vacation: The City of New Orleans

If you're seeking a pop culture experience that veers away from the mainstream, let the good times roll on the City of New Orleans line. This route traces the musical heritage of the U.S., from the electric blues scene in Chicago to Memphis, home of rock and soul music, and New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. Venture into charming rural towns on some side trips for an authentic local experience, or stick to the big cities. Between the historic architecture, vibrant outdoor spaces, and diverse selection of eateries, there's more than enough to keep you entertained.

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