Amtrak the USA – The Greatest Cross Country Road Trip
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Train travel with Amtrak USA is way more exciting than air travel.
Five years ago, I traveled from Minneapolis/Twin City to Portland, Oregon with Amtrak USA. Many people simply take a few hours flight between the two destinations. In this post, I will share my experience of crossing six states (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon) over the course of a 37-hour train trip using Amtrak USA. It was a unique experience that I will never forget.
I have to admit that, out of all the road trips I have embarked on in mainland USA, this route, from Twin City to Portland, Oregon, beats everything else to a pulp. Over the two-and-a-half days, I woke up to the countryside of North Dakota, traveled through big Sky Montana, passed the Glacier National Park, woke up to the coastal community of Washington State, and finally headed down along the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, Oregon. It truly is an inspiring journey and the vistas in all the states are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
I did not sleep in the sleeping car, but it was equally a fun trip and I had two nights of good sleep.
My experience told me that you do not have to pay for a sleeping car to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, when the train arrives in Minneapolis from Chicago, about 2/3 of the passengers disembarked. From then on, the train had many available seats left and you could literally pick an empty row (with two seats) and lay down to sleep.
When the train arrives in Minneapolis, it was already past 9pm. If I recall correctly, at that hour or two stations ahead, there will be no announcements made that night until the following morning. Of course, employees on the train will wake you up if the train reaches your destination at midnight, as the crew knows all the passengers need some sleep and they are happy to provide a silent environment for you to do so.
I was in the economy car. In the daytime, I enjoyed the view of the countryside. At night, I slept straight till the next morning (I slept nearly 12 hours every day). I promise you that when you wake up the next morning, you will be stunned you can sleep that long without a bed.
We turned one of the cars into party car
I have taken many trains throughout the USA, but unlike any other train, the car next to the dining car on the train turns out to be a spacious space for a party. I guess that most passengers were tired of the silence after 20 hours on the train, and desperately sought fun activities to do with others. For this reason, all of us had fun at the party.
There are alcohol beverages sold on the train, and I purchased a small bottle of wine to drink during the party. We had this lady (I do not remember her name) from Portland blasting the music on her laptop whiles others simply talked to each other, danced, and shared their stories. I remember there was this guy sharing about his jail time in the US but refusing to tell us what kind of crime he had committed. Another female passenger from Spokane (Washington) asked nearly every guy to buy her a drink and everyone seemed fine with that; she had a huge hangover but managed to get off when the train arrived in Spokane around 2am. The Amtrak crew even allowed us to use the car and threw themselves briefly into the party. What a crazy experience.
Endless beautiful sights
I have mentioned it before, but this time I will let the pictures do the talking. In short, you will be waking up to views like this:
In North Dakota:
Reached our final destination: Portland, OR
How much is the ticket?
This trip is part of my three week Amtrak USA journey from Richmond Virginia to San Diego, California. I have taken multiple trains and stopped in several cities. If you decide to travel from Twin City to Portland only, you can get information about the schedule and the ticket price here.
If you decide to Amtrak USA from the east to west like I did, then purchase a 15-day or 30/45-day USA Rail Pass. Otherwise, you will be busting your budget on each segment you travel. My pass back in 2011 was only $389 and is only available for coach. Considering I was on the train for 75 hours (from Richmond VA to Miami, Chicago to Twin City, Twin City to Portland, Portland to San Jose CA, and San Jose to LA) and had four nights’ sleep, it is a very affordable journey.
How to travel on Amtrak USA with Amtrak Rail Pass
Important Note: an Amtrak Rail Pass is not your train ticket with unlimited rides. Travel with Amtrak USA requires a different reservation for each segment. If you decide to travel with the Amtrak Rail Pass, purchase the pass online first and then call the reservation agent to book your travel. Make sure to tell the agent you have an Amtrak rail pass, and ask them to book the trips for you. They will send you the reservation through email.
After that, pick up both your rail pass and your tickets at one of the office or stations. To board the train, you must have both rail pass and the train ticket. For more information about travel with an Amtrak Rail Pass, please visit here.
What to eat
As for food, you do not have to eat in the dining car, but you will find a way to get decent meals. Sometimes, the train offers $10 chicken combos, or stops at a station for more than 30 minutes and that is when most passengers hop off to grab local food. The most cost-saving way is to bring your own food and drinks on the train.
The end: everyone knows everyone on the train
I have taken flights to travel throughout the states, but how many times have I said I know everyone on the flight? None. This train makes everyone connected. There is no Internet access on the train, and everyone takes their time enjoying the view, and striking conversations with others. To this day, I still believe there is this one weird reason to connect everyone: we would rather spend more than 30 hours on the train than 2-3 hours on air travel. However, when the train arrives in Portland, we parted, and everyone moved on and continued the journey of their own.
When the train reached its final destination, the lady who blasted music during the party insisted on offering me a ride to my hostel. We did not exchange contact information and I do not even remember her name or her appearance. I handed her a calendar I purchased from Hawaii to say thank you, for the ride and for the great times.
If you like train travel, check out my other train trips:
- Around Central Alaska by Rail – Fairbanks to Anchorage (Winter Edition)
- VIA Rail Canada #14 Review – The Ocean
- From Ankara to Kars on Eastern Express: A Great Rail Journey Across Eastern Anatolia
Planning a train trip to the USA? Get insured here!
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