This isn’t a trip for those in a hurry. It’s not one meant to be fast or efficient in getting to the coast. A trip on the California Zephyr, Amtrak’s Chicago to San Francisco Bay train, is to be relaxed upon and enjoyed.
Do not expect to be connected. Sure, you will be able to make calls and I suppose you could check email from your phone, but this journey often travels where civilization has not made great hold. Though a bit pricey a room in the sleeper car should be booked and enjoyed as just over 50 hours in coach would make the weariest of any traveler.
Chicago to Start
The Zephyr leaves Chicago mid-day and travels along the Great Plains through the night to Denver. Don’t worry about missing the view through the dark – you’ve simply missed miles and miles of cornfields and wheat. Enjoy the three meals per day included in your room’s fee and sit back and relax while anticipating the view tomorrow.
Up and Over the Rockies
By Denver you will have acquainted yourself with long rail travel and the trip will truly begin as the train departs early and eases up the foothills of the Rockies. The Zephyr winds near peaks and through countless tunnels as it passes resorts like Winter Park and the sights of Rocky Mountain National Park. It follows the Colorado River deep down in a canyon for nearly 100 miles – little other human development exists there aside from the tracks – before coasting down the western slopes and into the red rocks of Utah.
The Desert and the Sierra Nevada
Night settles again as you make your way to the Great Salt Lake. One day is left as the train crosses the desert towards Reno by sunrise – you’ll awake to barren landscape – before another mountain journey in the Sierras. The Zephyr again follows rivers – the Truckee to start – before curving around Donner Lake (named for the ill-fated Donner Party) and making way for Sacramento.
And Finally to the Bay
The last stretch is quick along the descent from the capitol to the Bay Area. You follow the northern bay for a bit before reaching the terminus at Emeryville, just across from San Francisco. If you have plans in the city Amtrak will take you there by bus – the one unfortunate but logical aspect of this journey. Do not despair as many stops are made in San Francisco and one will surely find you closer to where you need to be than a train station likely would.
The California Zephyr is a different way to see the country. You don’t have to concern yourself with driving and will see much more than is possible from plane. What it lacks in haste it makes up in beauty and, really, that is the whole purpose of such a journey.