Amtrak has been in operation for 51 years, since 1971, and serviced 16.9 million trips in 2020. Still, a highly popular way to travel when you think about the 16.8 million flights in the same year. Amtrak offers competitive rates and the solace of staying grounded for those who fear flying. Flying allows you to go just about anywhere in the country, but how far does Amtrak go?
Amtrak has 15 long-distance routes, some quite literally cross-country. The longest being the Texas Eagle when combined with another route, Sunset Limited. Additionally, there are 13 additional long-distance routes that rival these two.
These routes zigzag all across the country, and some combine to reach up to 65 hours of travel. Please keep reading to find out how many miles these routes cover and how long they are from start to finish.
15 Amtrak Long-Distance Train Routes
Traveling by train may seem like an old-fashioned form of transportation when you consider the speed of plane travel, but train travel offers incentives that flying cannot. The biggest advantage is the cost of a train ticket versus a flight, saving travelers an average of $100 per trip.
Then there is the added bonus of staying on the ground through the travel, a benefit that for some customers is invaluable. Depending on where and when you travel, you will have beautiful scenery to keep you occupied while you nestle into your comfortable accommodations.
In addition to the longest-distance routes, the remaining long-distance routes are as follows:
- Auto Train
- Capitol Limited
- Southwest Chief
- Silver Meteor
- Silver Star
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- City of New Orleans
- Empire Builder
- Lake Shore Limited
The Auto Train is a non-stop route from Virginia (the D.C. area) to Florida (Orlando) that travels daily. The unique thing about this route is that you have the option of traveling with your vehicle in tow. That is a distance of 847 miles you and your car can travel without ever having a single of those miles touch your odometer.
A scenic trek up and down the East Coast to desirable vacation destinations like Orlando, Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, etc. Of course, if you decide to bring your car along, there are added costs, but it may be well worth the extra $208 for a vehicle and $168 for a motorcycle when you think about the cost of renting a car.
The Capitol Limited route connects the Midwest with the East Coast, making stops in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. Within the 750 miles, you will travel through this route; you will be passing through cities with such sought-after landmarks as the Smithsonian, U.S. Capitol, the National Mall, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to name a few.
Ticket prices are dependent on which of the 14 stops you will get deboarding on this impressive 17-hour journey. Most fares are less than $100, like Washington to Pittsburgh at $43 or Pittsburgh to Chicago at $59. Though you can’t bring your vehicle on this route, you can choose from various accommodations that range from a single seat in a shared train cart to a comfortable bed in a private room.
Pass through the tropical to desert climates of the Southwest on the Southwest Chief route from Illinois to California. You’ll travel through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona from point A to point B. There are 31 stops along the 43+ hour journey where you can see such famous landmarks as Route 66 and the Mojave Desert or hitch a ride to the Grand Canyon.
If you decide to ride the full extent of this route, you’ll be traveling a total of 2,265 miles. Ticket prices vary depending on where you choose to end your travels, but you are looking at $141 on the low-end or $338 on the high-end for the full trip. Most city-to-city stops in between are less than $100.
The Palmetto route runs from New York to Savannah via eight other states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Running since 1976, the route covers a total of 829 miles and makes stops in 24 cities along the way. The Palmetto has one of the more affordable long-distance fares ranging from $4.50 to $383.
The Silver Meteor is a “one end of the country to other” route traveling between New York City and Miami. It shares the same tracks as the Palmetto route but eventually vers off to continue into Florida for a total of 1,389 miles. 700,000 passengers utilize this route per year, making it one of Amtrak’s most popular long-distance train routes.
Total travel time is 28 hours, but the Silver Service line is equipped with various sleeper cars for overnight travelers. In addition to sharing the Palmetto route tracks, Silver Meteor makes a lot of the same stops as the Silver Star route. Ticket prices for both routes start at $3.50 and go up to $1,619, with the Silver Meteor fares being more expensive.
Like the Silver Meteor route, the Silver Star runs the same route making additional stops in North Carolina and traveling down to Tampa. Therefore, you’re looking at similar mileage and travel times between the two routes. Silver star fares are slightly less expensive because the train on this route does not have meal service but a cafe car to service passenger meal needs.
If you want a route that will take you through the Rocky Mountains, then look no further than the California Zephyr route, going from Northern California to Chicago. A journey that boasts scenic landscapes like the Sierra Nevadas, Moffat Tunnel, and Glenwood Canyons through the 35 city stops. The route you want to take for hiking, nature sightseeing, skiing, and water sports.
The second-longest Amtrak route comes in at 2,438 miles at just over 50 hours from end to end. Fare prices start at $9.00 and go up to $1,415, and Amtrak averages 2,977 trips a month on this particular route.
The Coast Starlight takes you through the West Coast, starting in Los Angeles, California, to Seattle, Washington, with stops in Oregon and other cities in Washington and California. If you’re looking to visit the Pacific Ocean, this may be your route. Covering 1,377 miles through 29 cities, this is a budget-friendly way to travel up and down the coast, especially when considering rising gas prices.
You’ll spend roughly 35 hours and 21 minutes if you are traveling southbound and 34 hours if you’re traveling northbound. Ticket prices range from $8.50 to $1,325, depending on your distance and the type of accommodations you choose.
The Cardinal route is similar to Capitol Limited in that it travels from the Midwest to the East Coast, but instead of passing near the Great Lakes, it’s closer to the Ohio River. Starting in Illinois and ending in New York, the route has been running since 1977.
The route covers 1,146 miles and stops in 32 cities along the way. The journey takes a total of 28+ hours from end to end. Amtrak takes roughly 93 trips on this route per day, so there are various departures to choose from throughout the day. The ticket cost starts at $5.00 and goes to $871.
City of New Orleans
If you’re looking to travel from the South to the Midwest or vice versa, then look no further than the City of New Orleans route that travels through 5 states, from the starting point of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, to the other end, Louisiana. Memphis is a major stop in the route, the station being within walking distance to major sites in the city.
This route stops in 20 cities along the 900-mile-long journey, making it one of the shortest long-distance routes, along with Capitol Limited and Auto Train. It will take you a total of 19 hours and 30 minutes from end to end. Running since 1947, making it one of the oldest routes still ongoing with Amtrak, who took the route over from Illinois Central Railroad in 1971. Ticket fares range from $3.50 to $575.
Another scenic route for the outdoorsman is the Midwest to Northwest route, Empire Builder. Trains start and finish in Portland, Oregon and pass through cities in Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Once you get closer to the West Coast, you’ll hit beautiful scenery like the Columbia River Gorge. It’s a great means of transportation to destinations like Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Cascade Mountains, and Mississippi River, being some of the most notable on the list.
The journey is a total of 845 miles, taking 46 hours and stopping in 40 cities along the way. The Empire Builder train service first started in 1929 before being taken over from the Great Northern Railway in 1971. It serves 1,200 passengers daily, making it the most popular long-distance route Amtrak offers.
The Crescent train route passes through more states than any other Amtrak train route, covering a total of 12 states and 36 city stops. It goes between New York to New Orleans by way of Atlanta, covering 1,377 miles of travel. The journey takes approximately 30 hours from end to end. The route’s name was inspired by the length of time to get from the Big Apple to the Big Easy, requiring passengers to travel overnight.
The route carries over 250,000 passengers per year at ticket prices ranging from $4.50 to $1,290. This route is primarily for long-distance, and passengers wanting to make shorter trips are encouraged to use Amtrak’s regional trains.
Lake Shore Limited
A Midwest to East Coast route, the Lake Shore Limited travels along the Great Lakes from Illinois to New York, making stops in 4 other states: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Notable stops along the route are Lake Erie, Hudson River Valley, and the Adirondack Mountains.
Covering 25 stops along the 1,000-mile-long journey in about 22 hours from end to end. Being an overnight route, like many long-distance routes, various accommodations are offered, including luxury, Coach, and Business Class.
The Sunset Limited route also travels through the Southwest, starting in Louisiana and ending in the Golden state. You’ll be making stops in some of the most notable major cities in the United States like New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. With a total of 22 stops, you’ll be traveling a total of 45 hours and 40 minutes if you’re going eastbound and 46 hours and 35 minutes if you’re going westbound.
Total mileage on your journey would be 1,995 miles, traveling through landmarks like the Alamo, the National World War II Museum, George Bush Monument, and more. Due to the number of cities you pass through on this trip, ticket prices can range from as low as $3.00 up to $965. Some 300,000 people travel the Sunset Limited every year, some combining this route with the Texas Eagle.
The Texas Eagle
The Texas Eagle’s lone route is a simple 1,306 miles from Chicago to San Antonio, certainly not the most impressive route mileage on this list. However, three days a week, the Texas Eagle combines with the Sunset Limited route, making it the longest route Amtrak has to offer from Chicago to Los Angeles at 2,728 miles.
Traveling through seven states over three days, 65 hours to be exact, you can stop at any of these major destinations: Ozark Mountains, Colorado River, Abraham Lincoln President Library and Museum, and John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. The full length of the trip will cost you $1,222, but fares start as low as $3.00 for in-between stops.
Amtrak has a route that will suit your travel needs with free Wi-Fi, cafe cart or meal service, and comfortable accommodations no matter your destination. You can book your long-distance travel on any one of these routes on the Amtrak website today and take in the sites of beautiful landscapes and exciting landmarks.