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Guest Sally Barbara Morgan

Help with Travel From Washington DC to San Francisco with stop overs

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Guest Sally Barbara Morgan

My husband and I (we will be 71 and 70 respectively) are planning a trip to the USA during August / September 2018 and would like to do as much as possible by train. We are from South Africa and our flight arrives in Washington DC.

 

1. Our thoughts are to start in Washington DC and travel across the "middle of the USA" to San Francisco - for the first leg. We would like to visit Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City along the way, which means we will need to stop and re-commence our journey. Hence will not be catching a non-stop train. Where to sleep and where to visit when we stop??

 

2. Our second leg will be from San Francisco non-stop to LA. We'd like to get off in LA for a visit. (We have driven that coast before so we will not be getting off before LA).

 

3. Third leg = From LA to St. Louis via Albuquerque and Kansas City - where to stop and what to do along this route please?

 

4. Our final destination is Onemo in Virginia or nearest - probably Norfolk. Do we drive from St. Louis or can we take a scenic train ride to the coast?

 

We like our basic creature comforts of toilet, shower and reasonable sleeping accommodation without being pretentious. We want to take advantage of seeing as much of the beautiful areas as possible and sleep during the not-so-pretty portions.

 

We only have three weeks to reach Onemo where we would like to spend a week visiting friends.

 

We have NO experience of Amtrak and would appreciate and welcome input from all you learned and experienced travelers. What to see, where to stay, and any other wisdom you have to share with us. Make suggestions and assist as much as you are happy to.

 

Thank you for allowing me to post on this forum. MUCH APPRECIATED!!

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The Capitol Limited, a superliner bi-level train goes non-stop to Chicago. Depending how long in Chicago, there is so much to see, Chicago has many excellent museums, there is the former Sears Tower (Though I prefer the Hancock for Lunch on the top floor), there is Lake Michigan tours as well as excellent Architectural boat tours along the rivers in the city. I love downtown Chicago. My wife loves the Magnificent mile Michigan Ave. for all the shopping. In Washington and Chicago, also LA there are Lounges for Sleeping car passengers to relax before pre-boarding. Going to San Francisco, you would take the California Zephyr (all western LD trains are bi-level superliners). Denver opens the door for touring Colorado and Wyoming, all the beautiful national parks. The trip between Denver and Salt Lake City, is the most scenic section. The train does not go into San Francisco, but Amtrak does have free buses into the city. Again, there is so much to see in SF. You can buy a day or two of getting on and off tour buses that go all over the city. The Coast Starlight stops in Oakland, free bus from SF brings you, then terminates in LA at night. Going to St. Louis, I would suggest taking the Texas Eagle, stop off for a day in San Antonio, great downtown, unlike any other city.Then take the Texas Eagle to St. Louis. Going to Virginia, take the train to Chicago and take the Cardinal which is very scenic through West Virginia and make several stops in Virginia. To me the "Bedroom" though it has lots of space and the private Toilet/mini shower, we prefer the Roomette and use the Sleeping Car bathrooms and Shower/ Changing Room. We use the savings to visit more in the cities we travel to. I am big on research before a trip, so to me you can't do too much. Let us know what other questions you may have.

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Second Lonestar 648s ideas, but suggest staying in the Beautiful Rocky Mountain town of Glenwood Springs,CO ( West of Denver on the Zephyr Route)instead of Denver, which is nothing special when it comes to Cities!

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A small clarification - The buses from Emeryville to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Oakland are not free. They however are usually the same fare from or to a long distance train, but you do have to make them part of your reservation. (A ticket from Martinez to Emeryville on the Capital Corridor - a short distance train - is less than Martinez to San Francisco.)

 

You must also make separate reservations for each segment between your stopover points. There are no free stopovers unless you depart within 23 1/2 hours of your arrival. With many trains being once daily, this is impossible on many routes.

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A small clarification - The buses from Emeryville to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Oakland are not free. They however are usually the same fare from or to a long distance train, but you do have to make them part of your reservation. (A ticket from Martinez to Emeryville on the Capital Corridor - a short distance train - is less than Martinez to San Francisco.)

 

You must also make separate reservations for each segment between your stopover points. There are no free stopovers unless you depart within 23 1/2 hours of your arrival. With many trains being once daily, this is impossible on many routes.

 

I think the description of the additional cost for the bus would be "nominal" which is of course minimal or well below the cost of providing the service. I tried a sample booking of Denver to Emeryville on the California Zephyr, which was a $144 Value fare. For the same trip I added to bus from Emeryville to San Francisco, and it was a $145 value fare.

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I might consider doing the trip in a different order to maximize some of your scenery-during-daylight

 

1) DC to Chicago on Capitol Limited

 

2) Chicago to LA on Southwest Chief, stopping in Kansas City and Albequerque. Though you really should consider adding a stop here for the Grand Canyon.

 

3) LA to San Francisco (Emeryville) on Coast Starlight.

 

4) San Francisco to Chicago on California Zephyr, stopping in Salt Lake City and Denver

 

5) Chicago to DC/Virginia on the Cardinal

 

Newport News would actually be the closer station for your final destination of Onemo, but connecting there on train isn't going to be that convenient. If you are renting a car, I would take the Cardinal to Alexandria, VA, then a cab to National Airport (5min) and rent a car there to drive down to Onemo (should be about 2.5hr if traffic in DC isn't bad). If you have friends meeting you that could pick you up, you might look at connecting to a southbound VRE commuter train at Alexandria and ride that to Fredericksburg, VA which will put you about 90min closer to Onemo.

 

It's an ambitious trip that you might want to use a travel agent that specializes in Trains to arrange. I'm sure others on this forum can make a recommendation on that.

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3) LA to San Francisco (Emeryville) on Coast Starlight.

 

The northbound CS connects to the bus in Oakland. The bus stop is actually at the ground floor of a garage next to the station.

 

A bus connection could be forced in Emeryville using a multi-city booking, but there would be issues of baggage depending on which bus. And of course the buses aren't synchronized in that case. However, there are lots of Capitol Corridor buses.

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The Capitol Limited, a superliner bi-level train goes non-stop to Chicago. . .

From the schedule it looks like the Capitol Limited makes 14 stops between DC and Chicago.

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/timetables/Capitol-Limited-Schedule-010818.pdf

Edited by KmH

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Thank you for all this wonderful information. We have a lot of research and homework to do. Very grateful for the "start" you have given us.

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The Capitol Limited, a superliner bi-level train goes non-stop to Chicago. . .

From the schedule it looks like the Capitol Limited makes 14 stops between DC and Chicago.

https://www.amtrak.com/content/dam/projects/dotcom/english/public/documents/timetables/Capitol-Limited-Schedule-010818.pdf

 

my mistake, I meant to say with out changing trains.

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I second snv's idea of the Grand Canyon. At that time a shuttle bus from Flagstaff will take you to Williams, where you can catch the 9:30A departure on the Grand Canyon RR to South Rim, arriving 11:45. There you can just spend a few hours, or stay a night there. Return leaves 3:30pm, arrives Williams 5:45pm, and the shuttle takes you back to Flagstaff for the train to LA.

 

The Southwest Chief is possibly more exciting than the Sunset Limited, though I've heard some people are really into deserts, which the Sunset Limited has more of.

 

As to getting to Onemo, VA, let's all just dream of the Pocahontas coming back.

 

To Norfolk, the connection is only doable on Saturdays to Train 71, otherwise you'll have to do 125 or 157 the next day.

 

Newport News is indeed closer, and that is only possible the next day using 65/67 if you're early wakers, or 95/99 otherwise. You can use 85/71/87 to get as far as Richmond on the same night. Alternatively, driving from DC to Onemo is 3 hrs.

 

Driving from Richmond to Onemo isn't much longer than Newport News to Onemo, and Norfolk to Onemo is about the same, because of the local geography.

Edited by maxbuskirk

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As this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to and through the United States, please do not skip the opportunity to visit our Grand Canyon. It's one of the most special and spectacular natural features in the world; it has excellent tourist facilities; it is easily accessible by rail via Flagstaff; and it's convenient to your planned route. Budget at least two days for the stopover; if you can work in an extra day to stay overnight at the Canyon so much the better.

 

If you are in good physical condition and can tolerate warm weather (it's hot at the bottom in August), look up the mule trips to Phantom Ranch. That's an experience which comparatively few native to this country have shared. I've never been below the Rim, but my uncle hiked the Canyon and stayed there in the '70s.

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As this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to and through the United States, please do not skip the opportunity to visit our Grand Canyon. It's one of the most special and spectacular natural features in the world; it has excellent tourist facilities; it is easily accessible by rail via Flagstaff; and it's convenient to your planned route. Budget at least two days for the stopover; if you can work in an extra day to stay overnight at the Canyon so much the better.

 

If you are in good physical condition and can tolerate warm weather (it's hot at the bottom in August), look up the mule trips to Phantom Ranch. That's an experience which comparatively few native to this country have shared. I've never been below the Rim, but my uncle hiked the Canyon and stayed there in the '70s.

 

It's really difficult to get reservations though. At this point it might be too late since they sell out quickly and they take reservations up to 13 months in advance. It's also physically difficult to ride on a mule for hours.

 

There's also the issue of weight. There's a maximum weight of 200 lbs per rider including everything (food, water, clothing) that goes on the mule. I'm frankly running close to it, and I don't think anyone would says I'm overweight. A reasonably tall, physically fit person might still weigh too much.

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If you do go the Texas Eagle route I strongly suggest a day in San Antonio. The Downtown Riverwalk is special unto its self, best viewed on the 45 min Riverboat. Just off the Riverwalk is the historic Alamo. The Amtrak station is downtown next to the Alamo Dome, either walk able or a short taxi ride to a multitude of hotels on or near the riverwalk. If enjoy history you get one of the tours that will take you on the mission trail to visit each of the Missions along the San Antonio river. Downtown is also the Hemisfair park with the Tower, 750', so you can see beyond the city. There is a lot to do downtown. San Antonio is a huge tourist city, in fact during the holidays it is one the the top 10 places traveled to.

 

Each of the Western Amtrak routes are filled with great scenery, history, memories of a lifetime, so you can't really go wrong.

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Second the San Antonio recommendation, most interesting City in Texas for tourists to visit!😎(I live in Austin!😁)

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As this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to and through the United States, please do not skip the opportunity to visit our Grand Canyon. It's one of the most special and spectacular natural features in the world; it has excellent tourist facilities; it is easily accessible by rail via Flagstaff; and it's convenient to your planned route. Budget at least two days for the stopover; if you can work in an extra day to stay overnight at the Canyon so much the better.

 

If you are in good physical condition and can tolerate warm weather (it's hot at the bottom in August), look up the mule trips to Phantom Ranch. That's an experience which comparatively few native to this country have shared. I've never been below the Rim, but my uncle hiked the Canyon and stayed there in the '70s.

 

It's really difficult to get reservations though. At this point it might be too late since they sell out quickly and they take reservations up to 13 months in advance. It's also physically difficult to ride on a mule for hours.

 

There's also the issue of weight. There's a maximum weight of 200 lbs per rider including everything (food, water, clothing) that goes on the mule. I'm frankly running close to it, and I don't think anyone would says I'm overweight. A reasonably tall, physically fit person might still weigh too much.

 

 

Phantom Ranch is a tough ticket, true, but other tourist accommodations on the South Rim are much more available. You can also book a package through the Grand Canyon Railway.

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As this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to and through the United States, please do not skip the opportunity to visit our Grand Canyon. It's one of the most special and spectacular natural features in the world; it has excellent tourist facilities; it is easily accessible by rail via Flagstaff; and it's convenient to your planned route. Budget at least two days for the stopover; if you can work in an extra day to stay overnight at the Canyon so much the better.

 

If you are in good physical condition and can tolerate warm weather (it's hot at the bottom in August), look up the mule trips to Phantom Ranch. That's an experience which comparatively few native to this country have shared. I've never been below the Rim, but my uncle hiked the Canyon and stayed there in the '70s.

 

It's really difficult to get reservations though. At this point it might be too late since they sell out quickly and they take reservations up to 13 months in advance. It's also physically difficult to ride on a mule for hours.

 

There's also the issue of weight. There's a maximum weight of 200 lbs per rider including everything (food, water, clothing) that goes on the mule. I'm frankly running close to it, and I don't think anyone would says I'm overweight. A reasonably tall, physically fit person might still weigh too much.

 

 

Phantom Ranch is a tough ticket, true, but other tourist accommodations on the South Rim are much more available. You can also book a package through the Grand Canyon Railway.

 

 

Sure. My one visit I stayed in the South Rim at one of the now demolished Maswik quad cabins. It was only $80 a night. I wasn't right on the rim like most of the South Rim accommodations (it was too late to reserve a Bright Angel cabin) in about January, but it's still close enough.

 

It's 5.5 hours down and 4.5 hours up, and most people would probably feel pretty stiff after that long on a mule Also it's only 10 riders per day now. I've been down one of the trails before, but only about a quarter of the way down on a ranger guided hike before heading back. It's not exactly easy, but someone reasonably fit should be able to do it. I saw some people who looked like they were just barely going down. Just a little bit down from the rim presents a very different experience than viewing from the South Rim.

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Just to be sure, when you arrive from SA are you flying into Dulles (IAD), an int'l gateway, or another gateway with a connection to Reagan/National (DCA) / It may make a difference in how you start off....The extension of the Air and Space Museum out at Dulles is excellent if you are out there, otherwise, lots to see in DC...

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Just to be sure, when you arrive from SA are you flying into Dulles (IAD), an int'l gateway, or another gateway with a connection to Reagan/National (DCA) / It may make a difference in how you start off....The extension of the Air and Space Museum out at Dulles is excellent if you are out there, otherwise, lots to see in DC...

 

Maybe even Baltimore? I found flying into Baltimore was cheaper, and of course that could mean a chance for train time to get to DC.

 

https://www.bwiairport.com/to-from-bwi/transportation/transit/mta-marc-train

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If you want an all rail routing from and to San Fransisco one can also take Amtrak to San Jose Dirndon station and the CalTrain on to San Fransisco.

 

The other fun routing you could do.

Leg 1:WAS-CHI on train 51 the Cardinal.

Leg 2: CHI-DEN on train 5 the California Zephyr

Leg 3: DEN-Bay area on train 5 the California Zephyr

Leg 4: Bay Area-LAX on train 11 the Coast Starlight

Leg 5: LAX-SAS on train 2 the Sunset Limited

Leg 6: SAS-NOL on train 2 the sunset limited.

Leg 7: NOL-WAS on train 20 the Crescent.

 

That would give you a great variety of scenery giving you the best of the mid Atlantic/Appalachian, heartland, Rockies, California, southwest, and Deep South.

 

Even though I would recommend that you go to the Portland/Seattle area as I find that area the most scenic in the country. In that regard sub leg 2 and either take the Seattle section or Portland section of the builder. Then leg 3 the Starlight to the Bay Area.

 

You really can't go wrong with either train the Seattle section goes over Stevens Pass and winds its way down to the Puget sound. And the Portland section glides along the Columbia River Gorge.

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I want to second the suggestion to see the Grand Canyon if you possibly can. It doesn't have to be an ambitious visit. I'd skip the trip to the bottom and just enjoy the magnificent scenery around the rim. An overnight would be nice if you can spare the time, but even if you can only manage a couple of hours there I don't think you'd ever regret taking the time to see it. Nothing else is comparable, really.

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