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Guest us_railtrip

USA rail pass route in January

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Guest us_railtrip

Hi everyone,

I would like to use the (30 or probably 45 day) Amtrak rail pass for a journey across the US in January and February. Does anyone have any experience with reservations at that time of the year? I guess not too many people are traveling in January?

I am basically trying to do a big circle starting in New York City, going to Chicago and then to the West Coast and back through the South.
For the first part of my trip, I have three options in mind:

1. Chicago - Denver/Salt Lake City/? - San Francisco (California Zephyr to Emeryville) - Los Angeles (Coast Starlight)

2. Chicago - ? - San Francisco (California Zephyr) - Portland and/or Seattle - Los Angeles (Coast Starlight)

3. Chicago - ? - Seattle (Empire Builder) - Portland - San Francisco - Los Angeles (Coast Starlight)

#1 misses Portland and Seattle, #2 is a huge detour and #3 misses the California Zephyr which, I imagine, might be more interesting in winter than the Empire Builder? I'm also wondering if Portland and/or Seattle are worth going to in January. Unfortunately, I can only travel at this time (I have been spending a semester in the US and am going back to Germany afterwards) and I wouldn't like to have it too cold and rainy, but if one of these cities are totally unmissable I would like to go anyway.

Also, do you have any suggestions for a stopover on the California Zephyr or Empire Builder? I don't want to spend two nights in a row on a train.

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Spending two nights on the train can be great fun! [ ETA: In a sleeper!] But, if you do want to make a stopover in the Jan-Feb time frame, I would recommend Grand Junction, Colorado on the Zephyr and Essex, Montana (Izaak Walton Inn) on the Empire Builder. Both are lovely, scenic, out-of-the-way places which cater to train travelers.

Edit To Add: If skiing is your thing and you prefer downhill, get off one stop to the west in Whitefish. But if you just want to enjoy the scenery and watch trains or if you like cross-country skiing, Essex is definitely the stop for you!

Sent from my STV100-1 using Amtrak Forum mobile app

Edited by ehbowen

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I second Grand Junction, CO as a stopover. I have visited many times during the summer, this winter I am planning a stopover during the winter. I always to take the California Zypher during the winter. In my opinion,it has the best scenery on Amtrak.

 

I have visited Portland many times during winter. Yes it does sometimes snow, but most times it only is around a few days. Most days, it is very nice and comfortable.

 

You could go north up to Portland from Sacramento (off the Zypher) then go back south to Los Angeles if you wish.

 

I personally have never used the passes, so I can not give you advice on them.

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Rent a car in Grand Jct (Enterprise is 4 blocks east of the Amtrak station) and drive to 4 national parks in Utah over 2 or 3 days. They are spectacular (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion). Throw in the Deadhorse Point State Park near Moab, Utah and you will have the stopover of a lifetime.

 

 

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Instead of Grand Junction, I say go with Glenwood Springs,Colrado to break up the Zephyr trip.

 

Lots of info here on AU on this great little Colorado Mountain town, Google it up and decide for yourself

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Glenwood Springs is about 90 minutes drive (and train) time east of Grand Junction. Rental cars in Glenwood are triple the price of cars in Grand Junction.

If you don’t wish to visit the Utah National Parks, then Glenwood is a good alternative for a two or three night visit. You can take buses from there to Aspen, Colorado in about an hour to see how and where the top 0.1% vacation and ski. Lots of entertainment stars and business moguls have 2nd homes in Aspen or the next door community of Snowmass.

 

 

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I've lived in Utah and Seattle, here's my advice:

  • on the California Zephyr, I think either Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction is good. If you just want an overnight stop, the hot springs at Glenwood are a wonderful refresher. It's ski season up the valley, so you'll be competing with low-wage workers for reasonable lodging. If you have some extra days, get a car in Grand Junction and go for the parks! You won't have as many tourists to compete with the time of year, and it's a very dry and sunny region in general. Winter is low season, but if you happen to get snow in the desert (rare), it's absolutely stunning!
  • The rain in the Pacific Northwest is much overrated (shhh! Don't tell anyone). Seattle and Portland each average just over a meter of rain per year. Yes, most of it falls between late October and mid-June, but as I used to say when I lived in the foothills of the Cascades: if it's pouring down rain in the mountains, it's drizzling in Seattle. If it's broken clouds in the mountains, it's sunny in Seattle. In addition, if you are there in late January through February, we often get a persistent high-pressure ridge that gives the region sunny days for weeks on end, including the coast. Another good place to get a car and take an excursion, though both cities have excellent and reasonable public transit.

Have a wonderful trip!

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Points to remember about the railpasses is that each time you "break" your journey, or change trains, you use up one of the travel "segments" that each pass allows... It can be worth pricing up a conventional point to point ticket to compare.

The railpass can't be used without the train tickets and seat reservations, it is not a "hop on- hop off" type of pass.

 

Ed.

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Guest us_railtrip

Thank you all for your advice! I appreciate it. Unfortunately I can't drive, and don't have a license (I know that this is not a good prerequisite for a trip across America, but it is what it is), so the rental car options don't really work for me. I will definitely include Portland and Seattle now as I will also meet a friend there, and take the Zephyr to Sacramento with a one-night stop in Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction. Would you recommend to take a whole day for Sacramento, or rather just take the same-day connection between the Zephyr and the Coast Starlight?

 

I would be interested what you guys think of something like the following route for a 45-day pass:

New York City - Chicago - Glenwood Springs/Grand Junction - Sacramento - Seattle - Portland - San Francisco (via Emeryville) - Los Angeles - Tucson - San Antonio - New Orleans - Atlanta - bus to Savannah - Miami and then back up the east coast to New York City with or without some stopovers in Orlando; Charleston, SC and/or D.C., depending how much time is left. Does that make sense?

 

Is there a better way to get from New Orleans to Florida than via Atlanta (since the Sunset Limited does not go to Florida anymore)?

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Thank you all for your advice! I appreciate it. Unfortunately I can't drive, and don't have a license (I know that this is not a good prerequisite for a trip across America, but it is what it is), so the rental car options don't really work for me. I will definitely include Portland and Seattle now as I will also meet a friend there, and take the Zephyr to Sacramento with a one-night stop in Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction. Would you recommend to take a whole day for Sacramento, or rather just take the same-day connection between the Zephyr and the Coast Starlight?

 

I would be interested what you guys think of something like the following route for a 45-day pass:

New York City - Chicago - Glenwood Springs/Grand Junction - Sacramento - Seattle - Portland - San Francisco (via Emeryville) - Los Angeles - Tucson - San Antonio - New Orleans - Atlanta - bus to Savannah - Miami and then back up the east coast to New York City with or without some stopovers in Orlando; Charleston, SC and/or D.C., depending how much time is left. Does that make sense?

 

Is there a better way to get from New Orleans to Florida than via Atlanta (since the Sunset Limited does not go to Florida anymore)?

 

New Orleans - Washington - Florida (Crescent - SM/SS) - I do realize that is longer though but you avoid the bus. You can also try New Orleans - Charlotte - Raleigh - Florida (Crescent - Carolinian - Silver Star) but you'd have to change trains in the graveyard shift in Charlotte and I'm not sure about the times in Raleigh or Cary, NC.

 

Unfortunately Florida is only realistically accessible by train to the north now.

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Thank you all for your advice! I appreciate it. Unfortunately I can't drive, and don't have a license (I know that this is not a good prerequisite for a trip across America, but it is what it is), so the rental car options don't really work for me. I will definitely include Portland and Seattle now as I will also meet a friend there, and take the Zephyr to Sacramento with a one-night stop in Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction. Would you recommend to take a whole day for Sacramento, or rather just take the same-day connection between the Zephyr and the Coast Starlight?

 

I would be interested what you guys think of something like the following route for a 45-day pass:

New York City - Chicago - Glenwood Springs/Grand Junction - Sacramento - Seattle - Portland - San Francisco (via Emeryville) - Los Angeles - Tucson - San Antonio - New Orleans - Atlanta - bus to Savannah - Miami and then back up the east coast to New York City with or without some stopovers in Orlando; Charleston, SC and/or D.C., depending how much time is left. Does that make sense?

 

Is there a better way to get from New Orleans to Florida than via Atlanta (since the Sunset Limited does not go to Florida anymore)?

 

  • You can check out the transportation page on Visit Grand Junction. I see a few options that look like tours or public transit. I think it's also worth calling their office to discuss your options.
  • As far as Sacramento goes, I found the connection time between the Zephyr and Coast Starlight was plenty to wander around Old Town and get dinner, but the Zephyr gets there too late to do any justice to the California State Railway Museum which is within easy walking distance of the station. I recommend the full day layover, and some web searching to find other good things to do.
  • When I traveled to Savannah and New Orleans, I wanted to see some of Florida. Ended up taking Greyhound from Jacksonville to New Orleans, overnighting in Tallahassee (with the legislature NOT in session, it was quiet and friendly and we loved it). Not a bad trip, but definitely not the train. If I had the segments available on a rail pass (I haven't counted yours up), I would take Amtrak and the AmBus.

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Since you are not renting a car, I think Glenwood Springs is better than Grand Junction. There is good bus service up to Aspen from Glenwood.

In Sacramento, I love the HI hostel (NW corner of 10th & H) across the street from City Hall. It is within walking distance of the train station.

If you go from SAC into San Francisco, you might want to pay out of pocket and save the 2 "segments" of the railpass.

There are good HI hostels in Portland and one in Seattle.

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I am not a big fan of Sacramento as a tourist destination. I assume you are taking the train for travel purposes, rather than as a railfan?

I often stay in Sacramento, and like the youth hostel a lot, but my stay is mostly to rest (cheaply!) between connections. Stay overnight by all means if you have plenty of time, or you just want time out from travelling, but Seattle or Portland seemed more interesting cities to me to spend time in...

 

Ed.

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