Taking Amtrak to National Parks
How do you visit two national parks, four of the country’s best cities, and travel in style? Amtrak.
The U.S. has arguably some of the world’s best national parks, and my wife and I are on a mission to see them all. Luckily for us, Amtrak is one of the best ways to visit them, with stops close to quite a few, and shuttle service to most. This one would see us visiting Joshua Tree National Park and Crater Lake National Park, as well as time in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Antonio, and Seattle. Last year we took an epic trip on the California Zephyr; this year we opted to take the Capitol Limited, the Texas Eagle, and the Coast Starlight.
The Texas Eagle is a 65-hour train from Chicago to Los Angeles. It traverses almost every type of landscape America has to offer, from big cities like Chicago and St Louis, to corn and soybean fields in the Midwest, and the beautiful deserts of the Southwest. Add to that the Rails and Trails volunteers on the route, there was plenty to see and learn about. I spent a lot of this ride in the lounge car watching the world zip by.
Our train car, as well as one coach car, would be continuing on to Los Angeles, which meant that we had a long layover in San Antonio while we waited to be tacked onto the Sunset Limited. This left us with enough time to pick up some snacks, and enjoy the River Walk, a beautiful walk along the river in downtown.
When we arrived, on time, to Los Angeles, we rented a car right at Amtrak’s Union Station and headed out to Joshua Tree, which is about an hour and a half outside of LA. One of the more underrated parks, Joshua Tree was a big highlight of the trip.
The Coast Starlight, which goes from LA to Seattle, has some of the most unique scenery of any route, gliding up the coast mere feet from the beach, to the huge redwood forests of the Cascades, as well as vast farmlands in the middle of California valleys; it is no wonder that this is often considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. I spent a lot of my time on this leg in the Parlour Car.
Like Joshua Tree, my wife had never been to Crater Lake, and a day stopover in Klamath Falls and a rental car are all one needs to see this stunning volcanic lake. During the summer months, Amtrak also offers a shuttle service for those who do not feel like renting a car. Back on the train the next day, this time in coach, was just as pleasant as the ride the day before. We arrived in Seattle that day, and while our travels were over, it reinforced that Amtrak is the best way to see the country.
About the Author: Hogarth Ferguson is a Baltimore-based film photographer and world traveler. He lives with his wife and three dogs. You can see more of his work at www.hogarthferguson.com.