Passport to Adventure: Emeryville to Truckee

Passport to Adventure: Emeryville to Truckee

At Amtrak we believe every trip you take has the potential to become your next great adventure. That is why this summer, we have partnered with Passion Passport to help capture a look at the services we offer and the many destinations we serve across the country. Read on for a little trainspiration brought to you from the California Zephyr:

My colleague (and lead designer at Passion Passport), Kyle, shares a particular affinity for locomotives. Growing up in Portland, OR, he and his family would regularly journey across the country to visit relatives and for summer adventures. Similarly, trains were one of the things that captivated me the most as a child. From wooden train sets to The Little Engine that Could to Thomas The Tank Engine, trains have always been a source of great inspiration and have held a magical connotation in my mind’s eye.

Having lived in San Francisco for over three years, Kyle had dreamed of making the journey up to Truckee and Tahoe area by train, and I had the pleasure of joining him on a weekend of adventure in the Golden State.

Early on a Friday morning, we headed just across the bay to catch the California Zephyr in Emeryville, CA. The ride up to Truckee was roughly five hours in duration, but it passed quickly. The scenery was nothing short of mesmerizing, particularly in the sections that were a part of Tahoe National Forest. With every twist and turn through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, verdant sections of the forest and of the rocky landscapes emerged. As we made our way north from San Francisco, Kyle regaled me with stories from childhood journeys, the games he and his family would play in the observation car, and the quirky relatives they met up with at their destination.

A video posted by Zach Glassman (@zachspassport) on

A couple of hours into the journey, the train crossed the largest vertical train drop in the United States, a pass known as Emigrant Gap. During this portion, there were audible gasps from passengers in the observation car. Shortly after this, we reached Donner Pass, an elevated stretch of train that overlooks the crystal blue waters of Donner Lake, and the train continued to meander through the Sierras until we reached our destination: Truckee.

Once we arrived in Truckee, the station is located directly in the middle of the historic old town district. The general area itself is known primarily for its very avid outdoor community but a few additional surprises awaited us. The main street is filled with plenty of restaurants, an art gallery, boutiques, and even a shop devoted to artistic inspiration with a beautiful antique letterpress (Bespoke).

We met up with our friend Will—also in the area for the weekend—and headed to Coffeebar, reputed as the best place to find a good cup of joe. There, we picked up some lunch and caffeine (if you stop by, make sure to order the beet salad) before we headed North to Independence Lake. A clear July day, the sun beat down on us and everyone in the car was riddled with excitement. We couldn’t get to the lake soon enough. Since it was a weekend and close to sunset, we anticipated that the lake would be packed with visitors, but to our surprise we chanced upon a pristine lake surrounded by mountains that was devoid of visitors. After an hour or so, and many excited (yet chilly) moments swimming in the lake, the three of us spent the remaining sunlight hours staring at the incredible vista, a superb way to end our first day in Truckee.

Independence Lake is just one of plenty of magnificent options in the area for a swim or a lazy afternoon in the sun. Just South of Truckee there is Donner Lake, a half hour drive away the famed Lake Tahoe awaits, and there are other small lakes that will enchant you as well. While we chose Independence Lake as the focal point for our trip, the area around Truckee is filled with a plethora of fantastic options. And if swimming isn’t your cup of tea, I’d recommend scoping out one of the area’s many hiking or mountain biking trails, or even venturing over to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Olympics.

Author: Zach Glassman, the son of a travel-writing father and a wanderlust mother, is the founder of Passion Passport. Zach is always eager to use language to immerse himself in a new culture, and his style as a photographer is constantly evolving based on the setting and the search for what is new and uncommon.