Taking a train across America gives you access to incredible views of our great country. You get to kick back and enjoy the scenery. Or even write your greatest roadside novel.
But how much does it cost to travel by railways? With the rising price of airfare, vacationing by train could become more enticing.
Get comfortable while we explore the expenses and benefits of taking a train across America.
A Little History of Trains in America
The American railway system played a significant role in the country’s development. Although the first railroads date as far back as 1720, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that things really started rollin’.
What began as small connections between East Coast towns blossomed into a nationwide effort to connect Eastern America to the West.
Completed in 1869, the transcontinental railroad made it possible to travel from New York to San Francisco in one week. Bye-bye, horse and buggies!
People moved, commerce boomed, and new towns sprouted up everywhere. Although railroad construction took a heavy toll on the environment, the benefits outweighed the sacrifices.
By 1971 Amtrak took over operations for almost all long-distance rail systems in America. Many short-distance lines shut down as cars, buses, and airplanes took over as preferred modes of travel.
But the long-distance connections are still in use. Although train travel today is far less common than its peak in the 1920s, it’s still a great way to see the country.
What Are Some of the Best Train Routes Across America?
Choosing the best train trip across America depends on budget, time, and what you love seeing. We’re emphasizing sights, as opposed to doing, because one of the best things about rail travel is the view from your window.
Amtrak’s vacation website makes it very easy to explore options. Travel deals typically include hotel costs, bus passes, meals, and city tours. Be sure to book three to four months in advance, as rates and availability will fluctuate.
Grand Rail Experience
Amtrak’s Grand Rail Experience is a fantastic way to see the widely different landscapes across America. Starting in Chicago, this two-week round trip takes you as far west as Seattle and to the Southern tip of New Orleans.
The itinerary includes overnight train rides, passing sites like Glacier National Park and the California coastline. Tickets start at $2,649 per person.
Coast To Coast Across the USA
If you have a little more time and fancy a trip to the desert, we recommend the Coast to Coast Across the USA vacation. This one-way excursion will take you from the bustling streets of New York City to the historic San Francisco Bay in California.
You’ll spend time at the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Hollywood Hills in Southern California along the way. Tickets start at $3,499 per person for this sixteen-day trip.
The All American
Hey big spender! The All American train across the US is the most expensive on our list. But considering gas prices these days, we think it’s reasonable for what you get.
You’ll explore six destinations in fifteen days, including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Tickets start at $6,649 and include eight hotel stays, sightseeing tours, and a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty!
Pro Tip: Learn more about these and all vacation options on the Amtrak Vacation website.
How Long Would It Take to Ride a Train Across America?
If you’re not fussed about tourism and want to get the fastest train across America, you’re looking at three overnights without stopovers. Figure around 65 hours and four full days.
The hardest part about booking your journey is choosing the best route. With so much land to cover, Amtrak has many options.
Examples of train routes across America that take four days without stopping include New York to Seattle and Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. A five-day cross-country journey can get you from New York to New Orleans and then to Los Angeles.
Are There Private Sleeper Cars on Amtrak?
Two of the nine types of Amtrak trains include sleeper cars. The Viewliner and Superliner are your best bet if you prefer a more spacious travel experience. But with limited availability, it’s best to book far in advance.
Unlike in Europe, where you can pay less if you’re willing to sleep next to a stranger, all Amtrak sleeper cars are private. Benefits also include prepaid meals, private luggage storage, and a dedicated car attendant.
These standard private rooms have two seats facing each other, which convert to bunk beds. There’s room for a couple of suitcases, but that’s about it. Some older trains include concealed toilets in the room, but most are down the hall along with the showers.
Although prices vary depending on the route, a solo roomette costs anywhere from $400 to $950. Traveling in pairs greatly reduces the cost per person. Keep a lookout for two for one roomette deals.
The Amtrak Bedrooms cost twice as much as the roomettes, but they have double the amount of space. Each room includes a sofa, chair, sink, restroom, and shower. The beds are bigger and more comfortable than those in the roomette.
Bedrooms and Roomettes both include priority boarding and complimentary lounge access.
Bedroom Suites have everything the bedroom cars have, times two. It’s literally two adjoined rooms with beds for up to four people. It’s almost like staying at a cozy little hotel in Europe.
Each suite has temperature controls, a small closet with coat hangers, fold-out tables, and plenty of outlets for your gadgets.
Family Bedrooms are only available on the Superliner trains. Each has two beds and a set of bunk beds for the kids. As these rooms span the entire width of the train, bathrooms are down the hall from your sleeper car. The perk is you get views of both sides of the train.
Accessible Bedrooms, the largest sleeper rooms in the Amtrak fleet, offer enough space for two guests and a wheelchair. Toilets and sinks are included, but the showers are outside the private space and down the hall.
So, How Much Does It Cost to Ride the Train Across America?
The cost of train travel across America is a moving target. Amtrak rates are dynamic, and prices jump as more people book their trips.
Reserving far in advance and researching seasonal differences will help bring costs down. Pairs of travelers will pay much less for private rooms.
If you’re comfortable in a reclining seat for your entire journey, a one-way ticket from New York to Los Angeles can cost as little as $225. A round-trip coach seat from Washington D.C to Seattle, booked far in advance, is about $395.
A roundtrip Bedroom Sleeper on the beautiful California Zephyr route from San Francisco to Chicago runs $4,000.
The good news is Amtrak offers plenty of discounts and rail passes. The USA Rail Pass costs $499 and is valid for ten trip segments within 30 days. That’s coast to coast five times in a coach seat.
The California Rail Pass costs $159 and gets you seven days of rides across the state. Designed for commuters, multi-ride passes are great for those who travel daily between specific destinations.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers offers annual individual and family memberships starting at $60. Benefits include 10% off Amtrak fares and 20% off select regional railways.
Is a Train Trip Across America Worth It?
We think so! If you’re a planner, you can certainly make a trip cross-country via train worth the expense. And depending on your personal comfort level, you could spend much less than driving a car across the country. Train travel across America is worth trying at least once. Start with a short journey if you’re uncertain.
Have you traveled across the US by rail? Let us know in the comments.
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