Outbound Collective logo

The Long Way Home: Why Traveling Cross-Country by Train Should Be on Your Bucket List

Put aside some time and trade the plane for the train!

By: Tiffany Young + Save to a List

In 2015, I came back to the states after six months abroad in New Zealand.

I didn't want to face the reality that school was going to lock me down or that the long adventures were over... So before my return to the states I booked a $230 train ride from San Francisco to New York through Amtrak. The journey was 3,400-mile in three days. It gave me plenty of time to finish up on personal works, catch up on my sleep, or have some good conversations with fellow riders.  

The trip consisted of two train rides and the first was the famous California Zephyr (California to Chicago).

  • This was the most scenic portion of the trip! From San Francisco, we went through California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and into Chicago, Illinois.

The ride sure had some incredible sights!

During the first day of the trip, we were presented with some beautiful snowy Northern California mountains.

I was pleasantly awoken with the sun in my eye the next morning. Sleeping with the curtains open may be a good idea after all. 

Somewhere in the middle of Utah, amazing formations surrounded us. This was one of my favorite shots from the journey.

Into Colorado we go...

have never been to Colorado, but I can say cruising through it has made me fall more in love with the idea of going.

Though the cabins and coach seats had viewing windows, Amtrak provided special rooms with wide windows and routing seats. Great for reading, photos, and just relaxing.

Very festive mountains.... just in time for Christmas!

Day two was full on adventures (with little movement). Watching the land change as we road through the country was like watching a stunning dance by nature. Once we hit Nebraska and Iowa the land became quite flat, nevertheless, peaceful to watch as we rolled up to Chicago on Christmas Day. With hours to explore, my mindless strolling had definitely brought me to some cool tourist views before my train at 9:30 P.M. Somehow, the idea of Christmas had slipped by my mind and my hungry self found out the hard way that everything was closed.

Lake Shore Limited (Chicago to New York)

  • This portion of the trip lasted about 19 hours traveling through IL, OH, and NY. At this point, I remembered how sitting for a long period of time can just be as exhausting as physically moving. Grateful for the hours I had in Chicago, I spent the rest of the trip sleeping, reading, and editing.

Here's another visual of the journey.


  • Bring an icebox of food! Although you can purchase food on the train, I felt that the main courses weren't filling enough for the price. I envied the food my train neighbors were pulling out of their box and all the snacks they had! Their mom did it right.
  • A sleeping bag will be your best friend. It's big enough to keep you cozy, but also easier to pack!
  • Try to keep your shoes on, the crew won't serve you. (I understand the policy, but in all honesty, I was sitting in a train for three days, I was going to get comfortable.)
  • Take advantage of every stop and step off the train! (At least do it for a few minutes of fresh air.)
  • Make good use of the time. Whether you use it to spend time for yourself, reading, writing, editing, thinking, or you wish to chat it up with everyone, it's all part of the cross country journey. I spent a lot of the time editing my videos, photos, and catching up on reading, but also spoke to some interesting folks going home for the holidays.


Would I do this again? Absolutely (if time prohibits). It's nice to be comfortable and see the world from above in a short time, but there's something about travel from the ground that makes you more considerate of time and where you are.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


How to start traveling and plan a road trip without breaking the bank

Jared Beeler

The Grand Circle: What It Is; Where It Is; and Why You Should Visit It

Jared Beeler

A Solo Road-Trip through Yosemite, the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast

Eli Otterholt

The Outbound's Pursuit Series is Back for 2019

The Outbound Collective

5 Reasons to Take a Road Trip across the United States

Jared Beeler