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California Zephyr - Timings

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California Zephyr - Timings

This is probably a really stupid question but are the trains timed so that you don't miss the best bits whilst you are sleeping?

MY OH and I are planning to go east to west coast USA (probably Sept 2012) as a joint WA and 40th Birthday gift to ourselves and are currently trying to plan our route.

I can see there are many different options but would at least like to do the Zephyr part of the way as I understand it's a very scenic journey.

We plan to fly into NY form the UK and then travel by train to Chicago and then onwards via Denver and possibly Salt Lake City.

We went to San Francisco earlier this year so thought about finishing up in LA or San Diego instead but it all depends on the final itinerary we settle on (very early days at present). We have also been to Vegas and wouldn't be bothered about stopping there

MY OH wants to compare internal flight prices to the trains as he says we will miss a lot of it overnight anyway and I just wondered if this will be the case? I really would like to do it all by train and we plan on having at least a roomette.

We probably won't go all the way without stopping once, or maybe twice but would plan on getting back on the same train (time wise) as the one we got off but just 1/2/3/days later.

Is there anything we need to take into account to make sure we are passing the right places at the right time?

Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks

Piglet :-)

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

The most scenic Chicago to the West Coast routes are #1 the California Zephyr and #2 The Southwest Chief. The territory they traverse is very different. The California Zephyr is perfectly scheduled for scenery. You leave Chicago mid afternoon and cross the Mississippi River before sunset. You sleep the first night across the Great Plains and arrive in Denver, Colorado early the morning of the second day. The second day you traverse the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Glenwood Springs. The afternoon is spent along the mesas of the Wasatch Range into Salt Lake City Utah. You sleep that night across the salt flats and the Nevada desert. The morning of the third day you awaken in Reno Nevada and spend the day going over the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Truckee and Donner Lake to Sacramento CA in the afternoon. The train travels down the Sacramento river delta, Carquinez straits and the SF bay and arrives in Emeryville with a short bus/coach connection across the Oakland/SF Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Denver is the best stop off city for at least 2 days.

The Southwest Chief also leaves Chicago mid-afternoon. It takes a slightly southern route, cutting across the lower portion of the state of Iowa and into Missouri in the late afternoon. Again you sleep across the central plains and awake in La Junta Colorado. The second day is spent in cowboy and indian country (very John Wayne). You arrive in Albuquerque New Mexico around midday and have a 45 minute service stop. The transfer stations of Flagstaff and Williams Junction Arizona are around 9:30pm. You would transfer there to get to the Grand Canyon. The second night you sleep across the Nevada and California deserts and wake up in the San Gabriel mountains arriving in Los Angeles around 9am. If you want to make a direct transfer to a southbound San Diegan communter train you could get off at Fullerton instead of going into LA Union. Albuquerque would be a stop off city but only for 24 hours. There are also 2 routes between NYC and Chicago. I would suggest the Lake Shore Limited. Do get a roomette. It's a cheap hotel for the two nights and 2 1/2 days that you will be on the train and all of your meals in the dining car are included in the upgrade cost. The way it works over here is that you would pay two chair-car costs and one roomette upgrade cost for the two of you. There is no double billing for the room.

The other train you should look at is the Coast Starlight between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is a day trip from SF to LA so you can go by chair-car. You leave Emeryville (Amtrak bus connection from the city) early morning and down the east side of the SF Bay to San Jose. The morning is through the Salinas Valley to Paso Robles (oak pass) and over the Santa Maria Mountains in to the Osos Valley and San Luis Obispo, From SLO the train head to the Pacific coast and spend the afternoon along the coast - really along the coast where no cars go) through Santa Barbara into Ventura and the Simi Valley (where the old cowboy movies were filmed: you might recognize a rock or two) into LA late evening but with a guaranteed connection to a San Diegan train if you choose to head directly to San Diego and bypass LA. The Cal Zephyr combined with the Coast Starlight would give you both SF and LA/SD on two of Amtraks most scenic trains.

Go to amtrak.com and download the schedules for the Lake Shore Limited, Californina Zephyr, the Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief.

Oh, and spend at least 3 days/2 nights here in Chicago. The same in SF.

Edited: 17 June 2011, 20:00
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2. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

To summarize what Shallow_Shoals wrote, yes, the trains mentioned happen to take advantage of the nicest scenery as much as possible. The least interesting parts are at night.

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3. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

Also, if your looking for a good money with train travelling in America, I would suggest to you buying a 15 day Rail Pass for 8 travelling journeys.. Check out this page for all info. www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer… Currently costs (birtish pound) 241.00 per Adult. Much better value than taking a flight

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4. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

Thanks all, very useful information.

TrainRider201, how does the pass work? I know you still have to buy a ticket so how does it actually save you money? Do you get a discount on standard fares and if so how much? I can't see on the link you sent me what the benefits of the pass would be?

Thanks

Piglet :-)

Chicago, Illinois
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5. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

The pass will probably not work for you. It allows you to ride 8 segments over 15 days. It is for chair car only and you are asking about long distance trains which, IMHO, mandate a sleeper accommodation. You use the pre-purchased pass to get a boarding pass station to station and if the train is full you are stand-by which usually means the next days train. It's great if you are a student or young and on a tight budget. You are celebrating your 40th birthday. You need to look into at least a roomette for 2 night train travel. The sleeper car accommodation includes all of your meals in the dining car so it is like a traveling hotel with meals included. In the chair car you purchase your food/drink onboard.

London, United...
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6. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

Thanks shallow,

yes I've looked into it and agree. We will want at least a roomette. I've also compared the prices of the tickets against the pass and there isn't really any saving. We also want to book as soon as the trains become available and plan it all so we know where we are as we want to make several stops along the way.

Piglet :-)

London, United...
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7. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

Just another thought I've had after reading another post on here regarding sunset/sunrise.

I was originally thinking of traveling in September but now it looks like it might be mid to late October.

Will this mean we will be missing key sites as I notice the sunset is quite early by mid October (6pmish in Chicago for example)?

Thanks again.

Piglet :-)

Chicago, Illinois
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8. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

In Oct. the westbound train crosses the Mississippi at 5:25. Usually right at sunset which turns the river orange.... The woods on the Illinois side and hills on the Iowa side should be in full fall colors. Heading west out of the Rockies you may miss some of the Wasatch mesas in Utah but, again what the sunset has to offer in that territory is a phenomenon in itself. Download the California Zephyr Schedule from amtrak.com and you will see the hours for each station. It's been my experience that Union Pacific is wrapping up it's Sumertime track work in the mountains and the train tends to be on time in the Fall so you should have some very nice scenery to enjoy even that time of year.

London, United...
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9. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

Thanks again for your detailed reply. It really helps in making a decision. It sounds like October is an even better time to do it and we can coincide nicely with the GABF in Denver :-)

I have downloaded the schedule with timings so will have a detailed look but it's always good to get the opinion of a local/expert.

Piglet :-)

Chicago, Illinois
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10. Re: California Zephyr - Timings

If GABF is the Great American Beer Festival then Chicago, Denver and San Francisco are your cities.