Not being able to afford a vacation or find time for one is a real downer, but there are Amtrak day trips along various routes that are worthy of your attention. You might think a day trip is not worth the effort, but trust me, I would take any of these and I’m certain you wouldn’t be disappointed. Train travel is comfortable and if you just want to sit back and relax and enjoy spectacular scenery, the huge panoramic windows give you a great view. And there are scenic Amtrak day trips you can take at all times of the year. Like these:
1. Lake Shore Limited – Massachusetts Section
As it’s fall when writing this, it makes sense to look at some of the best fall Amtrak day trips. When you read the trips I’m sharing, please note, the day trip may actually be a section of a longer route – it's all a case of booking the ticket for the right section you want to travel. Like this one for instance, which is part of the overnight train route between Chicago and Boston or New York. The pertinent section is Albany to/from Boston, a route which offers magnificent New England scenery with the stunning colors of fall. You’ll pass through the picturesque Berkshire Mountains and quaint towns with plenty of views to keep your eyes peeled.
This is another where you ride the rails of just the portion of the longer trip, in this case, Chicago to/from New York. There are actually quite a few options here as to which chunk of the journey to plump for. The route takes you through historic and lovely Virginia countryside with mountains and rivers, from Charlottesville and through the Kanawha Valley to Charleston. The route includes a stop in Washington D.C, so really there’s a way to combine city and country in a day trip if you choose the right section of the route.
3. Coast Starlight – Los Angeles-Oakland Section
If you prefer the West Coast to the East, the section between Seattle and Los Angeles of the Coast Starlight route will appeal to you. The route travels along the glorious Pacific coast for over 100 miles with scenic views of beautiful beaches and mountains. You’ll pass through Vandenberg Air Force Base (a missile and rocket launch center), the lovely rolling farmlands around Salinas as well as the amazing sprawl of Silicon Valley. The best way to enjoy the scenery is to take the northbound route because that way the sun won’t be in your eyes to obscure the view of the ocean and the coast.
4. The Pennsylvanian
If you’re a bit of a railroad aficionado, on this trip you’ll enjoy something of the idea of vintage train travel. The route between Philadelphia and Pittsburg through the mountains in the western part of the state follows the old Pennsylvania main line and includes the Horseshoe Curve that is featured in so many railroad photographs. Choose the route in either direction to enjoy scenic mountains, Pennsylvania Dutch country and busy suburbs.
5. California Zephyr – Denver-Salt Lake City Section
One of the best Amtrak day trips for seeing the Rockies is the route between Denver and Salt Lake City. The route includes the Moffat tunnel which runs for five miles and a number of canyons, including Gore and Glenwood, traversing the Colorado River valley. You’ll pass over the Utah Desert followed by a climb and then descent into the Salt Lake Basin. The route in either direction is equally good but the westbound trip in midsummer is the best if you want to optimize viewing time.
6. Lake Shore – Upstate New York Section
Fancy a wee trip into upstate New York? If you do, you’ve got the choice of daily services from Lake Shore Limited and Empire Service. Both run between Buffalo and Albany. The Lake Shore route passes through the Finger Lakes area, New York’s Wine Country and the Mohawk Valley and then goes on to cover the Hudson River Valley to Adirondack. The Empire Service covers the route between Buffalo and Albany only. If you wish you can do the Adirondack route as a separate trip. The Adirondack travels between New York City and Montreal and is considered the most scenic of all Amtrak day trips. There is a variety of scenery, including rivers, lakes and mountains, and it’s wonderful for fall scenery. You’ll see the Palisades, West Point, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. There’s a terminal at Plattsburgh if you don’t want to cross the border into Canada.
7. Capitol Limited
As a non-American, all of these Amtrak day trips appeal to me but there’s something that calls me to this one. The Capitol Limited travels between the two great cities of Chicago and Washington DC and while it’s not the best for scenery viewing, it passes through many areas of interest. On the section between Washington and Pittsburgh, you’ll pass through Western Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. You’ll also get to see the Potomac Valley and the Appalachian Mountains with stops made at Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg and Cumberland.
If you’ve never considered a scenic rail trip just for the sake of taking a trip rather than having to get from A to B, maybe now’s the time to change that? Do any of these ideas appeal to you?