The California Zephyr is one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America. As the California Zephyr climbs through the heart of the Rockies, and further west through the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, it showcases the best of America.

The California Zephyr train runs daily between Chicago and San Francisco. First the train rides through the plains of Nebraska to Denver then across the Rockies to Salt Lake City. The final stretch is through Reno and Sacramento into Emeryville/San Francisco.

california zephyrMy Epic Train Journey on the California Zephyr

I crossed the United States by train taking the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco and the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington D.C. I am a train anorak and I must say I had the best time of my life! It was extremely hard to leave the trains behind.

The California Zephyr took 54 hours to finish the 2,400 miles and we arrived only an hour late! That is some achievement compared to the Hungarian trains that are almost always late!

On-board the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr has a dining car, an observation car and sleeper carriages. I took the cheaper option and travelled in the economy class. The ticket cost $126 one way and I booked it two weeks in advance. Dinner was more or less $15 dollars in the dining car. It was always fresh and very tasty. I actually think I had some of the best meals in the dining car during my entire US visit.

Leaving Chicago

We left Chicago in the afternoon and rode through the prairie. Then came nightfall so I did not see much but I still loved to be in the huge carriages and the rattling of the train.

Next morning I was up early. It was wonderful to see the huge change in scenery and we soon arrived to Denver which looked like a great city.

Rocky Mountains

After Denver came the most amazing part of the trip: Crossing the Rocky Mountains. I have never seen so many pine trees in my life before. The high mountains surrounded everything and the railway line was parched on the edge of them all! The view from the edge was simply breathtaking and sometimes pretty scary.

The second day on the train was again totally different from everything I had seen before. The train arrived in Nevada after which the railways hugged the Colorado river. From here we travelled between some magnificent red rock formations and by the afternoon our locomotive was ready to cross the desert. The best part of the train is the observation car, providing 360 degree views of the area.

Arriving in San Francisco – or not?

The station is San Francisco was undergoing renovation so we had to disembark in Emeryville. We arrived there early evening and finished the last leg of the trip to San Francisco on a bus.  Read my article about my road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco here.

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