When the first steam locomotive, the Penydarren, hit the rails in 1804, no one could’ve ever imagined the impact trains would have over the entire world.
The very first locomotive, designed by Richard Trevithick, was built to transfer ten tons of iron to Wales.
If only Trevithick could be on an Amtrak during rush hour today, what would he say? He would be surely amazed at the masses of people riding this incredible mechanism.
Taking the train gives you a raw traveling experience that you won’t get from any other mode of transportation.
There’s no need to stop for food, potty breaks, or gas—and unlike on a plane, you actually get to see the landscape you’re traveling across.
So, if you’re looking to take an adventure from one side of the coast to the other, look no further than the timeless journey of the railroad.
And you’ll be pleased to know that taking the train for that cross-country trip is a great bargain too.
Of course, witnessing the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas or the breathtaking Rocky Mountains makes it worth a million bucks in and of itself.
Leaving out of San Francisco to New York, or vice versa, is a popular route—and for good reason.
This adventure of a lifetime takes about four days, however, stopover tickets can also be purchased if you want to spend time touring beloved spots.
Day One: San Francisco To Salt Lake City
Arguably one of the most famous trains to date is the California Zephyr. This train offers a direct ride from San Francisco to Chicago over the course of three days.
The economy class seats aren’t exactly papa bear, but they’re not baby bear either. They’re more like Goldilocks—declining at a comfortable 45 degrees with just the right amount of hip room.
Private rooms with beds are available as well, but for a few more bucks than most are willing to spend.
Pulling out of the San Francisco fog on your first day, you’ll pass Donner Lake and all its dark history.
According to National Geographic, the Donner Party (after which the lake was named) became stranded at this lake in the winter of 1846 after a series of mishaps.
The lack of resources led the family to resort to the unspeakable act of cannibalism in an effort to survive.
As you approach the Sierra Nevadas, the temperature drops noticeably, so bring something cozy to stay warm. And definitely order a hot chocolate as you pass through the snowy terrain.
And then, like you’ve traveled through a portal to another dimension, you’ll suddenly be passing through a dry, desolate desert until you come to the sparkling lights of Las Vegas.
The sparkles soon become a full view of the Sin City just before you go through Reno, the “Biggest Little City in the World.”
If you’ve never taken a long-distance train ride before, eating meals will be a new experience—because you will be dining with strangers among you.
Since trains have limited space, the dining cars have a limited number of tables. Every seat must be filled, so a party of one may end up dining with a party of three.
But with so many interesting people on board, you’re sure to have some great conversation.
Your first day will end in Salt Lake City, Utah. Famous for its high population of Mormons, you’ll get an in depth historical view of where this religion was founded.
The first leg of your journey will top off at a whopping 17 hours, but time will fly by with so much scenery to take in.
Day Two: Salt Lake City To Denver
Day two will include a 15-hour excursion through what is considered, “the most spectacular train ride in all of the United States,” according to professional traveler Derek Low.
The Book Cliffs, named for the Cretaceous sandstone that caps the buttes, creating the appearance of books on a shelf, are a sight to behold.
After passing these famous cliffs, the Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s canyons are up next.
You’ll feel like you’re in a movie as the train travels at high speeds along the Colorado River, and snakes its way to the Great Plains before approaching Denver.
The Mile High City is an astonishing 5,280 feet above sea level, so don’t be surprised if you feel a little lightheaded when walking around.
Day Three: Denver To Chicago
Day three is a 19-hour journey that will take you through Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois—knocking out quite a few states on your travel list in one fell swoop.
Ending the day in Chicago, you’ll sadly have to step off the Zephyr and board a different train that travels further east.
Make sure to have your camera out when you pull into Chicago’s famous Union Station, which is where the stroller scene from the movie “The Untouchables” was filmed.
If you have to time to take in a couple sites, experience the heights of the John Hancock Tower, getting there at sunset for the best view.
Day Four: Chicago To New York
The last leg of your four day journey will clock in at 20 hours. But enjoy every moment, because this will conclude your coast-to-coast adventure.
Now aboard the Lake Shore Limited, another popular train in its own right, you can have something to compare the California Zephyr to.
This train will pass through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, until its final stop in New York.
Once you witness the Hudson River, you’ll know you’ve just completed something few have taken the opportunity to experience.
As you pull into your final stop at New York’s Penn Station, having traveled 3,397, you will feel an overwhelming sense of triumph.
So don’t make excuses about being too busy, too tired, or too whatever to let the opportunity to see 11 states, pass through 4 time zones, and witness a variety of pure American-made landscapes pass you by.
Go book that ticket and see for yourself why millions come from all over the world to take a train across America.
Please let us know in the comments section if you have taken the trip from coast to coast, and what your experience was.