Let’s all agree that we live an instant gratification lifestyle that has made us forget about the process of doing something. Anything. Instead of respecting the time it takes, we find ourselves impatient, eager, and unwilling to wait. There’s no better place to change that manner of thinking than taking a trip. Hand over your keys and surrender to the sweetness of the slow travel of trains.

Arguably one of the best parts of train travel? No painful air pressure changes. Think about it. Rather than cramping your body into E23 or squinting behind the wheel to see the exit off the highway, a train does all the work and shows you what is between point A and point B, or in this case, Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. The Empire Builder train route is one of the most popular and beautiful ones around and is ready to show you a thing or two. All aboard!

Photo Credit: @affinityphoto
Photo Credit: Sean Hoyt www.seanhoyt.com

Your Empire Builder adventure boards in Chicago. Arrive a few days early to drink in the local sights like Millennium Park, The Bean, and Water Tower. Treat yourself to a slice of famous deep-dish pizza and a Portillo Chicago hotdog. You’re on vacation after all. Head to the train station to board and settle into your seat, (or upgrade to a sleeper car to feel old school and travel in style.)

A map of the Empire Builder route shows the tracks split into two lines and spans across eight states. Along the way, stop in Milwaukee, ride the rails along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, wave to St. Paul as you pass through Minneapolis, conquer your fear of heights in North Dakota as you glide across the Grassman Coulee Trestle 117 feet above the ground. Once you dip into Montana, you’ll ride along parts of the Lewis and Clark exhibition trail, see Glacier National Park, and many major cities along the way. When you make it to Spokane, it’s your choice to head down the Columbia Gorge towards Portland for a staring contest with Mount Hood or decide to skip it and go feel the rain in Seattle. Consider Empire Builder to be your own living, breathing choose your own adventure book.

Mt Hood and Lost Lake
Mt Hood and Lost Lake via United States Geological Survey and wiki

Your entire trip will cover eight states, more than 2,000 miles, and about 46 hours to complete. (Something to think about as you travel those tracks, timezones were created by train companies. True story.)

The great thing about train travel is connecting with people. Snack and play cards with fellow travelers, or have a sit-down meal with friends. The entire experience is all about encouraging conversation and storytelling. Speaking of storytelling, book your trip in the spring and summer months, you’ll find guides from the National Park Service on board sharing facts and answering questions about the sights.

amtrak trains
Photo courtesy of @amtrak on Instagram

Ready to ride the rails? Check your calendar and order your Empire Builder ticket. Adventure awaits you in the wild west!


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6 thoughts on “Empire Builder: The Joy of Slow Travel”

  1. Clifford

    Hello Sarah,
    Nice story on the train rides.
    I never been on a cross country or out of state train ride. How about North West California to Chicago, Iowa, and Nebraska? :o)



  2. Nina Stefanick

    Wow, that sounds like a fabulous trip. I have only gone to Washington, DC and NY by train and I loved it. Now all I have to do is convince my hubby.

  3. john anderson

    Enjoyed this post, i grew up in Minnesota and saw those trains come through, Moorhead, Minnesota. Rode the train back from leave, Fargo to Seattle and then to San Diego.

  4. Robin Buchholz

    I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland in 1981 with my two oldest daughters, who were then 2 and 4 years old. We all enjoyed the train ride very much. We didn’t have the sleeping accommodations; couldn’t afford it, but the girls and I easily were able to sleep in our seats. they were able to visit with our fellow travelers and had a great time. Most memorable was meeting Werner Klemperer in the observations car, my two year old happily sitting on his lap while we talked. We didn’t’ talk about Hogans Hero’s, although that is where I knew him from. He was on his way to Seattle for a performance, and told me he preferred the train. We talked mostly about music, as I was familiar with his fathers work both as a composer and conductor. I still remember that few hours of chatting with him, while my daughters sat quietly, watching the world go by out the windows. the fields and fields of sunflowers were amazing, as was going through the Rockies. I will never forget that trip.

  5. Bob heusing

    Rode the Empire Builder this summer from Wisconson to a whitefish, MT. First time in 30 Years. Beautiful trip. Would recommend to everyone. About 24 hours each way.

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