America’s national parks are a treasure, and a visit to one of them is one of the best — and most breathtaking — ways to celebrate the country.
Some of the most inspiring sites can even be accessed on Amtrak’s train routes, making a jaunt around the country’s natural treasures an easy vacation option. From the snow-capped peaks in Glacier National Park to the expansive craters and precipitous cliffs of the Grand Canyon, you can experience some of the most awe-inspiring (and Instagramable) views without having to actually drive there yourself.
Amtrak’s sleeper cabins and full-service dining (think cheese quesadillas with eggs and tomatillo sauce for breakfast or thyme roasted chicken for dinner) make the journey an adventure in itself, one which hearkens back to an old ideal of America.
And some parks are even glimpsed right from the train itself: you can take in views like Mount Rainier in Washington, an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S., from the comfort of Amtrak’s observation cars with large picture windows on double-decker trains. Picture the iconic trees in Joshua Tree National Park or the historic Gateway Arch in St. Louis from a large armchair with a drink in hand as the train hurtles by.
These are some of the coolest parks you can take Amtrak to.
Glacier National Park
Spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep from Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road (it’s one of the best parks for wildlife spotting), or grab a bike and hiking boots and set off to explore more than 700 miles of trails. Relax for the night in a colorful tiny home village, revel in the comfort of one of the park lodges — like the Swiss chalet feel of the Many Glacier Hotel — or try your hand at camping for the night.
How to get there: Take the Empire Builder line, which travels daily between Chicago, Seattle and Portland. The East Glacier station sits at the edge of Glacier National Park.
Crater Lake National Park
Set out on a boat tour of Oregon’s deep blue Crater Lake, which was created by a massive volcanic eruption in 4,600 B.C. After, bike around the 33-mile loop around the lake or opt for a ranger-guided sunset hike. Sip coffee from the patio of Crater Lake Lodge, overlooking the impressive water below, or set up a tent in one of the campgrounds in the park.
How to get there: Take the Coast Starlight line, which travels daily between Seattle and Los Angeles. Pick up a Crater Lake Trolley from the Klamath Falls stop.
The Grand Canyon
Nothing screams iconic Americana quite like the Grand Canyon. The sheer expanse of the canyon at up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep will take your breath away. Check out the stars at night — the park is officially on the list of International Dark Sky Parks — or zip line across the canyon for an adrenaline rush. Stay at the historic El Tovar hotel where you can take in the morning light on the canyon as you enjoy a cup of coffee on the front porch.
How to get there: Take the Southwest Chief line, which travels daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. Stop at the Williams Junction stop by the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Canyonlands National Park
More than 330,000 acres of canyons and arches greet visitors inside Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The park is divided into several areas, including Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze, and is home to hikes as easy as one mile or as difficult as 21.6 miles through the Lanthrop Canyon. And for those looking for a true escape, much of Canyonlands National Park is isolated and offers ample backcountry hiking.
How to get there: Take the California Zephyr line, which travels daily between Chicago and San Francisco. Stop at Grand Junction to explore the park.
Shenandoah National Park
Only an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Washington D.C, Shenandoah National Park offers a quiet escape with 200,000 acres of protected lands. Spot deer and songbirds, take a hike (there are trails suitable for every skill level), or visit Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s summer retreat. Stay at the Big Meadows Lodge where wood paneling and roaring fireplaces invite relaxation and encourage you to unplug.
How to get there: Take the Crescent line, which travels daily between New York and New Orleans. Stop at the Charlottesville station, just outside of Shenandoah National Park.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
A visit to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is like stepping back in time. The area, which sits along the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, has been an integral part of American history: it witnessed the arrival of the first successful American railroad, saw the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and had one of the earliest integrated schools in the country, according to the National Park Service. It’s also one of the best day trips from Washington D.C., and offers one of the best hikes near the nation’s capital.
How to get there: Take the Capitol Limited line, which travels daily between Washington D.C. and Chicago. Stop at the Harpers Ferry station in West Virginia.