This Overnight Train Sees 5 States and 3 National Parks From New Orleans to the Pacific Ocean — and Has an Observation Car With Floor-to-ceiling Windows
Amtrak's Sunset Limited route goes from the Louisiana bayous all the way to Los Angeles.
In terms of scenic landscapes to see on a long train ride, it doesn’t get more stunning than Amtrak’s Sunset Limited route, which runs from the bayous of Louisiana to the Pacific Ocean. The Sunset Limited, which is Amtrak’s southernmost route, traverses five states — Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California — on a route that mirrors that of the Southern Pacific Railway, which started a similar rail service in 1894.
The journey starts and ends in two great U.S. cities — New Orleans and Los Angeles — but in between, travelers are treated to views of vast desert landscape and boggy bayous. The landscape is so special, that during the high season, the train has an onboard national park guide who shares information about the geology and history of the area’s the train passes.
Travelers can take the Sunset Limited in either direction (Louisiana to California, or California to Louisiana) three times a week. If you’re traveling east to west, the train departs New Orleans in the morning and arrives in Los Angeles two days later. Those traveling west to east will board in Los Angeles in the evening and arrive in New Orleans two days later. And since the journey clocks in at around 48 hours in duration, travelers are treated to cush overnight accommodations, full-service dining, and a true long-haul train experience.
Here’s what you need to know about the stunning Sunset Limited route.
Highlights on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Route
Travelers can hop aboard the train in either direction, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll highlight the route from east to west — starting in New Orleans. It’s here, in “The Big Easy,” that the tone is set for the entire journey. The train takes off from the Union Passenger Terminal just south of the French Quarter. Travelers can enjoy the perks of NOLA — from morning beignets to Bourbon Street nightcaps — before boarding the train, which is a short walk from downtown.
Once on board, the train runs alongside the Atchafalaya Delta nature preserve, which protects over 130,000 acres of wetlands, before dipping into the city of Lafayette, Louisiana. Once the Sunset Limited crosses the border into Texas, the sprawl of Houston looms on the horizon. The train cuts right through the heart of the city before passing just south of Austin for a stop in the neighboring city of San Antonio.
From there, the route slips into the desert, kissing the U.S.-Mexico border near Del Rio, Texas, before crossing the rock ledge-rimmed Amistad Reservoir and the Amistad National Recreation Area. The beautiful southwestern expanse continues as the Sunset Limited passes through Alpine, Texas, an hour north of Big Bend National Park, and the artist community of Marfa, Texas, home to otherworldly art installations and a viewing platform for watching the “Marfa Lights” phenomenon.
Before dipping into New Mexico and crossing Arizona, the Sunset Limited passes through El Paso, Texas. The journey through New Mexico is quick, although it’s worth noting that the train stops just south of the stark white dunes of White Sands National Park. During the traverse through Arizona, the Sunset Limited cuts through downtown Tucson (less than 20 minutes south of Saguaro National Park) and passes just south of Phoenix.
The journey into California often happens in the dark, but you might get a glimpse of the Salton Sea before you begin the descent into Los Angeles. The journey ends at Los Angeles' Union Station, in downtown LA, a short walk from the Grand Central Market and Grand Park.
Sleeping and Seating on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Route
The Sunset Limited uses the two-story Superliner rail cars, which provide those lucky enough to score a seat on the upper level, far-reaching views. The train also has an observation car, nicknamed a “sightseer lounge,” with floor-to-ceiling windows that anyone can access.
The most affordable and basic seating option on the Sunset Limited is found in coach. The seats are available on the train’s upper or lower level and have wide, reclining seats with dining trays, electrical outlets, and no middle seat.
Those who want to be able to lay down horizontally during the 48-hour journey will want to book a Superliner Roomette, Superliner Bedroom, or Superliner Bedroom Suite. The Superliner Roomette has two seats that transition into beds and includes bedding, pillows, and towels. Travelers staying in a Roomette get complimentary meals and access to a dedicated first-class attendant, priority boarding, and lounge. There is a shared bathroom.
The larger Superliner Bedroom has all the perks of a Roomette and also accommodates two people, but is twice as large. The Superliner Bedroom is one of Amtrak’s first-class offerings and comes with a sofa and chair that transform into beds and an in-room sink, bathroom, and shower.
The top-tier seat option on the Sunset Limited is the Superliner Bedroom Suite, which can accommodate up to four people. In addition to all the perks of the lower-tier rooms, the suites have two adjoining rooms and two in-room sinks, bathrooms, and showers.
The Sunset Limited also has Superliner Family Bedrooms and Accessible Bedrooms on board.
Dining on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Route
As part of their rate, travelers in Superliner Roomettes, Bedrooms, and Suites can enjoy full-service meals in the dining car. Trains traveling west (New Orleans to Los Angeles) serve lunch and dinner the first travel day and breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next. On the eastbound route, travelers are served breakfast, lunch, and dinner, followed by breakfast and lunch on their arrival day.
The dining car’s full-service meals include French toast and omelets for breakfast, salads and burgers for lunch, and three-course dinners. Dinner service includes one alcoholic beverage.
Meanwhile, the onboard café is available to all guests — including those in coach — and serves snacks, beverages, and basic meals all day long.
Perks on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Route
The most impressive perk on the Sunset Limited route is the onboard national park guide, who provides context to the landscape you’ll see on the journey. In addition to a free history and geography lesson en route, the Sunset Limited has an observation car, with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Small dogs and cats (up to 20 pounds) can travel on the Sunset Limited for a small fee and all passengers get two free checked bags.
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