The California Zephyr is a scenic-route Amtrak train that travels between Chicago, IL and San Francisco, CA. It covers two prominent regions of the continental USA – the Prairies and the Rockies. I decided to take the western half of the train journey from the San Francisco area to Denver, CO covering the Rockies half, and then spent a day in Denver and flew back.
This eastward half-route covered 4 states in order – California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. While I will write in detail about my train experience in the future, here is a montage of the spectacular views outside.
Boarding at Emeryville, CA
Emeryville lies in the San Francisco region and was my boarding point. It is a fairly modern station with a minimalist setup.
The most picturesque parts of northern California were the redwood forests, mountains and lakes as well as the resort towns around them filled with cozy cottages and cabins.
While California was amazing, the real show began in Nevada, with its vast stretches of nothingness interspersed by giant mines and factories. The golden desert with scrubs and mountains made me realize how vast America truly was, and how we miss this when fly over it. I could picture Wile E Coyote giving the Roadrunner a chase here.
If I thought Nevada was far from civilization, I wasn’t prepared for the remoteness of Utah. While Nevada still felt like an earthly desert, Utah felt more like the moon or Mars. Here, the top-soil was completely barren with not even scrubs seen in Nevada. The earth showed itself as it is, bare, before life grew on it.
In Colorado, the train line cut through mountains and canyons, hugging the path of the Colorado river. This reminded of the Westerns, and I was half-expecting the train to be robbed by gunslingers on horses.
When we came close to Denver, the mountains gave way to the bucolic countryside of the prairies.
Boarding off at Denver, CO
Denver has one of the most beautiful train stations in the US. Called the “Union Station”, it is situated in a beautiful historic building with an indoor shopping and fine-dining complex. Even outside the union station, there were several rows of craft-beer shacks, salad counters, cafes and creameries.
I decided to stay a day in Denver, look around the city and then fly back.
Stay tuned for a more detailed train experience with pictures to go along, as well as a report on my Denver trip.
Looks like a great trip, nice photos.
Thank you! The landscapes were extra-ordinary and I was able to grab many pictures.
Such a great journey to do. We travelled on the Zephyr in 2016.
It was a lovely journey, my first time taking a train in the US. The food & service was excellent and I also made a lot of new friends on the train.
When we camped in Glenwood Springs (on the Colorado River) this summer we saw lots of trains like this go past. What a great journey!
Oh, we saw a lot of campers by the Colorado river on our way. Rafting also seems to be very popular.
Wow this seems like a truly epic train ride! I love taking the train precisely because you get to see amazing landscapes but these ones beat anything I have ever seen! Can’t wait to read more about your trip!
Beautiful!! The views are amazing 🤩 thank you for sharing such an awesome experience!