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Road & Train Trip Across USA

Yorkshire, United...
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Road & Train Trip Across USA
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Hi everyone, I’m looking at ideas for a Road Trip to celebrate mine and my husband’s 30th birthdays in 2024 (planning ahead!) and would appreciate some advice. We are doing a road trip in California in October that was rescheduled from 2020, and would love to see a different part of the USA.

We also love train travel and we are very keen to travel on an Amtrak sleeper to see landscapes and areas of the country we ordinarily wouldn’t.

We would have 15-16 nights for this trip, and the time of year hasn’t been decided.

My thoughts are to fly to Seattle, spend 2 nights there, before picking up a rental car and spending the next 7 nights doing a loop through Olympic National Park, down to Portland and back up to Seattle. We would like to see something of the Oregon coast as part of this, but appreciate time is tight. Mount Rainier would also be great if we could fit it in.

We would then take the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. 1 night in Chicago (we’ve been here before and we’re visiting again on our way to California in October). We’d then take another Amtrak (I think there are a couple of options?) to New York. My husband has never been to New York, so I’d like to incorporate this. We’d stay there 3 nights before flying home.

Does this sound doable or ridiculous? Any advice much appreciated.

13 replies to this topic
Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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Caitykins, there is a separate TA forum devoted to Train Travel, https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g1-i12483-Train_Travel.html, where you may want to post this question, given that most of your inquiry has to do with Train Transportation. I have no first hand experience, but the general consensus is that cross-country AmTrak service is not particularly reliable. Also, the train route from Chicago to NYC is not particularly scenic. Even if I traveled on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago, I'd probably just take a plane from Chicago to NYC.

Edited: 30 June 2022, 04:31
Yorkshire, United...
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2. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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Thank you. I’ll definitely post there too. I’m looking for suggestions for the 7 days in Washington and Oregon really and whether that amount of time would be enough.

Atlanta, Georgia
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3. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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October is cool rainy weather in WA and OR.

I would post on WA and OR forums.

I know Olympic NP takes 3 days and multiple lodging locations.

In Portland check out Columbia River Gorge.

Oregon coast is beautiful and sometimes requires 2 night minimum.

We have done a PNW trip but spent about 2 weeks.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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4. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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Agree, you should post on the Washington and Oregon forums for help with that part of your trip. I wouldn't go any later than September to the Pacific Northwest. And if you want really take in the Oregon Coast, IMO, you need seven days just for the coast. Time in Seattle, Portland and Olympic National Park would be in addition to that. So you are going to have to prioritize.

Amtrak is not reliable. Freight trains have priority on the shared tracks. There can be hours of delays.

Port Angeles, WA
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5. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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I live just outside Olympic National Park. October is my favorite month here. October is a transition month. The first two weeks are often spectacular, featuring a unique golden light that is especially lovely in the mountains. Days start to shorten, but they are still long enough to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. By early October, there has usually been just enough rain to freshen the waterfalls and to brighten the rain forests, which tend to dry out in August and September. More importantly, the risk of fire and smoke is negligible. Don't discount the importance of this. Increasingly, smoke and fire are blighting our Augusts and even our Septembers.

Please post on the WA and OR forums. You will get a wealth of information there.

Tacoma, Washington
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6. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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October is not the time for the empire. It’s cold then, no leaves on tres, maybe snow.

Olympic returns to rainy season. Snow likely at 5000+ feet.

Move it to august. Start in Chicago and take the train to Seattle

Then explore Seattle to SF over 2 weeks

Eastbourne, United...
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A few years back we did a train trip, NY to Chicago then Chicago to Emeryville(for San Francisco). On both trains we booked a room (not a roomette) and were glad we did even though it doesn't come cheap! Food was good, but don't expect "Orient Express" luxury.

The scenery between Denver and Sacramento was superb and The California Zephyr is timetabled so you pass through the scenery in Daylight hours. I haven't travelled on Empire Builder so I can't comment on that but NY to Chicago was OK but IMHO did not compare with some scenic lines in UK such as West Highland line.

Hope the above helps.

Seattle, Washington
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8. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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>> I’m looking for suggestions for the 7 days in Washington and Oregon really and whether that amount of time would be enough. <<

Here's a loop that I'd recommend you investigate. It can be done in either direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise) depending on detailed weather forecasts, especially for the high country on Mts. Rainier and Hood. Google the places on the map - https://goo.gl/maps/RsaEE8ti6uhCt5Bs8

This includes a visit to the Paradise area on Mount Rainier, which in October will be on the cusp of getting wintry, but can also be lovely. You'd then cross the spine of the Cascades and travel south along the east slopes of the mountains - where it's much drier than the west since the mountains block the weather - through fabulous "old west" countryside and the Yakama Indian reservation to the Columbia River.

Visit the eclectic Maryhill Museum of Art, then spend a couple of nights around Hood River, Oregon. In October the many vineyards and orchards in the beautiful Hood River Valley will be in full harvest mode, and you can spend a couple of hours at iconic Timberline Lodge on the side of Mount Hood (where some of the scenes in "The Shining" were filmed - Here's JOHNNY.")

Follow the Columbia (seeing the waterfalls in the "waterfall zone" of the Columbia River Gorge,) down to its awesome mouth, visit Cape Disappointment at said mouth, then travel north along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula (not scenic driving but fairly quick) to Lake Quinault, Ruby Beach, and the Hoh rain forest in Olympic NP. See Hurricane Ridge, then finish by taking the Bainbridge Island ferry into downtown Seattle, a couple of blocks from the train station.

Weather might be iffy, but, hey, you're from Yorkshire, so no big deal, right?

Here's a recent video covering the Empire Builder. It's from the spring, but in October you'd get some pretty similar scenery, except the spring green might be changed to autumn golds and browns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic1w-fYCP5E

Edited: 01 July 2022, 23:58
Yorkshire, United...
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9. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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Thank you for those suggestions. I’ll take a look at the suggested loop. October isn’t set in stone, and could possibly be either June or September.

Seattle, Washington
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10. Re: Road & Train Trip Across USA
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In June, everything will be quite green and there will still be many feet of snow on the ground at elevation in the mountains (six or more feet at the Paradise visitor center on Mt. Rainier.) The Columbia Gorge waterfalls will be spectacular, as will the Olympic NP rain forests. Crowds will also likely be bigger, perhaps much bigger. Still, it's a fine time to visit.

September will be much like October, depending on when during that month. One added consideration about September is that we've had increasing numbers (and more severe) wildfires and forest fires in the late summer, which can impair visibility (or block routes.) These fires impact mainly the mountains, especially east of the Cascade crest, but nowhere is exempt from the effects.

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