top of page

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Best Train Ride in the United States Amtrak California Zephyr Review In The Great Wide Travel Blog

The Amtrak California Zephyr train travels all the way from San Francisco to Chicago, but the portion from San Francisco to Denver is the most scenic train route in America, with some areas that are only accessible via train! Join us for the sights as we take the ride east from San Francisco to Denver and give you all the info you need to know before you go see it for yourself. Don’t forget to save this article for your bucket list!


California Zephyr Amtrak Train Route

We started our trip on the California Zephyr just across the bay from San Francisco in Emeryville, California and traveled to Denver, Colorado. This section of the route takes 32 ½ hours, so be prepared to sleep one night on the train. There are several options for different sleeping arrangements, which you can read more about in The Train section of this article.

The route does continue all the way to Chicago, which adds another 19 hours, but we opted to stop in Denver to spend a few days with friends and break up the long route.

Map Of Amtrak California Zephyr Train From San Francisco To Denver Scenic Route Review By In The Great Wide Amtrak Travel Blog

Along the way between Emeryville and Denver, this route makes a ton of stops, including Sacramento and Truckee in California; Reno, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Green River in Utah; and Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, and Fraser in Colorado, plus several smaller towns in-between, so there are plenty of options for where you can go on this route!

Panoramic Rocky Mountain Views from Most Scenic Amtrak Train in America California Zephyr Review by In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Sights on the Amtrak California Zephyr Train Between San Francisco and Denver

The California Zephyr is widely considered to be the most scenic train route in the United States! The fantastic views come in waves on day 1 of the 33.5 hour train ride starting in Emeryville (across the bay from San Francisco), but day 2 provides the most incredible, beautiful, scenic views - some that aren’t even available by car.

You get beautiful water vistas immediately upon leaving the Emeryville Station, as you follow along the southern coast of San Pablo Bay. It’s more industrial, so expect a lot of big bridges, freighters, and tugboats (we even spotted a sunken tugboat!).

After San Pablo Bay, you head northeast, away from the coast, and into some more… uninteresting terrain. This is a perfect time to get that last email sent (while you have cell service) or work on that novel you’re writing as you travel across the country. If you have to work, you’ll want to get as much done as possible in this section, so you can concentrate on the fantastic views that come later.

After passing through Sacramento, you’ll head into the more forested, mountainous area of Northeastern California and the Tahoe National Forest. You’ll get a few hours of beautiful hills covered in pine trees, so make sure you head to the observation car! Just before the stop in Truckee, CA, you’ll pass by Donner Lake, site of the infamous Donner Party in 1846.

Speaking of the observation car, you’ll want to head there as soon as you can after the train starts moving to enjoy the views. It will likely remain fairly empty on day 1 of the route from San Francisco to Denver, but day 2 will be so full, they’ll have to ration your time in the observation car. (Read more about this in the Our Experience section of this article.)

At the end of day 1, you’ll get to watch the sunset over the Nevada desert, which is lovely in the unique way that only desert sunsets are. Once night comes, you won’t be able to see anything out of the windows of the train, so it’s a good time to read a book or catch up on a podcast before falling asleep. You’ll get into Utah in the middle of the night as you sleep, passing by the Great Salt Lake in the dark. We were disappointed to not be able to see it, as this was our first time in Utah, but we’ll just have to make that another trip!

San Pablo Bay Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge Amtrak California Zephyr Train from San Francisco to Denver In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Day 2 traveling from San Francisco to Denver on the California Zephyr starts with the sun rising over eastern Utah and the beautiful red rock formations as you pass through Green River. Fun fact: even if you’re not a morning person, you’ll most likely wake up shortly after dawn on the train as the natural light filters in and your fellow passengers walk past you to get their coffee. Just enjoy that beautiful morning light you hardly ever see! The views are worth it.

After a couple hours, you hit Colorado, passing through Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, and Fraser, before making your way down the Rockies to get into Denver. It’s like a new oil painting panorama every time you look out the window. The beautiful vistas, for so long, are why this is the most scenic train route in America.

You’ll get to follow the Colorado River for most of the day, winding through canyons carved into the gorgeous Rocky Mountains. Colorado truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world! There are times when the train travels parallel to the freeway (and you’ll be glad you’re sitting on the train with a drink in your hand instead of sitting in traffic), but at other times, the train takes a different route into canyons that are only accessible on those train tracks or from a raft or kayak on the river below. It is a truly spectacular day that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

Because it’s such an incredible experience, this section of the California Zephyr often sells out, so make sure you get your tickets as far in advance as possible, and on day 2 traveling from Emeryville to Denver, get to the observation car as early as possible to claim your spot because it WILL fill up! For the best views as you’re traveling east along this route, sit on the north (left) side of the train when departing Glenwood Springs for the first hour or so, then switch to the south (right) side if you can until you get to Granby. After that, both sides of the train have equally impressive views.

Pro Tip: When you want to take pictures or videos out the windows while on the train, press your phone or camera lens up against the window to get rid of glare!

Towards the end of day 2, after your fresh air stop in Fraser, CO and during the final 3 hour train ride into Denver, you’ll pass through Moffat Tunnel, an impressive 6.2-mile tunnel punctured through the mountain. The crew will warn everyone before you enter the tunnel, but it’s important that you sit down and do not move through the train cars for the 10 minutes while you travel through it, because it’s so dark that it can be disorienting (although there are some lights inside the train), but more importantly because opening the doors to travel between the train cars will suck dust into the train. Although it could be considered a mild inconvenience that you have to stay put, you’ll be given a fair warning before it happens to make sure you’re where you want to be. Plus, you’re actually crossing the Continental Divide while you’re in the tunnel, which separates natural water sources between the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans. So when you come out the other side of the tunnel, the river will actually be running in the opposite direction.

You’ll be able to see Denver in the distance shortly after your trek through Moffat Tunnel, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be there soon 😆 Because you’re at such a high elevation, it takes about 90 minutes to wind down the sides of the mountains as you creep ever closer towards Denver. Don’t put your cameras away though! This section is still full of amazing, elevated mountain views, and you’ll get a chance to see how long the train is during a few horseshoe-esque turns.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to wear sunscreen when you’re sitting in the observation car! The huge windows are great for the views but offer no refuge from harsh UV rays.

Colorado Rock Formations with River Reflection California Zephyr Amtrak Train Following Highway 70 from San Francisco to Denver Review by In The Great Wide Travel Blog

What is the Amtrak California Zephyr Train Like?

Types of Seats

The California Zephyr Amtrak train is broken up into four types of cars: the sleeper cars (where the private rooms are), the dining car (which is only accessible to those with private rooms), the coach class cars, and the observation car (which also includes the cafe on the lower deck).

With the USA Rail Pass, you’re assigned to coach class and you cannot pay to upgrade to a private room (believe me, I asked!), but you still get access to the observation car and cafe car, just not the “dining” car. The California Zephyr also offers roomettes (a small private room for up to 2 people on one side of the train), bedrooms (similar to a roomette but a little bigger), and family bedrooms (up to 2 adults and 2 kids). All private rooms have access to a shower, which is one of the biggest downsides that riding in coach does not offer.

Amtrak California Zephyr Train Sleeper Car Features

In addition to the showers (although I’ve heard it’s only cold water), private rooms also have all meals included, you can bring your own alcohol (to consume in your private room only), and of course you’ll have a private space to store your belongings while you move about the train. While this all sounds great, the least expensive private room also comes with a price tag at least 4x higher than a coach seat for 1 person, which means that with 2 people in a roomette, you’re still going to be paying at least twice as much as you would be paying for coach.

Amtrak California Zephyr Coach Seats

The seats in the coach car are all facing forward, so you don’t need to worry about traveling “backwards,” which I know can throw some people off with motion sickness. There are two seats on each side of the aisle, just like business class on an airplane. If you’re under 6’ tall, you’ll have plenty of legroom; if you’re over 6’ tall, it won’t be as much, but it won’t be entirely uncomfortable. The seats recline fairly far back and include a leg rest that comes up from under your chair, plus a footrest that comes down from the chair in front of you. The leg rest comes up enough that you can slide a backpack or a small carry-on bag (not a roller) under your legs, keeping your belongings much safer while you sleep than they would be just leaving them out in the open.

We have more articles and videos in the works about what to pack for overnight train trips, so make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter (see the bottom of this article to sign up) so you’ll be notified when those become available.

You’ll also have a tray table that folds down from the seat in front of you, which has a small divot for a drink, but it isn't the most secure spot. I would be nervous to use it for a drink without a lid while the train is moving, as the train can rock back and forth quite a bit in some areas. (And although Phoebe sometimes struggles with carsickness, she never had a problem on our train trip.) The tray table itself is much larger than what you see on an airplane too; it’s about the same size as a 15” laptop, but it can’t be used for anything else while the laptop is on it. There aren’t any other cupholders in the seats either, so we had to hold our drinks in our laps while using a laptop on the tray, which can get a little annoying. The tray can actually extend out towards you too, which is a nice feature, but it’d be nicer if it could extend out just a bit more and still stay sturdy. Even at full extension, I had to reach forward for my laptop, which can be painful for my back and shoulders after a while. And if you’re sitting at the very front of your coach car, be aware that you won’t have a tray table or footrest to use (but you’ll still have a leg rest).

At every pair of coach seats, there is an outlet just under the window. We realized early on in our trip that a short extension cord would be helpful for the person sitting in the aisle seat, especially if you’re traveling solo and could possibly end up sitting next to a stranger. Laptop cords were essentially draped over the person sitting next to the window, and if you have a shorter cable (such as a phone charger), that can get a little awkward, but it wasn’t a big deal for us since we were traveling together.

The coach seat windows are quite large too and provide a great view, even when sitting in the aisle seat, but they also have curtains with velcro attached to them, so when you open them, they’ll stay open, and when you close them, they’ll stay closed. There is also an overhead shelf to put your small carry-on bags, but rolling carry-on bags must be stored on the lower level of the train.

California Zephyr Observation Car With Huge Windows For Most Scenic Amtrak Train Route In America Review By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Double Decker Train

The Amtrak California Zephyr is a double-decker train, with most of the coach seating on the top floor. The stairs to get up to the top floor are narrow and steep, so be very careful when moving up and down them, especially while the train is in motion. There are some coach seats on the lower level for people who can’t use the stairs, but the top deck is where all of the fantastic views are. All restrooms and the cafe car are located on the lower floors however, but all movement between train cars happens on the upper level, so you will have to traverse the stairs at least a few times throughout this 33.5 hour train ride from San Francisco to Denver.

Observation Car

Everyone gets access to the observation car, regardless of what class ticket you’ve booked. There are large bay windows that stretch and curve above you onto the corner of the ceiling, giving you an enormous field of view, and that extra bit on the top really helps when you’re in the Colorado canyons! There are clusters of seats that face towards the windows and 8 four-top tables facing forward/backward for eating, playing games, or working (with more power outlets at each table). The observation car runs on a first-come, first-serve basis, so if it’s full, the attendants will politely tell you to return to your seat and wait a bit before trying again, which is why it’s crucial to get there early so you won’t miss out on the spectacular mountain views.

Cafe Car, Dining Car, and Food on Amtrak California Zephyr

The cafe car is on the bottom deck of the observation car, via some narrow stairs in the middle of the car. They offer convenience store style snacks and refreshments, including a few hot selections, but make no mistake, this is frozen food being reheated for you and is not restaurant-quality food. They offer breakfast items like donut holes, bagels, coffee, and tea, and for lunch and dinner there are things like hot dogs, hamburgers, ramen, and sodas. Food prices range from $3 - $8.

The cafe car also offers limited beer, wine, and mini-bottles of liquor, which cost around $8 each. They’ll also provide ice water at no charge, either from the cafe car attendant, or via some water fountains dispersed throughout the observation and coach cars. Despite some people giving sour looks while drinking it, we thought it tasted just fine (we drink filtered water at home).

Pro Tip from Phoebe: If you enjoy hot tea, bring your own tea bags and ask the attendant at the cafe for a cup of hot water. This small thing made my mornings on the train way better because I got to still have my specialty teas instead of the generic stuff they have and it didn’t cost anything extra.

You are allowed to bring on your own food and non-alcoholic drinks onto the train as well. If you’ve booked a sleeper car, you are allowed to bring your own alcoholic drinks, but they can only be consumed in your private room (not in the observation or dining cars). Due to food safety laws, Amtrak employees cannot store or reheat any food you bring onboard, which means you need to take food that will stay good at room temperature for however long you’ll be onboard, or you can bring a small cooler as a carry-on, which we saw a few people do while we were on our month-long train trip. We’re writing a full, separate article on what to eat and drink while traveling in an Amtrak coach car, so you can sign up for our newsletter if you want that when it comes out. See the bottom of this article to sign up.

The California Zephyr dining car is only available to those who book the private sleeper rooms, but meals will be included there if you’re one of those passengers. We tried to upgrade while using the USA Rail Passes and just pay the difference between the coach and sleeper car tickets for specific legs of our trip, but Amtrak does not allow it. At some point in the future, we’ll try a sleeper car that includes the dining option and write about it too.

Amtrak California Zephyr Train Through Rocky Mountains From San Francisco To Denver With Beautiful Views In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Bathrooms on the Amtrak California Zephyr Train

As I said before, the bathrooms are all located on the lower levels in the coach cars, and the sleeper car passengers have their own as well. In the coach cars, there is a small hallway with 3-4 tiny bathrooms, 1 or 2 slightly larger bathrooms with enough space to change clothes, and 1 fairly large handicapped bathroom stall (big enough for a wheelchair to fit in). I got stuck in a handicapped bathroom on the Coast Starlight for a few minutes while we were at a scheduled stop because the door to let passengers on and off the train was blocking the bathroom door from opening, so just be aware that that can happen and don’t panic if it does. It wasn’t such a big deal for me, but we got a good laugh out of it.

Amtrak Baggage Policy

When traveling on the Amtrak California Zephyr, you’re allowed 2 free checked bags per person, to/from most major stations along this route, such as Emeryville to Denver like we were doing. The checked bags are stored in a luggage car at the back of the train and are inaccessible during your trip, so you’re also allowed a generous 2 free carry-on bags & 2 free personal items per person, but you should try to avoid having too much stuff to keep track of while on the train, because not all of it will remain with you the entire time.

There is an overhead shelf in the coach cars for your carry-ons, but rolling bags are not allowed on the second floor and must be stowed on the shelves on the lower decks next to the restrooms. These lower deck shelves are large enough that they could also be used for what is normally a large checked bag and you’ll have the added bonus of being able to get into those bags if you need something during your trip, but again, they will be out of your sight for the majority of your time onboard and they’ll be accessible for other passengers if someone was trying to be sneaky, so keep that in mind as you pack. After traveling exclusively by train for a month all over the United States with multiple overnight trips, we have a lot of advice about what to pack in your carry-on bags for train travel that we’re working on putting in another article and video. You can sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article so you’ll be notified when the new blog posts come out, but in the meantime you can learn more about Amtrak’s specific policies on their website.


Unfortunately, there is NO WI-FI on the California Zephyr. Most mobile data will work fine for the first day of this train ride because you’re still close enough to main roads and cell towers, but Amtrak does not provide wi-fi on this route like they do on some of the more commuter-friendly routes on the east coast, such as the Northeast Regional. On Day 2, when you’re getting into the remote areas of the Rockies, there will be no cell service, but you should be spending that time enjoying the views outside instead of the ones on your phone anyway!


Surprisingly, you CAN take your small dog or cat on the California Zephyr train! However, there is a limit to 5 non-service animals onboard each train, and it will cost an additional $39 ticket, so make sure you reserve that spot well in advance too. See this page on Amtrak’s website for the fine print.

Fall In Colorado Golden Aspen Trees In The Rocky Mountains On California Zephyr Amtrak Train Review By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Our Experience on the California Zephyr

The day before boarding the California Zephyr in Emeryville, we took the Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles and decided to stay at an Airbnb near the train station instead of wasting another leg of our USA Rail Passes on the short bus ride into San Francisco. If you’re starting in San Francisco proper however, there is a bus connection to the Emeryville train station that picks up in the SoMa area. Keep in mind though if you are using the USA Rail Passes, that 30-minute connecting bus will cost you one of your 10 legs. This is yet another blog article we have in the works!

Our train left Emeryville around 9am, which meant a long day of some amazing sights in Northern California. We weren’t assigned seats when boarding the train in Emeryville (although the crew would later move solo travelers around to accommodate pairs traveling together as they boarded the train), so if you can, sit on the west side of the train, which will be the left side of the train when facing forward as all the coach seats do. The first beautiful vistas you get to witness are San Pablo Bay just outside of San Francisco, so it happens pretty much immediately. The water is gorgeous, with some beautiful bridges. We even got to see a sunken tugboat.

An attendant very casually scanned our tickets as we boarded in Emeryville, but then we heard announcements on the train intercom that we couldn't go to the observation car until they scanned our tickets again onboard, so we sat around waiting & no one ever came by. We eventually just went to the observation car and no one ever asked to scan our tickets again. So while we (and several others) were somewhat scolded on the Coast Starlight for going to the observation car before having our tickets scanned at our seats (before we knew this was a thing), that was not a thing in our experience on the California Zephyr. The moral of that story is whatever you want to make of it, but our point is that you should go to the observation car ASAP after boarding in Emeryville to enjoy the coastline views of San Pablo Bay.

Pro Tip: Get to the train station to check in early so you can request to sit on the west/north side of the train just in case they assign seats on your train! We did this on the Coast Starlight and it made a huge difference.

After San Pablo Bay, you get into a far-less-exciting bit of California traveling to Sacramento. It’s not bad; it’s just not as exciting as the rest of the train ride from San Francisco to Denver (and might be part of the reason we had the observation car to ourselves for a while). We used the time to get some work done, but it would also be a great time to nap or read a book. Around Colfax, we had a fairly significant delay because of a freight train that had derailed some time earlier that month that hadn't been cleared yet, meaning only one set of train tracks was available for trains traveling both directions. These kinds of delays would turn out to be a sporadic issue during our month-long train trip around the USA.

Once you get past Colfax, you enter into the Tahoe National Forest and Eastern California becomes very forested and much more mountainous, making for some amazing views. As the train approaches Truckee, you’ll get to see Donner Lake, home of the infamous Donner Party. Donner Lake is much bigger than we were expecting and incredibly beautiful, especially when seen from the elevated perspective that the train offers. Shortly after, you’ll pass through Horseshoe Curve, a switchback designed years ago to give westbound trains elevation as they enter Donner Pass. This horseshoe allows you to see the entirety of the train as it chugs along the long curve.

Donner Lake Aerial View from Train California Zephyr in Tahoe National Forest Northern California San Francisco to Chicago Route Review In The Great Wide Amtrak Travel Blog

One big downside to this section of the California Zephyr route is that fresh air breaks are few and far between, and because of the delay in Colfax, the first time we were able to get off the train was in Reno, 6-7 hours after leaving Emeryville. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a ‘fresh air’ break, as it’s in a tunnel and the smokers were numerous. We really wish that Amtrak would put more restrictions in place about where the smokers are allowed to smoke during fresh air breaks, because there are some stations where it’s essentially impossible to get away from them and still be able to hear them call you back onboard before the train departs again.

You’re not in Nevada for a terribly long time before it gets dark, which puts an end to any sightseeing you have planned. We were excited to see more of Utah on this trip because we’ve never been before, but we crossed into the state in the middle of the night and then passed by the Great Salt Lake around 3am. Once it’s dark, you can’t see anything outside the train. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the nature of train travel.

Pro tip: Make sure you pack headphones for your train trip! We often slept with ours in to help drown out any ambient noise from the train.

The next morning, we woke right around dawn as we passed Helper, UT into Green River, and the sun glinting off the red rock formations is INCREDIBLE. It was such a beautiful way to wake up that we didn’t mind (although it was very early, mind you). It’s just a small taste of what you’ll be seeing once you enter Colorado.

Day 2 on the California Zephyr is why it’s widely considered the most scenic train route in the United States. It offers views that are only accessible via train, or by an exhausting kayaking or rafting trip for miles down the Colorado River. As soon as you wake up on this day, head to the observation car to claim your spot! After passing through Grand Junction, the observation car we were in was completely full with local sightseers knowing the beauty that is to come, and we picked up even more in Glenwood Springs, which is the reason why the California Zephyr so often sells out.

After Glenwood Springs, the crew started rationing everyone’s time in the observation car because the train is full. An attendant came around and offered each person a 90-minute time slot for sitting in the observation car during the most scenic portions between Glenwood Springs and Denver, which we happily respected, but not everyone around us did for the later time slot. While we’re not sure whether or not they do this on every California Zephyr train, if you have any issues with getting in, talk to an attendant.

Our train was completely sold out for this leg, so if you’re going to take this route at all, you need to make sure you book your tickets as early as possible. Even if the train is relatively empty from San Francisco to Grand Junction (as ours was), once you get into Colorado, all seats are taken. It takes about 6-7 hours from Glenwood Springs to Denver, and locals will head out for the weekend to take the California Zephyr back home and enjoy the sights. The train leaves from Glenwood Springs around noon on a Sunday, which is perfect for a weekend getaway.

If you can, sit on the north (left) side of the train for the first hour when leaving Glenwood Springs, then switch to the south (right) side for until Granby. I guarantee you that your mind will be blown from the dazzling mountain views! After Granby, it doesn’t matter which side you sit on, because every view will be incredible.

Friendly Colorado River Rafters Waving at Amtrak California Zephyr Train Review By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

The train follows the Colorado River for the majority of this section of the California Zephyr route, and it’s breathtaking. Seeing the rapids below, as you tower high up in the mountains, feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The beauty and awe of nature is astounding. Coloradans love their recreation, and we saw a lot of friendly locals waving to the train from rafts and kayaks and boats on the river. Apparently, it’s also a THING for locals on the Colorado River to moon the train as it passes, so don’t be surprised if you see some literal BUTTS, much to the delight and/or shock of some of our fellow passengers in the observation car.

After passing through Fraser, CO, a beautiful mountain village over 8,000 feet in elevation with a population of only 1,300, you will pass through Moffat Tunnel, a 6.2-mile-long tunnel that cuts through the mountain and the Continental Divide. It takes about ten minutes and the crew will warn you long in advance, as you’re not supposed to get up while in the tunnel, for your own safety. You also can’t move between train cars because the change in pressure will suck dust into the train, which no one wants. The darkness of this tunnel is a surreal experience, knowing there’s millions of tons of rock above you as you hurtle through the mountain in darkness for 10 minutes.

After the tunnel, an attendant got on the PA and gave some fun facts and tidbits about the mountains and the history of the area, which we LOVED! We are museum nerds and we want to learn as much as we can about the places we travel to. Amtrak knows this is a popular section of the California Zephyr, so they cater to it. It was fascinating to hear some of the stories staring down the side of a heavily wooded mountain, and since our trip was in autumn, the Aspen trees were in full gold at the higher elevations and it was absolutely breathtaking.

Before long, the mountains will fall away and you’ll see Denver, way far off in the distance. You definitely get that “We’re almost there!” feeling once you see it, but having to lose 3000 feet of elevation, it still takes around 90 minutes to get to the Mile High City.

Golden Aspen Trees Autumn in Rocky Mountains on California Zephyr Most Scenic Amtrak Train in United States Review By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

How to Make a Reservation for the California Zephyr

You can make a reservation on the Amtrak California Zephyr train through Amtrak’s website or their app. We’ve heard from multiple people that they had problems with the website (although we did not) and that their app is far superior. We used the app a lot during our trip, but we booked our USA Rail Passes and all of the individual legs of our trip on their website. Reminder: we have another blog article coming with all the details about the USA Rail Passes, so sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article to be notified when it comes out!

The California Zephyr coach tickets from Emeryville to Denver start at $118 one-way, and roomettes starting at $794 for 1 person. A bedroom on this route (slightly larger than a roomette) starts at $1,679, but all of these private room prices will go up if you add a second person because it also includes all meals in the dining car.

Keep in mind that you will also encounter food and drink costs for your two days on the train, but since you’re allowed to bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks, we recommend bringing some room-temperature foods and sodas, It would be beneficial to have a small cooler with you if you don’t mind carrying it, as you’ll need to plan for six meals over the two days. If you don’t want to bring your own, expect to pay around $7 for a small meal, $2.50 for a soda, and $8 for an alcoholic beverage. If you’re in a private room, you can bring your own alcohol, but you can also only consume it inside said private room (not in the dining or observation cars).

As far as what credit card to put this all on to make sure you’re getting the most points, our USA Rail Pass purchases were classified as a travel purchase (so I think it’s safe to assume an individual ticket for the California Zephyr would be the same) and the food and drinks we purchased onboard were classified as food & beverage purchases. I hope that information will help you know how to get the most reward points on your own credit cards!

California Zephyr Scenic Train Ride Through Colorado With Panoramic Landscape Views In The Rocky Mountains On Amtrak Coach Review By In The Great Wide Travel Blog

Our Verdict

Heading to Denver from San Francisco on the California Zephyr train is, without a doubt, a BUCKET LIST ITEM. It’s a fantastic way to travel and appreciate the truly incredible vistas that you literally can’t see otherwise! Save this for your bucket list!

Quick Reference Guide



San Francisco to Denver via train

How to Get There

A bus can take you from San Francisco to Emeryville, which is just across the bay. You can also board at any of the numerous stops through California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, but boarding in Emeryville will give you all the best views this route has to offer!

Time Commitment

The train trip takes 33.5 hours, so be prepared to sleep on the train


Starting at $118 one-way for coach, $794 and up for sleeper cars, if you absolutely need to lay totally flat while sleeping

Reservation Info or the Amtrak app

Our Verdict

Everyone needs to see the breathtaking vistas between Glenwood Springs and Denver, much of which is inaccessible by any other mode of transportation. It’s a bucket list item!

Pin this article!

Travel Writer Adam Neubauer for In The Great Wide Amtrak Travel Blog


In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog Phoebe and Adam at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

We’re Phoebe & Adam
the couple behind
In The Great Wide!

This is our travel lifestyle blog where we not only share stories from our adventures while traveling the world, but also our thorough research of the places we visit & practical advice on how to save money so you can travel more too!

Featured Blog Posts

Recent Blog Posts


bottom of page