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Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Waterfront Views in Massachusetts Train From Boston To Chicago Review In The Great Wide Train Travel Blog

Lake Shore Limited

The Amtrak Lake Shore Limited train runs between Chicago and Boston (with a secondary route that branches off to New York City at Albany). It’s somehow simultaneously one of the most beautiful and one of the most disappointing Amtrak train routes in the United States.


Lake Shore Limited Amtrak Train Route

After spending a couple weeks exploring the east coast using our Amtrak USA Rail Passes, we traveled on the Lake Shore Limited from Boston’s South Station to Chicago’s Union Station to start our journey back west on our month-long train trip across the country and back. The Lake Shore Limited train also has an alternate route that starts (or ends) in New York City instead of Boston, with the split happening in Albany.

The train route between Boston and Chicago makes 20 other stops, including Worcester and Springfield in Massachusetts, Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo in New York, Erie in Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Sandusky, and Toledo in Ohio, and Elkhart and South Bend in Indiana. The route between Chicago and New York only has 18 stops, but includes a stop in Poughkeepsie instead of any of the stops in Massachusetts. There are a few other minor stops along both routes too, which you can find on this page of Amtrak’s website.

In total, traveling from Boston to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited train takes about 22 hours, so be prepared to spend a night sleeping on the train. We’ll explain what you can expect the seats to be like in a minute.

Amtrak Train Route From Chicago To Boston and New York City In The Great Wide Train Travel Blog

Sights on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Train

The Lake Shore Limited train only runs once per day, so you don’t have the option of choosing what time you depart. Leaving from Boston to head east to Chicago like we did, the train departs Boston’s South Station at 12:50pm, which gives you glorious afternoon and evening light as you travel the full length of Massachusetts.

Because of the time of year we went (mid-October), autumn was in full bloom in New England, and we got to see some spectacular colors in the countryside. Because this is a single-deck train, you won’t get the elevated views outside the train like you do on the California Zephyr, so it’s often just a blur of trees going by. But since the trees were all shades of red, orange, yellow, and green, it was a gorgeous display of color!

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!

Getting all the way through Massachusetts took a lot longer than we expected though, as it was already getting dark by the time we got into New York, and once the sun goes down outside, you can’t see ANYTHING outside the train. This meant that all the views “along some of the prettiest shorelines of the USA”, including those of Lake Erie, the Mohawk River, and the Erie Canal, were all lost to the nighttime. If we had gone at any other time of year and not gotten to see the gorgeous fall colors during the day, we would have been REALLY upset about it. This route was one of the ones we were most excited about as we planned our trip, but we didn’t look at the small details of what time we would be traveling along the edge of Lake Erie, so we didn’t realize it would be at night. Now we know!

Traveling this route in reverse, however, seems to be more ideal. Again, it only runs once per day, so the train departs Chicago at 9:30pm. The next morning, you could wake up at sunrise about half-way along the views of Lake Erie and actually get to enjoy that for a while as the sun comes up. You would then spend the day winding through upstate New York, mostly following the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. So if you have the option, definitely plan to take this train route traveling east instead.

As far as where to sit for the best views, the north side of the train is where you want to be! The south side of the train is in direct sunlight all day, so it could easily get hot and uncomfortable (not to mention the potential for a sunburn!). Do yourself a favor and choose seats on the north side of the train. If you’re traveling from Chicago to Boston (or New York City), that will be the left side of the train in the direction of travel.

If you are taking this route to/from New York City instead of Boston, it’s the same train on the same route at the same time between Chicago and Albany, where it splits in two. Although we haven’t taken the route from Albany to New York City, it looks like it follows the Mohawk River pretty closely, so that could get you some nice views of the western/south side of the train, but again, it all depends on what time of day you’ll be in the area because you cannot see anything outside after the sun goes down.

The lesson here is: take this route traveling east out of Chicago instead of west into it, and go in the fall when the trees are changing their leaves!

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What is the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Train Like?

Types of Seats

The Lake Shore Limited 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 cafe car.

With the USA Rail Pass, you’re assigned to coach class and you cannot pay the difference to upgrade to a private room. As coach passengers, you still get access to the café car, just not the “dining” car.

The Lake Shore Limited 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 bedroom suites (up to 4 people). All private rooms have access to a shower, which is one of the biggest downsides that riding in coach does not offer.

Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Train Sleeper Car Amenities

In addition to the showers (although I’ve heard it’s only cold water), private rooms also have all meals included, plus one free alcoholic beverage per meal, plus unlimited free soft drinks, and you can bring your own alcohol too (to consume in your private room only). Of course, you’ll also have a private space to store your belongings while you move about the train, which you would only be doing during meal times.

While this all sounds great, the least expensive private room also comes with a price tag that is 4-5x higher than a coach seat for 1 person, and it would cost around 3x as much for a roomette for 2 people as opposed to 2 coach seats. That’s far too big of a price jump, if you ask us.

Amtrak Lake Shore Coach Seats

There are two types of Coach cars on the Lake Shore limited: a commuter-style coach car for passengers that are traveling a shorter distance, and leisure-style coach car for passengers traveling overnight.

The commuter-style seats are much smaller with much less leg room. There are still only two seats on each side, so it’ll be better than a plane, but they will definitely be less comfortable than the leisure-style seats on this route or on other routes.

The leisure-style seats that we sat in were not quite the same as the other leisure trains that Amtrak runs, such as the Coast Starlight, but a kind of hybrid of leisure and commuter seats. The seats are still that soft pleather that you’ll find on commuter rails, but with much more legroom, plus the leg and foot rests that allow you to fully recline while sleeping overnight on the train like you would on the long-haul leisure trains. 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. Oddly, the tray tables are still the commuter size, much too small to get any real work done.

Although we were not assigned seats upon boarding, we were assigned to a car, so you do not get to choose which style of coach seats you get, but you do get to choose your specific seat within that coach car. We chose seats at the back of the train car, as these cars are single level and don’t have the large carry-on luggage capacity like the California Zephyr or the Coast Starlight do. The last row of seats has a ‘hidden storage’ area behind the seats that still allow the seats to recline, but have enough space against the back wall to store a large, rolling bag that you would usually check. The downside to being in the very back is that a safety light stayed on the whole night, even when they turned off the other lights, and it shined directly down onto us. We had eye masks, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but if you don’t have an eye mask, sleep will not come easily.

The coach seat windows are quite large too and provide a great view during the day, 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 in the luggage shelves located at the entrance/exit doors of the train car.

The seats in the coach cars 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 in the leisure-style seats; if you’re over 6’ tall, it won’t be as much, but it won’t be entirely uncomfortable.

We have more articles and videos in the works about how 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.

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Observation Car

There is no observation car on the Lake Shore Limited. Again, this route is a weird kind of hybrid between the long-haul leisure trains and the shorter, commuter-style trains. Since this one is a single deck (without those narrow stairs to navigate), there is no upper level to have the observation car in.

Café Car, Dining Car, and Food on Amtrak Lake Shore Limited

The cafe car on the train offers convenience store style snacks and refreshments a la carte, 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 egg bites, bagels, coffee, and tea, and for lunch and dinner there are things like hot dogs, burgers, ramen, and sodas. You can expect to pay anywhere from $3 - $8 for food and $2.50 - $3 for a soda, coffee, or juice.

They also offer limited beer, wine, and mini-bottles of liquor, which cost around $9 each. They’ll also provide ice water at no charge, either from the café car attendant, or via some water fountains dispersed throughout the coach cars. Despite some people giving sour looks while drinking it, we thought it tasted just fine (we drink filtered water at home).

The café car is almost always just located ahead of the coach cars. There may not be signs posted, as there weren't on our train, so just move towards the front of the train and you’ll find it.

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 too, but they can only be consumed in your private room (not in the dining car). 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 that we will be releasing soon, so you can sign up for our newsletter if you want to be notified when it comes out. See the bottom of this article to sign up.

The Lake Shore Limited also has a dining car, but it’s only available to those who book the private sleeper rooms. If that’s you, then all of your meals will be included there, along with one free alcoholic beverage and unlimited sodas. However, again, this is not restaurant-quality food, so just keep that in mind. You can view a sample Flexible Dining menu on Amtrak’s website. We tried to upgrade while using the USA Rail Pass 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.

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Bathrooms on the Amtrak California Zephyr Train

There are bathrooms at the front of each coach car that are fairly spacious, considering you’re on a train. The sleeper cars have their own bathrooms, some of which are even inside the private rooms. For those of us in the coach cars, there are indicator lights outside the bathrooms to tell you if someone is inside. Make sure to securely lock the doors or the light won’t come on and someone may try to come in.

Amtrak Baggage Policy

There is no checked luggage on the Lake Shore Limited, which we find insanely baffling, as it is an overnight train. There is limited space onboard for large luggage as well, with only a couple of racks at the front of the cars by the doors to enter and exit the train. It didn’t appear to be a problem on our specific train, but I could see how it could become a problem on really packed trains. We opted to store our one large bag behind our seats in the back of the train car.

There is an overhead shelf in the coach cars for your smaller carry-ons, but a rolling bag will not fit up there; it’s meant more for backpacks. 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 for train travel that we’re working on putting in yet another article and video. You can sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article so you don’t miss it, but in the meantime you can learn more about Amtrak’s specific policies on their website.


Supposedly, there is WI-FI on the Lake Shore Limited. However, in our experience, the phone signal was very spotty, which means the Wi-Fi will be spotty, as Amtrak uses a cell-based internet service. So you can plan on using the wi-fi casually, but do not rely on it.


Surprisingly, you CAN take your small dog or cat on the Lake Shore Limited 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 all the details.

Train From Boston To Chicago Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Massachusetts Architecture Photography By In The Great Wide Train Travel Blog

Our Experience

We boarded the Lake Shore Limited at Boston South Station shortly before 1pm. We were surprised that we weren’t required to check-in at the station and we weren’t assigned seats. Luckily for us, being one of the first on the train, we were able to snag those back seats and use the extra storage space behind us for our one large piece of luggage. After the short jaunt over to the Boston Back Bay station, an attendant came around and scanned our tickets on the app. At one point, they made an announcement to not post up in the cafe car to work, as they were saving the limited tables for people wanting to eat, which meant that we would spend virtually all of our time on the train in our coach seats.

Traveling through the entirety of Massachusetts from east to west took much longer than we were expecting. We spent the entire afternoon cruising through the Massachusetts countryside and it was absolutely gorgeous. We were finally able to see the fall colors that we’d planned the whole trip around! A warm summer led to a warm autumn and late-changing trees, but the colors finally popped and it was spectacular.

Shortly after getting out of Massachusetts, the sun went down and we couldn’t see anything out of the windows, due to the reflective nature of the glass and the safety lights being on inside the train. We looked up a timetable and realized that all of the wonderful views we’d been looking forward to would be hidden in darkness. No Mohawk River. No Erie Canal. No Lake Erie shoreline. We were pretty bummed about it.

Our first stop in New York was in Albany for a scheduled 15-minute fresh air break that turned into an hour delay as they added more train cars from the New York leg of the Lake Shore Limited. We assumed that this happened every day, so the delay seemed very odd, but no one bothered to inform us of what was going on. There were other short fresh air stops in Syracuse, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Toledo, but they mostly took place overnight. These fresh air stops are all much shorter than the leisure-train fresh air stops on the California Zephyr or the Coast Starlight, so you need to make sure you’re paying attention to a map so you don’t miss them.

Another thing we really noticed is different about this route is that it got extremely bumpy at times. Being near the end of the train, this became a bit tiresome (especially with that safety light constantly blaring into our faces). Combine this with the unusually poor air flow in the train, and it wasn’t the most pleasant night’s sleep.

In the morning, we awoke to some heavy fog in Western Ohio, which looked really awesome. It provided some great pictures of sleepy towns and creepy forests shrouded in mist. Before long, we were pulling into Chicago Union Station, where we deboarded and took a bus out to Rockford.

Dense Foggy Morning In Ohio Photography On Amtrak Train From Boston To Chicago In The Great Wide Travel Blog Lake Shore Limited Review

How to Make a Reservation for the Lake Shore Limited

You can make a reservation on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited 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 Lake Shore Limited coach tickets from Boston to Chicago start at $96 one-way, and roomettes starting at $402 for 1 person. Keep in mind that the price of a private room will go up if you add a second person because it also includes all meals in the dining car. This means that for one person, the least expensive private room would be 4-5x more expensive than a coach seat, and for a couple, a roomette would be around 3x more expensive than 2 coach seats. The USA Rail Pass is by far the best deal, especially if you’re able to make a big vacation out of it like we did.

If you’re sticking to coach, you will also encounter food and drink costs during your time 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. You can ask the cafe car attendant for a cup of ice for your soda to not spend any extra money. If you’re in a private room, you can save money by bringing your own alcohol, but you can also only consume it inside said private room.

At these prices, flying from Boston or New York City to Chicago will actually cost about the same and is only a 3 hour flight. Now that we know the route would be more scenic traveling east, we recommend you consider flying to Chicago and taking the train back for the views.

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 Lake Shore Limited 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!

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Our Verdict

Amtrak should be more transparent about what you will and will not be able to see along this route, because we were extremely disappointed that we didn’t get to see Lake Erie even though we were traveling along the southern edge of it for hours. The autumn colors were spectacular though, so it would be worth traveling the short distance from Boston to Albany just for that if you can time it right!

Quick Reference Guide



Between Chicago and Boston or New York City

Major Stops

Springfield (MA), Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Cleveland

Time Commitment

The route between Boston and Chicago takes 22 hours The route between New York City and Chicago takes 19 hours


Starting at $96 one-way for coach, $402 and up for sleeper cars, if you absolutely need to lay totally flat while sleeping

Reservation Info or the Amtrak app

Our Verdict

Take this route eastbound when autumn is in full bloom for views of Lake Erie and upstate New York, or take it in either direction between Albany and Boston for gorgeous autumn colors!

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