There’s something beautifully nostalgic about long train rides. No matter the weather, you can gaze out the window and daydream to your heart’s content to the pitter-patter of rain, the warm glow of the golden hour, or a soft white landscape of fresh snow — especially when so many of us have been cooped up for months.

So if you could embark on a scenic train ride from coast-to-coast without breaking the budget, would you do it?

Initially I thought traveling from New York to San Francisco was only reasonable via plane or car — that is, until I stumbled upon travel blogger Derek Low’s account of his epic 3,397-mile journey across America. And, yes, it is indeed possible to imitate this cross country adventure for under $250.


Amtrak’s California Zephyr takes you from Chicago to San Francisco for around $170. And if you’re interested in transferring trains to the Lake Shore Limited line and continuing on to New York, it would total roughly $250 per person.

The trip traverses the majestic Rockies and the snow-dusted Sierra Nevadas, going from Nebraska to Denver to Salt Lake City, and from Reno and Sacramento to Emeryville/San Fransisco.

If you add the Lake Shore Limited connection to your journey, you’ll see majestic lighthouses, the Erie Canal, New England’s steeples, upstate New York’s finger lakes region, and Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Other options

You’re by no means limited to taking this route. Though the California Zephyr and Lake Shore Limited combination would be the cheapest way to get from New York to California, you could also purchase a 15-day pass, which lets you travel anywhere Amtrak does.

No matter what you choose, seeing the San Francisco Bay, the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Donner Lake and the Books Cliffs, the Colorado River and the Great Plains, the rolling hills and the Chicago skyline all by train sounds pretty magnificent. Bottle up some Gilded Age nostalgia and climb aboard.

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