Home World Travel Traveler Shares His Photos From A Train Route That Shows All Of America’s Most Beautiful Sights For $186
Travel - March 25, 2019

Traveler Shares His Photos From A Train Route That Shows All Of America’s Most Beautiful Sights For $186

When someone mentions traveling from California to New York, one naturally thinks about a plane ride which takes roughly 6 hours to get from the first state to the final, crossing the continent in what seems like a heartbeat. But while you are catching up on movies on laptop or books you’ve been putting away from reading to make the flight more bearable, you are missing out on everything the States has to offer on the ground. To not miss out on any beautiful places a plane would fly by, an adventure traveler and entrepreneur Derek Low came up with a plan to cross the country by train. And if you were thinking that it would be easier to do it by car, well, here’s Derek’s catch. He claims you can do it for as cheap as $186.

Image credits: Derek Low

Back in December of 2011, Derek planned out and embarked on a 3,400-mile trip from San Francisco to New York. The man recognized not only the inexpensive price of this method of traveling, but also the availability. As trains were the backbone of transportation in the ever-growing America, bridging gaps between newly found cities and powering up fresh industries, the legacy of those times was left in a shape of a wide railway network, spreading across all the states. Low chose San Francisco-New York route for its beautiful scenery that he detailed on his journal.

Image credits: Derek Low

He explained that the trip would take 4 days without stopovers, however, he encourages people to make them to get the best out of the trip. Although stopping would mean buying separate tickets for each journey which would increase the cost of the trip, how could anyone resist taking a moment to appreciate the beautiful locations that the United States of America has to offer?

Image credits: mmurphy2

The first leg of his journey was from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. A 17-hour ride between the cities begins with the view of San Francisco Bay Area, where tranquil waters draw the eye. While it’s the last look at the ocean for a long while, the land has views that are just as spectacular to offer.

Image credits: Don Graham

As the train moved inland, rushing through the gloomy fields and bare trees, the scenery changed after a couple of hours. As Derek described it, the view of the window changed from a grey smokescreen into a breathtaking forest as the train entered the Sierra Nevada. The mountain range covers over 24,370 sq mi (63,100 km2) and sits mainly in the state of California, with a small part stretching out into Nevada. Rich in history, the Sierra Nevada is home to many stories, mines and its highest peak, Mount Whitney. But the highest point in the USA is not the only attraction the Sierra Nevada offers, as Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks also lie within the mountain range. Derek Low remarks how an expert from a museum shared a story about the Donner party as they passed the lake of the same name. “The Donner Party […] were stranded here in the winter of 1846. Some of the party of 87 resorted to cannibalism; only 48 survived,” he recalled.

Image credits: Derek Low

With higher altitudes of the Sierra Nevada bringing snow, the upcoming hours turn into quite a sight as the train moves from California to Nevada and the scenery changes from a winter wonderland to a barren desert.

Image credits: Trevor Bexon

Although Nevada is perhaps best known for the city of gambling, splurging and spontaneous weddings, Las Vegas, the train that Derek was on didn’t pass there. Instead Low noted that the most notable urban area is Reno, or as he describes, “the Biggest Little City in the World”.

Image credits: Leon7

At night the train passes another state line, between Nevada and Utah, and as the clocks are adjusted an hour forward, the first leg of the trip ends in Salt Lake City at 3am.

Image credits: goodfreephotos

Perhaps one of the most notable objects, and the one that Derek visited at early hours of the morning, is the Mormon Temple. It towers at 222 ft (68 m) and lies in the downtown area of the city.

Image credits: David Gubler

The second leg of the journey begins as a 15-hour train ride from Salt Lake City to Denver begins. According to Low, “the journey between Utah and Colorado is regarded to be the most spectacular train ride in all of the United States.” The railroad stretches across the scenery that will remind anyone of the Western movies. One of the more memorable sights in the wast outstretch of American Wild West is the Book cliffs.

Image credits: Luca Galuzzi

The path is riddled with stunning canyons, so you aren’t going to miss out on them as they will be most of what you’re seeing. Just don’t overlook the hoodoos, tall, thin spires of rock that look like long chimneys protruding from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland.

Image credits: pxhere

As the train follows the Colorado River for quite a stretch of time, you will have the perfect chance to snap some photos, as well as see how the waters twist and turn. Low notes that this is the time to see ” a particularly odd breed of Colorado wildlife indigenous to the area.” Apparently, rafters in the Colorado River have a weird habit to ‘salute’ the passing trains by pulling their pants off and giving them a good mooning to remember. No wonder the river’s nicknamed as a “Moon River”.

Image credits: Derek Low

Before the train finally arrives to Denver, the Rockies come to an end and canyons with hoodoos blend into seemingly ends green plains. The change in scenery, again, just shows how much variety the states have to offer, and it’s possible to see all of that in just a couple of days.

Image credits: Derek Low

After a 15-hour journey, the train reaches Denver, the capital of Colorado, also known as “The Mile High City”. Famous for being one of the sunniest cities, Denver has 300 days of sunshine a year, just the perfect place to stop and take a walk around. Derek suggests to take some time and explore the city, as he himself did. And for a good reason. Denver has more than 200 parks within the city and 20,000 acres of parks in the surrounding mountain area.

Image credits: Derek Low

The next leg of the cross-country journey is between Denver and Chicago. And although Low reported that he slept through the 4 states (Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois) as most of the 19-hour ride takes place at night. According to Derek, it’s pretty comfortable sleeping on The California Zephyr train.

Image credits: pxhere

Though depending on the time of the day the train passes these states, there are still plenty of scenic routes to enjoy. Plains, forests, reservois and rivers are just some of the sights to enjoy while on a long train ride.

Image credits: Derek Low

Towards the end of the journey, the Zephyr reaches one of the most significant stops on the route, the city of Chicago. The third most populous city in the USA, Chicago has plenty of entertainment to offer. From mouth-watering food (deep-dish pizza, right?) to the Willis Tower looming over the city at 442.1 m (1,450 ft) height, there are plenty of things to try out, and Derek spent another day there, exploring.

Image credits: Vanessa Vancour

Also, Chicago is home to the infamous “Bean” sculpture. “Cloud Gate” by Anish Kapoor first received attention purely for its shape, prompting people to create a line of memes on the internet. It later resurfaced on the net because of the feud between its original creator and Stuart Semple. So, visiting Chicago is the perfect opportunity to witness this iconic symbol.

Image credits: Derek Low

As the California Zephyr only goes as far as Chicago, to cover the rest of the journey one must transfer to Lake Shore Limited. As the last stretch between Chicago and New York takes around 20 hours, it’s best to relax, enjoy the views, or find something interesting to spend your time on. Low says that for him, it was an excellent opportunity to sit down and write.

Image credits: Derek Low

After an ardous trip that took days, the train finally arrives to the Big Apple, drawing the cross-country tour to a conclusion. There are, of course, plenty of things to do in the most populated city in the States. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Central Park are just a scratching the surface when it comes to such an urban giant like New York City.

Image credits: William Warby

Derek crossed 3,397 miles (5 466.9 km), 11 states, 4 timezones in just 4 days. “I’ve seen both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean without taking a flight. Some people have told me that I’ve already seen more of the country than most Americans.” he explained.

While Derek paid $429 for a 15-day rail pass to make the most of his time on a trip across the USA, he claims that it’s possible to cross the country for much less. “The rail pass includes 8 train rides which I used to explore other cities after my cross-country journey. If you’re thinking of stopping at a few cities, a rail pass can be a great value” he explained. However, there is a possibility to buy direct California Zephyr and Lake Shore Limited tickets that would take you from San Francisco to New York. And those cost as little as $186.

 

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