Great Northwest Train Adventures

Photo Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Remember your first train ride? Perhaps you boarded a steam locomotive for a short excursion around a theme park. Or maybe that first ride extended beyond the small theme park village to the countryside, giving just a taste of where train travel could take you.

Here in the Northwest, I’ve come to discover just how far that is and for all the right reasons—affordability, comfort and convenience, legroom, relaxation, endless vistas of transcendent beauty, the ability to hop on and off to explore choice destinations, just to name a few. Whether traveling near or far, fast or slow, rail riders quickly become rail enthusiasts, one whistle and one engineer’s wave at a time.

Ready to come along on a Northwest rail journey to see for yourself? All aboard!

After wrapping up a Portland assignment early, I head to Union Station for the chance of boarding a Seattle-bound train before my scheduled departure three hours later. I’m in luck. The Coast Starlight is leaving in fifteen minutes. “No extra charge, Ma’am. Welcome aboard.” Priceless.

Amtrak offers three Northwest train routes as alternatives to auto or airline travel: Amtrak Cascades (Eugene-Salem-Portland-Tacoma-Seattle-Vancouver, B.C.), Coast Starlight (Seattle-Portland, and on to Los Angeles) and the Empire Builder (Portland-Seattle-Spokane, and beyond to Chicago). While passengers can make reservations for either the Amtrak Cascades or Coast Starlight between Eugene and Seattle, the Coast Starlight elevates the rail experience with a Superliner Sleeper and Dining Car, plus Sightseeing Lounge Car.

No need for a sleeper car on the four-hour leg of my unexpected train adventure from Portland to Seattle. But I soon discover that enjoying a meal of griddle-seared Norwegian salmon with a glass of chardonnay definitely enhances the experience. Before long I strike up conversations with fellow diners, a few of whom commute regularly between the two cities.

Not only can rail riders like myself avoid pesky traffic tie-ups along the I-5 corridor when traveling by train, but nature’s wildlife and wonder become part of the package. From Seattle, I board the Amtrak Cascades for my trip to Vancouver, B.C. Soaring snow geese and trumpeter swans accompany our train trip through the Skagit Valley. Meanwhile, Mt. Baker keeps watch from a distance, and Teddy Bear Cove near Bellingham clearly ranks top status as “most endearing geographical name” among passengers.

Both coach and business class travelers enjoy free Wi-Fi services, but for a few dollars more, business class passengers also receive credit towards onboard food and beverage services, complimentary newspapers, a bit more legroom, electrical outlets for laptops and access to the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland.

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