Amtrak Empire Builder Train: A Complete Guide

Amtrak operates the Empire Builder, a daily long-distance passenger train that runs from Chicago to either Seattle or Portland via two portions west of Spokane. Introduced in 1929, it was the Great Northern Railway’s premier passenger train and was preserved by Amtrak when it took over interstate rail services in 1971.

The trip takes 45-46 hours to complete, with an average speed of roughly 50 mph (80 km/h), however, the train may reach speeds of up to 79 mph (127 km/h) for most of the way. It is Amtrak’s most traveled long-distance route.

During fiscal year 2023, the Empire Builder transported 338,993 passengers, up 15.0% from FY2022, but 21.8% below pre-COVID-19 levels (433,372 passengers in FY2019). During fiscal year 2022, the train generated a total of $49,600,000.

Schedule Highlights

  • Trains depart Chicago in the afternoon.
  • Trains depart Portland and Seattle in the early evening.
  • Eastbound trains arrive in the Rockies early in the morning.
  • Westbound trains arrive in the Rockies in the early evening; thus, summer travel is required to see the mountains. Keep in mind that a significant delay might result in transit across the Rockies after dusk.
  • Westbound trains run through the Columbia River Gorge in the morning, while eastbound trains travel in the evening.

View the latest schedules and timetables on

Planning Your Trip

Amtrak Empire Builder Train Planning Your Trip

1. Booking Your Tickets

  • Amtrak Website: The most convenient way to book your Empire Builder trip is directly through the Amtrak website. You can search for specific dates, routes, and accommodation options.
  • Amtrak Stations: Tickets can also be purchased in person at staffed Amtrak stations along the route.
  • Phone: Call Amtrak Reservations at 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) to book your tickets over the phone.
  • Considerations:
    • Fares: Amtrak offers a variety of fares with varying prices and flexibility. Consider booking in advance for the best deals on fares.
    • Accommodations: Choose your preferred accommodation during the booking process – rooms, bedrooms, or coach seats.
    • Seating Preferences: Select window seats for scenic views or aisle seats for easier movement.

2. Best Time to Travel

The best time to travel on the Empire Builder depends on your priorities:

  • Scenery: Spring (late April to May) and fall (September to October) offer stunning landscapes with vibrant wildflowers and colorful foliage, respectively.
  • Weather: Summer (June to August) boasts warm temperatures, perfect for exploring stopover cities. However, expect higher travel demand and potentially higher fares.
  • Winter (December to February): Embrace the snowy wonderland scenery, but be aware of potential weather delays.

3. What to Pack for the Journey

  • Comfortable Clothing: Pack layers for changing weather conditions. Consider casual wear for relaxing onboard and dressier options for dining experiences.
  • Footwear: Bring comfortable shoes for walking around stations and exploring stopover cities.
  • Entertainment: Pack books, magazines, games, or download movies/shows to your devices for entertainment during the ride.
  • Toiletries: Pack all your essential toiletries and any medications you may need.
  • Snacks and Drinks: Consider bringing additional snacks and a reusable water bottle while meals are provided.
  • Camera: Capture the breathtaking scenery and memorable moments on your journey.
  • Small Pillow and Blanket: Enhance your comfort on the train by bringing a lightweight pillow and blanket.

Bonus Tip: Download the Amtrak app for mobile ticketing, real-time train tracking, and station information access.

Onboard Amenities

Amtrak Empire Builder Train Onboard Amenities

1. Accommodations: 

Lower/Upper-Level Coach Class Seats

Coach class is available on all Amtrak trains and has wide, reclining seats with plenty of legroom, no middle seat option, at-seat trays, reading lamps, and power outlets. There are restrooms in each vehicle. Amtrak Guest Rewards customers who travel in Coach get 2 points per dollar spent.

Superliner Roomette

Empire Builder offers Roomette For consumers wanting both privacy and savings in First Class, Roomettes offers:

  • Two comfy chairs by day, changed into higher and lower beds at night.
  • Recently renovated bedding, pillows, towels, and linens
  • Access to a bathroom and shower in your vehicle.
  • A dedicated first-class attendant
  • Complimentary Lounge access
  • Priority Boarding
  • Complimentary food.

Once you’ve booked, your room number will be immediately issued. Your ticket will provide your precise vehicle and room number. Upon arrival, your First Class attendant will direct you to your room.

Superliner Bedroom

Empire Builder offers Superliner Bedroom for passengers wanting lots of luxury and spaciousness in First Class, Bedrooms include:

  • 2x the space of a roomette
  • Upgraded bedding, pillows, towels, and linens change the couch and chair into higher and lower beds at night.
  • In-room sink, toilet, and shower
  • A dedicated first-class attendant
  • Complimentary Lounge access
  • Priority Boarding
  • Complimentary food.

Once you’ve booked, your room number will be immediately issued. Your ticket will provide your precise vehicle and room number. Upon arrival, your First Class attendant will direct you to your room.

Superliner Bedroom Suite

Empire Builder offers a Superliner Bedroom Suite For clients wanting the greatest First Class experience, Bedroom Suites combine two adjoining bedrooms and include:

  • 2 times the area of a bedroom.
  • The room has enhanced bedding, pillows, towels, and linens, as well as two couches and chairs during the day that convert to higher and lower beds at night.
  • Two in-room sinks, bathrooms, and showers.
  • A dedicated first-class attendant
  • Complimentary Lounge access
  • Priority Boarding
  • Complimentary food.

Superliner Family Bedroom

For travelers traveling with children in First Class, Family Rooms stretch the width of the vehicle with adequate room for two parents and two children (ages 2 to 12) and feature: 

  • Seating for four by day transformed two upper and two lower beds by night
  • Newly upgraded bedding, pillows, towels and linens
  • Access to a private restroom and shower in your car
  • A dedicated First Class attendant
  • Complimentary lounge access
  • Priority boarding
  • Complimentary meals

Once you’ve booked, your room number will be immediately issued. Your ticket will provide your precise vehicle and room number. Upon arrival, your First Class attendant will direct you to your room.

Superliner Accessible Bedroom

Accessible Bedrooms are positioned on the train’s entrance level and provide adequate space for wheelchairs. Each room contains:

  • Seating during the day turned into higher and lower beds at night.
  • On single-level Viewliner trains: an in-room restroom with sink, toilet, and shower.
  • On bi-level Superliner trains: in-room restroom with sink and toilet, access to a private shower in your vehicle.
  • Recently renovated bedding, pillows, towels, and linens
  • A dedicated first-class attendant
  • Complimentary Lounge access
  • Priority Boarding
  • Complimentary meals, including room service.

Trainside Checked Bicycle

Part of the appeal of a rail travel is the opportunity to explore the stations along the way, and what better way to do that than by bike? If you want to travel the rails with your bike, they provide a variety of options to transfer it aboard. 

2. Dining: 

Traditional Dining

Traditional dining service is available in the Dining Car on the Auto Train, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle (between San Antonio and Los Angeles). A limited number of Coach passengers on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor will have access to traditional meal services.

Traditional dining offers seasonal meals with a wide range of dinner options. Complement your meal with a variety of drinks, such as beer, wine, and spirits (the first is on us). Make sure to save space for dessert; there’s something to please every sweet craving. In addition to our standard menu, children may request their favorite items aboard.

Cafe Service

Amtrak Empire Builder Train has Café service, offering a range of meals, snacks, and drinks for purchase. Customers of all service levels are welcome to visit the Café, which is open from early morning to late night.

3. Lounge and Observation Cars: Features and Tips for the Best Experience

The Empire Builder boasts dedicated lounge and observation cars, offering passengers a chance to relax, socialize, and soak in the breathtaking scenery in style. Here’s a breakdown of their features and how to get the most out of them:


  • Large windows: Enjoy panoramic views of the passing landscape, perfect for capturing photos or simply getting lost in the scenery.
  • Comfortable seating: Relax in plush armchairs or swivel seats, ideal for reading, chatting with fellow passengers, or enjoying a cup of coffee.
  • Some observation cars: May have a small bar or concession stand offering snacks, drinks, and sometimes even light meals.

Tips for the Best Experience:

  • Arrive early: These cars are popular spots, so head there early, especially during scenic stretches, to snag a good seat with the best views.
  • Consider booking your accommodation near these cars: Some trains offer rooms located near the lounge/observation car. While not guaranteed a quiet experience, it provides easy access to these amenities.
  • Respect others: While socializing is encouraged, be mindful of noise levels and respect the space of other passengers seeking relaxation.
  • Ask the attendants: The friendly staff onboard are happy to answer your questions and might even point out upcoming scenic highlights.

Bonus Tip: Pack a light blanket or scarf for these cars. The temperature can fluctuate depending on the outside weather, and a little extra warmth can enhance your comfort level.

Major Stops and Stations

Amtrak Empire Builder Train Stops and Stations

Popular Stops

  • Chicago
  • Milwaukee
  • Wisconsin Dells
  • Minneapolis–Saint Paul
  • East Glacier Park
  • Whitefish
  • Leavenworth
  • Portland
  • Seattle

Train Stations Served by the Empire Builder

Amtrak Empire Builder Routes & Network

The Amtrak Empire Builder’s train network has 671 lines that link 45 cities and serve 45 stops. Amtrak Empire Builder makes around 267 train runs every day. The top cities to which Amtrak Empire Builder provides the most daily train service are Seattle and Wenatchee.


CityRouteEarliest trainLatest train
St Paul710:44 am9:49 am
Chicago810:44 am8:53 am
Seattle1111:05 am9:13 am
Spokane711:05 am9:13 am
Portland911:05 am9:13 am
Whitefish711:09 am9:13 am
Wenatchee911:05 am11:05 am
Milwaukee51:15 pm8:53 am
La Crosse101:29 pm5:21 am

Most popular Amtrak Empire Builder routes

Amtrak Empire Builder’s most popular route is the one between Seattle and Wenatchee. Trips from Seattle to Leavenworth and Portland to Spokane are also quite popular. 


RouteDaily TripsDurationPrice
Seattle to Wenatchee13h 56m$47
Seattle to Leavenworth13h 22m$41
Portland to Spokane17h 32m$32
St Paul to Chicago27h 55m$50
Wisconsin Dells to Chicago23h 47m$28
Portland to Pasco14h 21m$26
Spokane to Seattle136h 8m$20
Fargo to St Paul25h 4m$27
St Paul to Grand Forks26h 21m$40


Amtrak ticket prices vary according to distance traveled, time of year, and kind of ticket. The following are the expected prices of Empire Builder one-way tickets if you traverse the full route as of 2023:

  • Over $150 for a coach seat
  • Over $600 for a roomette
  • Over $1,000 for a bedroom or family bedroom

Tips for riding the Amtrak Empire Builder

When traveling in coach, a successful cross-country Amtrak journey needs some planning. It also demands a great deal of patience, compassion, and kindness. Following are tips to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

1. Booking your ticket

If you want the finest view, get an upstairs ticket. You cannot reserve a specific seat, but you will have access to the enormous picture windows.

Travel throughout the week is far less expensive than on weekends, and the costs change by the day. If I had departed on Friday instead of Thursday, my ticket would have cost twice as much.

2. Packing your bags

If you’re accustomed to flying, you’ll be surprised by Amtrak’s luggage rules. You will get two free carry-on bags and two free personal items.

That may not seem spectacular until you realize the “carry-on” luggage are full-size suitcase. We have a collection of three stacking suitcases. Even our smallest one will not be deemed a carry-on by an airline, but I was able to transport the medium-sized luggage without incident.

Personal bags are what airlines consider to be carry-ons. I brought a bigger backpack and a larger purse (since it’s the law now that I’m 52). I also packed a soft-sided shoulder bag that could be used for either.

Whatever baggage you decide to pack, keep one bag for a change of clothing and essential toiletries. You’ll keep it above your seat for quick access.

It is vital to understand that there will be no showers in the coach, and the toilets are small. It’s easiest to change in the restroom because of the extra seat.

3. Food and Drink

It is recommended that you bring food and beverages. Sometimes more food is needed for the train. Sometimes the café car might not connect to your train till later. It’s best to be prepared.

You cannot bring a large cooler, but you may bring a soft-sided one with drinks and other cold things. Keep in mind that you will not be able to replace the ice in your cooler, but you may obtain a cup of ice from the café.

4. Personal Comfort

Make your trip as comfortable as possible by bringing the following:

  • Pillow
  • Blanket
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs
  • Sanitizing hand wipes
  • Facial wipes
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Several hours of white noise
  • Books, movies, and podcasts 

You’ll want to download the final two before boarding the train. Empire Builder has no internet or phone connection for most of the journey, particularly in the West.

The Journey Experience

Unveiling the Sights: A Day-by-Day Scenic Adventure

Embark on a visual journey alongside the Empire Builder! Here’s a taste of the landscapes you can expect to witness on your ride:

  • Day 1: Departing Chicago, you’ll be greeted by the bustling cityscape before following the mighty Mississippi River. Keep an eye out for quaint towns and rolling farmlands.
  • Day 2: As you enter North Dakota, vast plains unfurl before you, stretching towards the horizon under a seemingly endless sky. This is your chance to spot grazing bison or pronghorn antelope!
  • Day 3: The landscape transforms dramatically as you approach Montana. Prepare to be awestruck by the towering peaks of Glacier National Park, a sight that will leave you breathless. A particularly breathtaking section is crossing the Gassman Coulee Trestle, a historic high bridge offering stunning views of the valley below.
  • Day 4: Leaving Montana behind, the scenery transitions to the lush forests and cascading waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest. Keep your camera ready as you wind through mountain ranges and alongside scenic rivers.

Through the Eyes of Travelers: Personal Stories and Testimonials

To bring the journey to life, let’s hear from passengers who have experienced the magic of the Empire Builder firsthand:

  • Sarah from California: “The stargazing from the observation car at night was incredible. Being away from city lights, the Milky Way stretched across the entire sky. It was a moment of pure wonder.”
  • David from Minnesota: “Glacier National Park was the highlight of my trip. The train ride offered a perfect introduction to the park’s majesty, sparking my excitement for exploring further.”
  • Amara from Washington: “I wasn’t sure what to expect from long-distance train travel, but I was pleasantly surprised. Meeting fellow travelers in the lounge car and sharing stories made the journey even more enjoyable.”

These are just a few glimpses into the unforgettable experiences that await you onboard the Empire Builder. With breathtaking scenery and the chance to connect with fellow travelers, your journey promises to be as memorable as the destinations themselves.

Amtrak Empire Builder train FAQs

Do Amtrak Empire Builder trains have WiFi?

No, Amtrak Empire Builder does not currently provide WiFi on its trains. However, we find that a good book helps pass the time, and streaming services such as Netflix enable you to download TV episodes and movies to view throughout your vacation. Plan ahead of time, and you’ll be delighted during the train travel.

Are there power outlets or USB plugs on the train?

Yes, there are power outlets aboard Amtrak Empire Builder trains. You can usually find one or two outlets each row of seats, so be a considerate traveler and check to see if your seat mate wants to charge their electronics as well. The onboard power outlets allow you to charge both a computer and USB devices using a USB power adapter, which is normally included with most phones and tablets.
Because Amtrak Empire Builder may sometimes employ replacement train units, not all journeys are guaranteed to include power outlets. We suggest bringing a power bank to charge your phone for any journeys longer than 2 hours.

What is Amtrak Empire Builder’s schedule?

On a normal day, Amtrak Empire Builder has 267 planned train journeys. However, the actual departure and arrival hours vary according on the day and route. To get the precise timetable for your journey, utilize the search function on this page.

Can you pick up will-call tickets at the station?

No, Amtrak Empire Builder does not provide will-call tickets. Purchase your tickets online and ensure that you have everything you need to board before arriving at the station.

Do you need an ID to get on the train?

Yes, Amtrak Empire Builder asks you to provide an ID to an agent before boarding the train. Make sure you have government-issued identification that matches the carrier’s standards. Alternative IDs, such as a college ID, will not work.

Are there bathrooms on Amtrak Empire Builder trains?

Yes, there are restrooms aboard Amtrak Empire Builder trains. The restrooms are rather basic, with a toilet, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Most restrooms do not have running water. Please exercise care and hang on to a rail when using a restroom on a moving vehicle.

Are meals or beverages available?

The Amtrak Empire Builder delivers refreshments to keep you fed throughout your journey. Make sure to have a credit card and some cash in case you get hungry.

Do you have to print your Amtrak Empire Builder ticket?

Amtrak Empire Builder can use a paper ticket to board the train. Instead, when you make your reservation, you will get an eTicket via email. You may show the ticketing agent this eTicket on your smartphone as you board.

Does Amtrak Empire Builder offer any premium features, like extra legroom or movies?

Amtrak Empire Builder goes above and above to provide its passengers with premium offerings.
Do you find yourself squashed on a standard seat, or do you like having more space to stretch out? You’re fortunate since Amtrak Empire Builder provides extra legroom seats. Because there is no standard for what constitutes additional legroom, the extra space you get may differ across train lines, although having more is usually beneficial.

Additional Resources

Amtrak’s Empire Builder:

Empire Builder History:

Amtrak Empire Builder Guide:

Travel Resources:

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