“All aboard!” 🚂
After stepping onto the Amtrak Empire Builder, we soon found out the crew really does belt out an “all aboard” call as the train is departing. For us, that holler from deep in the lungs proved to be a most appropriate welcome as we boarded those shiny silver train cars that had just rolled into Chicago’s ornate Union Station. The final call for passengers was one of the many morsels of Americana to enjoy when crossing the US by train on this Empire Builder route that’s been in use for nearly 100 years.
Yet now well into the 21st century, it’s a time when the Amtrak Empire Builder is a wildly inefficient way to travel from Chicago to Seattle. This 2,206-mile rail trip across the US can easily be accomplished by flight in one-tenth of the time and for about the same price.
(Map source: sharemap.org, an interactive map that you can use to zoom in and out.)
But there remains a sect of society with a preference to instead pursue this classic rail journey, traveling across America’s most Northern states over the course of three days, rather than the 5-hour flight zipping above the US. We decided to join these slow travelers on what has become Amtrak’s most popular long-distance train route, with nearly a half-million passengers taking the Empire Builder each year (433,373 riders in 2019, source: Amtrak FY 19 Ridership Report).
Many of those passengers remark the Empire Builder line is the most scenic Amtrak train route. So we boarded in Chicago to take the entire length of this train trip to judge for ourselves.
This post recounts our rail trip across the US to give a balanced look at what it’s really like, while further providing an Amtrak Empire Builder review and travel tips for anyone considering this classic rail journey.
Our Experience: Riding Amtrak Across the US on the Empire Builder
In our mission to circumnavigate the globe without flights, taking the Amtrak Empire Builder across the US fit perfectly into our travel agenda like a missing puzzle piece. It had always been a dream journey for us to travel across the country by rail.
We love train travel and are certainly no strangers to lengthy train trips. Over the past several years of roaming around the world, we’ve taken rail journeys across exotic locations such as Ukraine, Bolivia, Thailand, Cuba, Serbia, Zimbabwe, even a tequila train across Mexico, and the DMZ Train to North Korea! Yet we had never crossed our home country by train. It was time to change that.
We regularly see viral videos about this rail journey across the US shared on social media, which play up the romanticism of rail travel and show what appears to be a fantastic value for the price. Those buying Empire Builder tickets in advance can take advantage of the Saver rate, which gets passengers from Chicago to Seattle by rail for a mere $150! (2022 pricing)
So that’s exactly what we opted to do. This economical ticket covers two nights of accommodation, a scenic rail journey, and transportation from one side of the US to the other. For budget travelers like us, taking the Empire Builder across the northern US sounds like tremendous value!
But videos showcasing the low price point of this cross-US train trip fail to point out that budget-friendly pricing is for a coach seat rather than a more comfortable, and much more expensive, sleeper cabin on the Empire Builder. Mentioning how this inexpensive ticket simply gets you a chair to sleep in for two nights in a row, without showering nonetheless, will kill much of that notion of rail romanticism.
But despite these realizations, we still found crossing the US on the Amtrak Empire Builder to be a good experience overall. While coach class on the Empire Builder was not entirely comfortable for two nights, it was fun to take it slow, rolling across the vast Great Plains into the awe-inducing Rocky Mountains. We now understand the appeal of this trip and are excited to share it.
Day 1: Departing Chicago for a Refreshing Break from Airports
This rail journey across the US began in Union Station, right in the heart of thriving downtown Chicago. As the city’s busy corporate workers finished up their lunch break to race back to the office, we similarly raced to catch our train that was soon departing.
It was a pleasant novelty not having to arrive early to do the hurry-up-and-wait routine that airport check-ins have become. There weren’t any long lines for airport security because such screenings don’t exist when riding Amtrak. We were already beginning to notice some of the small perks of train travel, as we simply checked our larger packs before swiftly boarding the Amtrak Empire Builder.
Although Amtrak trains are sometimes known to run late, it seemed this Empire Builder was keen to keep on schedule. The conductor was making a concerted effort to hurry passengers along. Before we could catch our breath and get settled, the train was already rolling out of Union Station exactly on time at 2:15 PM. We watched Chicago’s grand skyline disappearing while the Amtrak Empire Builder chugged northbound through Chicago’s northern suburbs.
Getting Settled for the Long Haul Across America by Rail
It was while departing the Windy City that we began to investigate the Empire Builder train layout. The train would be our temporary “home” for the next 47 hours. So it seemed like a wise idea to take some time to explore what would be our living space over the course of three calendar days.
It was a rocky walk scoping out the train cars. We quickly learned to grab onto the seat tops while proceeding through the aisle to avoid bouncing into someone’s lap. But we didn’t wander too far since we instantly fell in love with the domed lounge car.
This is the Empire Builder’s train car that features panoramic windows from floor to ceiling. Chairs face out towards the windows, allowing passengers to gaze at the passing scenery. And that’s exactly what we did.
It’s a scenic journey!
When we boarded the train, an Amtrak Empire Builder schedule was handed to us. This became handy to reference throughout the scenic 3-day journey to better understand the stops and sights that would be rolling by out the broad train windows.
An Early Reminder to Appreciate the Scenery of the Empire Builder Route
Shortly after exiting Chicago’s urban sprawl, we entered Wisconsin, the second state of this 7-state ride across the US. A jovial conductor periodically came on the intercom to let us know such facts.
This is a route he works regularly, so it would be assumed that such announcements would become mundane to deliver. Instead, the conductor’s passion for his profession clearly shined through every time his voice came across the intercom.
“Hey folks, do you know what time it is? It must be Miller Time because if you look out towards the right side of the train, you’ll see we’re approaching Miller Brewery!”
That’s what the conductor excitedly announced shortly after pulling out of the Milwaukee Station. So we made a point to look at the industrial brewery that we likely would have paid no attention to if it weren’t for his enthusiasm. It was contagious.[/su_box]
We weren’t on the Empire Builder to sightsee though. We were using Amtrak as an alternative way to get across the country. But the conductor provided us with a gentle reminder to appreciate these random sights alongside the tracks. After all, that is a big part of the appeal of taking this slower approach to travel across the US.
Passing Time on the Amtrak Empire Builder with a Few Drinks
It was nearing the five o’clock hour as we passed by the brewing plant. So this was also a prompt to consider a beer. People sitting around us were already kicking back a few. The quiet dome lounge was becoming more social, as the Empire Builder changed from its northbound trajectory to heading west.
A café & bar was actually right underneath us as we sat in the domed viewing lounge. Each of the Empire Builder’s train cars is actually a double-decker train car. So we descended the stairs to scope out drinking options, which seemed like a natural activity to pursue while on a 46-hour train ride.
But with a drinking preference towards craft beer in combination with a penchant towards budget travel, $7 Coronas were not a strong selling point for us.
Thankfully, unlike regulations during air travel, Amtrak allows passengers to carry on and consume their own alcohol aboard trains. So we most certainly planned ahead and stockpiled a small cooler with some of Chicago’s great microbrews to enjoy while on this scenic train ride across America.
Closing Out a Very American Day on the Rails
Approaching the Wisconsin Dells before dark was arguably the most picturesque portion of the Empire Builder’s first day, as the passionate conductor commented on the boat tours plying the waters as we passed by this popular regional tourism destination.
Yet the conductor’s voice fell eerily silent as we later slowed down and seemingly rolled into a combat zone! Suddenly and without warning, there was a swarm of army tanks passing outside the train windows!
But then a sanity check came over the train’s intercom. The conductor notified us that we were simply passing through Fort McCoy, a US Army training center.
A bit further past the military base, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River during the fleeting minutes of twilight. Even this far North at what I envisioned to be the headwaters of America’s longest river, the Mississippi still runs very wide.
The river is so wide here that it took the Empire Builder a few minutes to cross. We slowly passed over three separate train trestles spanning over the Mississippi, since this portion of the famous river branches into a few different sections.
So within the first five hours riding the Amtrak Empire Builder, we had departed the nation’s third-largest city, passed an iconic American brewery, sliced through a US Army base, and here we were at the mighty Mississippi River. This is America.
With that thought, it was time for dinner. And as one of our last days in the country for what would be a very long time, we ate in perhaps the most American way possible: a microwaved hot dog. It was probably the least inspiring option on the Empire Builder café’s menu. Yet somehow it felt appropriate, as the train chugged alongside the Mississippi River, now in the third state of this journey: Minnesota.
Attempting to Sleep in the Coach Seats on the Amtrak Empire Builder
During the night hours, there isn’t much to see outside of those big windows, which turn black with the night sky. Movie time on the laptop proved to be a better plan. But that empty void outside the window changed drastically as we approached the bright city lights of St. Paul around 10:00 pm.
Many people got on and off the Amtrak Empire Builder while briefly stopped at the Union Depot here in the Twin Cities. But those bright lights were soon behind us as the Empire Builder chugged across the Great Plains under the cloak of darkness. That was our cue to attempt to sleep, in our coach class seats on the Empire Builder. This is where the allure of rail travel across the US takes a turn for the not-so-glamorous.
Forgoing a Superliner Roomette for Cheap Coach Seats
There are comfortable Superliner Roomettes available on the Empire Builder, with cozy bunk beds, warm bedding, and access to showers. But we hadn’t booked far enough in advance to secure affordable pricing of Amtrak’s more premium sleeper options. Amtrak Empire Builder roomette prices can be very economical for those who are able to book very early.
The cost of the Empire Builder’s sleeper cars starts at $446 per person for Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle route, with seasonal deals that provide even lower rates. That’s worth it, in our opinion!
Yet the cost of a Superliner Roomette can also go up to $1,200 (and even higher.) That was the price for a sleeper room at our time of booking. It was too much for our thrifty nature to justify when compared to the $150 coach tickets. So we decided to attempt the two-night trip slumming it up in coach seats instead.
We weren’t alone in this strategy. Others in the seats around us began to tuck in for the night too. Families with children, seniors, and other adults had all come prepared to spend the night in these seats. And it is important to prepare! Bringing pillows and blankets is an absolute must for those attempting to sleep for two nights in the coach seats.
Sleeping in Coach Seats on the Amtrak Empire Builder
Having traveled around the world to 100 countries, we’re certainly no strangers to sleeping on planes, trains, and buses. So we reclined, got comfy in the blankets we brought with us, and made our best attempt to doze off as the bumpy train proceeded across the US during the middle of the night.
The coach class seats on the Empire Builder are much bigger than what we’re accustomed to when taking flights. The Empire Builder seats are way more comfortable than any red-eye flight we’ve taken anywhere in the world. In fact, the Amtrak coach seats have a good recline and way more leg room than just about any other form of transportation we’ve been on around the world! The seats were fully able to accommodate my 6’2” frame, with space to spare.
Despite all the extra room, you are still sleeping on a train seat. The Amtrak Empire Builder’s seats make for an extremely comfy ride during a daytime trip. Even for a single night, sure – they’ll do just fine. But we questioned our sanity when making the decision to sleep in coach seats for two nights in a row.
But we did sleep. It wasn’t great sleep. Yet we were, in fact, able to snooze. So that is a victory in itself. It was broken sleep, of course. Sudden jerks of the train would regularly wake us up. And while passengers got on and off throughout the night, so went our sleep pattern.
Day 2: Traveling Across the American Midwest on the Amtrak Empire Builder
Sometime in the wee morning hours, we crossed into the fourth state of this rail trip, North Dakota. When we awoke, the landscape outside the window had changed yet again. The lush forests we rolled through as the sun set in Minnesota had transitioned to rolling plains, farmland, and the sporadic small midwestern town.
The Amtrak Empire Builder soon pulled into one of these towns. We had arrived in Minot, North Dakota. And the Empire Builder rolled into the open-air Minot train station about a half-hour earlier than scheduled. Here, we had a planned 37-minute fuel stop. So the early arrival now gave us a full hour to stretch our legs around this city, which was founded during the construction of the very railroad we had come in on.
Most stops along the Empire Builder route are only for a minute or two. It can give smokers a chance to quickly puff on a cigarette on the platform adjacent to the train. But there are a handful of lengthier stops where passengers can actually get off the train to wander around town. Minot, North Dakota, is the first daytime stop that allows passengers to do so. You don’t want to stray too far though, as these trains do NOT wait for missing passengers.
So we took the calculated risk to stretch our legs through Minot’s antique district and the historic river walk. It was a pleasant stroll, albeit nothing remarkable. We even had time to grab a quick breakfast at Mcdonald’s, several blocks from the Minot Amtrak station.
Crossing the US by Train Brings People Together
Back aboard the Amtrak Empire Builder, we journeyed onward to the fifth state of this rail adventure. The tracks continued right into Montana’s big sky country. In between farms, we passed quaint towns full of old-timey brick buildings. The Empire Builder cruises across Montana at speeds of up to 79 miles per hour. But we would slow a bit whenever passing through these charming settlements.
We continued westbound across the Great Plains. It’s where “the deer and antelope play.” During the rail journey, that song rang true. When gazing out the windows long enough, we absolutely were rewarded with wildlife grazing in the distance alongside the tracks.
But no one was pointing out the wildlife we saw outside the window. It was easy to spot, yet just as easy to miss if you weren’t looking. Earlier in the day as we pulled into rural Amtrak stations, we noticed the genial narration we had enjoyed the day prior, was now missing. Our enthusiastic conductor had apparently departed overnight. With his excitement gone, the feeling of tedium had taken its place as we approached the 24-hour mark since departing Chicago.
Chugging along through America’s northern interior was becoming lackluster, albeit still a calming, relaxing, and pleasant ride. Mobile phones lost data signal for the vast majority of the day and the Amtrak Empire Builder is not equipped with any wifi. It was an annoyance, but the digital detox was also nice to regress back to simpler times. The lack of phone usage actually complimented this antiquated means of travel quite nicely.
Instead of staring mindlessly into those screens we rely on so much, we were instead forced into conversation with fellow travelers to pass the time. In fact, when venturing into the dining car, any parties of less than four are purposely sat with strangers.
We dined on a burger across from Sue and Linda, who joined the train when it passed through St. Paul – Minneapolis. The retired friends decided to take the Empire Builder for a more scenic route to visit friends in California.
At other tables, we noticed some young Amish guys sitting across from a middle-aged Latin American couple. We loved how people from completely different walks of life were all finding common ground to bond over as we collectively crossed the country together. There’s a true sense of camaraderie that is fostered on the train. In a nation that’s often portrayed in the media as being harshly divided, you would never know it while traveling on Amtrak’s Empire Builder.
Often times close quarters can bring out the worst in people. But the Empire Builder commanded a unified sense of community, bringing out the best. Unlikely friendships were formed and the chatter continued in the lounge car over card games and bottles of wine.
It was a happy bunch on this train. For some, taking the Amtrak Empire Builder was part of a vacation. For others, the train was simply a way to get from Point A to Point B. Yet everyone had a “we’re all in this together” attitude that was nice to feel as the midwestern countryside passed by out the windows.
The Highlight of the Amtrak Empire Builder Route: Glacier National Park 🏞️
Nearing Glacier National Park, the scenic seats facing the panoramic windows began to fill up. We strategically staked out a pair of seats a few hours before arriving into Glacier NP to ensure we’d be able to gaze out the wide windows for what is arguably the most scenic segment of the Amtrak Empire Builder route.
The track actually runs right along the southern border of this spectacular US National Park. Since we had been traveling across barren Great Plains all day long, it was eye candy to see the Glacier National Park’s looming mountains in the distance. It’s a stark contrast with little build-up, going from flat farmland almost instantly to these gorgeously enormous mountains.
Daylight was fleeting as we approached the mountain peaks in the late afternoon. But it was still possible to feast our eyes on what appeared to be glimmering glaciers that we could see directly from the train car. Many of these icy patches were likely large snowfields rather than some of the roughly two dozen named glaciers found in the park, but all were spectacular natural beauty nonetheless!
During the previous night of broken sleep, we questioned ourselves on the decision to take the train across the US. But gazing out onto the illuminated beauty of Montana’s Rocky Mountains had squashed any remaining doubt.
Our poor attempt at photography from the dirty windows of the speeding train car couldn’t do the scene a bit of justice. Rolling through Glacier National Park by train brought upon stunning views of grand mountain vistas.
The train rolls right past 8,775-foot high Summit Mountain, clearly visible from the North side of the train. That peak rises over a mile and a half in elevation, looming above us. And the beautiful mountain top is clearly visible from the north side of the train.
Three Amtrak stations along Glacier National Park’s border allow passengers to disembark if they’d like. Unfortunately, there is no time at any of these stations for onward passengers to get off, walk around and breathe the fresh mountain air.
Stopping off in Glacier is only for those who had planned ahead to break up the rail journey by booking a multi-city ticket. Passengers who booked a planned stop at the national park are able to get off and re-board another Empire Builder train at the same time the next day or any day after. If you were to stop anywhere along the Empire Builder route, Glacier National Park may be the best spot to do so, particularly for outdoor enthusiasts.
There are places to stay directly adjacent to these stations. So having a car isn’t a necessity upon disembarking. Shuttles and tour packages provide transportation into the National Park. Alternatively, rental cars are available.
As we slowly rolled past a group of hikers completing a trek, we were overcome with feelings of envy and regret. If only we had more time, it would have been ideal to include a stopover here in Glacier National Park. Instead, we had another night of broken sleep in coach class to look forward to.
Stepping Off the Empire Builder for the Ultimate Beer Run
Shortly after crossing the Continental Divide, darkness again put an end to the awe-inspiring views outside our window. But there was still another treat to enjoy before closing our eyes.
At around 9:00 pm, we had a 20-minute stopover in Whitefish, Montana. It’s one of the few stops along the Amtrak Empire Builder route where I had noticed there to be something worthwhile to seek out, walkable from a station. It was the Great Northern Brewing Company (now permanently closed, as of 2021) located within a 2-minute walk from the Whitefish Amtrak station we were pulling into.
But would there be enough time to actually locate the brewpub, order a pint, drink it, pay for it, cut back through the station and make it onto the train – all within 20 minutes?
Earlier this same day, one passenger was left behind in Havre, Montana. I didn’t want to add to this list of missing passengers. But it was a challenge I couldn’t resist. Sitting still on a train for three calendar days can be quite monotonous for an adventure-seeking traveler. And as someone who enjoys trying different beers around the world, the prospect of grabbing a pint so close to the station was too tempting.
So while the smokers wisely stood on the platform directly next to the train, I made a mad dash across a dimly lit city park in an effort to quaff an IPA. Upon racing into the brewpub and explaining to the bartender my need to drink-and-run, he quickly helped me to achieve my goal. Although nervously watching the clock, I was able to enjoy the beer and even have a friendly chat with some Whitefish locals at the bar. It may have only been ten minutes, but I feel like I was able to get a small taste of Montana, literally.
Exiting the brewpub with a to-go bag and a belly full of beer, I sprinted back towards the train. I heard “all aboard,” stepping into the train with near-perfect timing and a sense of accomplishment. It was a risky pursuit and one I’m hesitant to recommend to other Empire Builder passengers.
Yet after 32 hours aboard the Amtrak Empire Builder, this brewpub caper provided a flash of excitement and a quick on-the-ground adventure. It was a perfect excuse to actually have an experience outside the windows we’d been gazing out of during these past two days.
This beer run also proved to be a delicious nightcap ahead of what was ultimately another night of broken sleep. During this second and final night attempting to snooze on Empire Builder’s coach seats, we briefly crossed into the sixth state of this journey, Idaho, under the cloak of darkness. Not long after we subsequently rolled into the seventh state, Washington, during the pre-dawn hours.
Day 3 on the Empire Builder: It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination
At some point overnight, the Empire Builder actually stopped to be disassembled and split apart. Half of the train cars were sent on a more southerly route to Portland, Oregon. Our train car remained bound for Seattle.
As we awoke on the third day of this journey across the US, on what had now become a shorter string of train cars, I overheard a conversation from the seats surrounding us.
“So what do you farm?” the Native American guy behind me asked.
The young man next to me replied, “Well sir, I have about 100 heads of cattle and grow a variety of different crops, ” as the train chugged across through a lush pine forest.
The morning sunlight soon began to reveal the Cascades Mountains we had been rolling through. Once their conversation moved away from agricultural techniques, I joined the discussion as we all marveled at the mountain range’s beauty.
That’s when it struck me. I had been on this rail journey across the US, literally sitting between “Cowboys and Indians.” It was a poetic realization that was the very essence of this American rail experience.
While you could very easily and efficiently fly this route in a much quicker time span, it was way more fun to take it slow and bond with our seatmates. Watching the scenery change before our eyes felt so much more rewarding than seeing it zip by through clouds down below.
It’s certainly not possible to stop into a random brewpub in Whitefish, Montana while flying across the country. But the Empire Builder allowed for such antics in between some stunning landscapes across the midwest for a quintessentially American journey.
Shortly after exiting the Cascade Mountains, a beautiful expanse of water revealed itself amidst sunny blue skies. The Empire Builder route hugs the coast of Puget Sound, before barreling into Seattle. As the Space Needle came into view, we realized that we would soon be disembarking the train at our final destination. Although we had arrived in Seattle, we pulled into the station with the newfound understanding that the Amtrak Empire Builder is more about the journey than it is the destination.
It was a good journey that we reflect back fondly about. Yet as we pulled into Seattle’s King Street Station, we were ready to get off. After two nights in those coach seats, it seemed like there wasn’t enough java in this coffee capital to get us chugging along again!
Amtrak Empire Builder Review
Overall it was a pleasant and scenic trip across the US that we’re happy we embarked on. But the Amtrak Empire Builder was not without its shortcomings, as there were many little things that could be improved upon.
💺 Amtrak Empire Builder Coach Seat Review
The coach seats were a bit on the hard side, but comfortable enough and extremely spacious. The Empire Builder seats are way more comfortable than any overnight flight we’ve ever been on.
The seats had electrical outlets to keep our many gadgets charged. The ride itself was a bit rocky and bumpy at times, but that also provided some charisma to the trip. The domed viewing car was a great place to pass time in the day and somehow never got crowded despite the train seeming relatively full.
✨ Amtrak Empire Builder Condition & Cleanliness Review
The train cars were clean and in good condition when we boarded. But the conditions of the bathrooms deteriorated the further we got. They could have been maintained better, particularly on the latter half of the trip. That said, the restroom compartments seemed to hold up better than other facilities we’ve encountered on long-distance trains around the world.
When pulling out of Chicago’s Union Station, at least the bathrooms were sparkling clean then. We can’t say the same about the windows. We were annoyed that those beautiful panoramic windows on the dome car hadn’t been washed, from the start! The views are a big part of the appeal of a rail journey across the US. So we felt that the lack of window washing was the Empire Builder’s biggest blunder and such an easy remedy!
👷 Amtrak Empire Builder Crew Review
The crew aboard the Empire Builder was friendly from the café attendant to the conductor. We did miss the first jovial conductor throughout the remainder of the trip. Once he got off the train after the first day, no other Amtrak crew provided any sort of indication about the areas we were passing, aside from calling out the station stops. The first conductor set a high standard that subsequent conductors did not continue.
Even when approaching the highlight of Glacier National Park, surprisingly not a word was uttered. It was as if this awesome sight didn’t even matter. That was disappointing. It would have been nice if other crew members contained even half the enthusiasm as the first conductor we encountered on the Amtrak Empire Builder.
🍽️ Amtrak Empire Builder Dining Review
Meals in the dining car were surprisingly good quality. The burgers ($12.50) for lunch exceeded our expectations. The seared Norwegian salmon dinner ($23) was tasty and cooked perfectly. Plated on a branded Amtrak plate that was filled with plentiful sides of wild rice pilaf and green beans, it left us pleasantly full.
At first, the seating arrangements seemed quite awkward since strangers in parties with less than four people are sat together. But it ultimately enhanced our experience, meeting new people along the journey.
We found meal and drink prices to be on the high side for what you get. But that’s to be expected, given the captive audience. Reminder: dining car service is included for those with superliner roomettes, which helps to justify the higher cost. But those who purchase coach seats will pay a premium for their meals.
Meanwhile, in the cafe car, snacks and impromptu meals in the café car are more reasonable in cost but consist solely of microwaved items such as pizza and hot dogs. The cafe car is below the domed lounge area. Most people got their food from the cafe car to eat back in their seats or in the lounge upstairs, which provides a more scenic ambiance.
💸 Amtrak Empire Builder Value
The $150 Empire Builder ticket price felt like great value to us. Sure, it’s only for coach seats. But what can you expect for $150 covering three days and two nights of travel? It makes for a great value budget trip across the US!
If you can book early enough, it’s worthwhile to snag Superliner roomettes for as low as $448 (per person, double occupancy) including all meals (2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners) for the Chicago to Seattle route on the Empire Builder, one way. We think this is also a good value.
But unless booking very early and/or during off-peak travel dates, you may find roomettes listed for over $1,000, which may be difficult to justify the value.
⭐ Amtrak Empire Builder Recommendation
Despite some criticisms, we recommend the Amtrak Empire Builder as a unique travel journey to experience a charming slice of America that comes with some beautiful views.
Approach this cross-country train experience with an open mind and an unhurried attitude. Appreciate the small things, enjoy the scenery, and revel in the novelty of rail travel. Come prepared (see travel tips that follow). Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder across the US can be a good experience, but that partly depends on what you make of it.
We would generally caution against pursuing this three-day rail journey using coach seats as we did. Coach seats on the Empire Builder may be fine for one night. But spending two nights in a row on coach seats gets rough.
We only recommend coach class on the Amtrak Empire Builder in the following instances:
- traveling in shorter segments, or
- for seasoned budget travelers who are accustomed to such conditions, or
- if that’s all you can afford and you’re using the train as transportation rather than a leisure trip.
For those pursuing the Amtrak Empire Builder as a vacation trip, be sure to book early to secure a Superliner Roomette. Having a proper bed to lie down in will better allow sleep and provide for a much more enjoyable experience. Lastly, if time allows, consider stopping along the Empire Builder route in order to break up the long train trip for a full rail vacation.
Amtrak Empire Builder Travel Tips, Costs & Info
How Much Does the Amtrak Empire Builder Ticket Cost (2022)?
Coach ticket on Empire Builder: Chicago↔Seattle:
- Saver fare (non-refundable): $150
- Value fare (refundable options): $188
- Flexible fare (100% refundable): $409
While the saver fare is a bargain, note that this non-refundable ticket may need to be booked well in advance to secure the rate. Limited numbers of these low-cost tickets are available. As train tickets get booked, you may see only the pricier rates ($188 or $409) available, in which you’re paying for the same class seat as the Saver fare, just with better refundability options.
Superliner Roomette tickets on the Amtrak Empire Builder now start at $896 for the room ($448 per person, based on double occupancy). For larger bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, prices start at $1,896 ($948 per person, double occupancy).
Roomettes and bedroom tickets do include meals, bedding, and shower access. Remember that those complimentary meals (2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners) include a value of $100+ per person. So this can help to justify the added cost of a roomette.
These are the up-to-date Amtrak Empire Builder prices as of summer 2022. But Amtrak does change prices periodically, so do check their website, to confirm the pricing listed above and to search for the best prices for your travel dates.
Other Costs to Expect on the Amtrak Empire Builder
- Meals (costs extra for Coach only)
- Drinks and snacks
- Extra luggage costs on Amtrak
- Included: 2 personal bags, 2 carryons, and 2 checked bags are free
- Extra checked bags: $20 per bag for a 3rd and/or 4th checked luggage
- Special items: Bikes and sporting equipment have nominal extra fees (check here)
- Wifi is not available on Empire Builder, so you may want to buy additional data from your carrier
How to Get the Best Price on the Amtrak Empire Builder?
The best way to find a good deal with a low price on the Empire Builder is to:
- Book as early as possible, even a year in advance.
- Book off-season, avoiding the summer months. Late Spring, before Memorial Day, can be ideal.
- Book during weekday trips
- Check if you qualify for any of these discount Amtrak fares:
- Finally, check Amtrak’s deal page to see if there are any current promotions available for the Empire Builder.
Best Seats on the Amtrak Empire Builder
There are a number of considerations when thinking about where to sit on the Empire Builder. Should you sit on the left side vs the right side of Empire Builder? Book upper level vs lower level? But the first, and arguably most important, seating option to consider is what type of seat.
Types of Seats/Room to Book on Amtrak Empire Builder
The best seat to book comes down to:
- what you can afford, and
If you have the cash to splash for a bedroom and one is available, a bedroom is definitely the best accommodation to book on the Empire Builder. Yet all the other types of seats on the Empire Builder provide better value.
There are four seat types on the Empire Builder to consider:
- Coach – Standard Amtrak train seat that reclines. Never a middle seat, generous leg room, electronic outlets, and shared bathroom facilities. Access to the lounge car, cafe car, and dining car. No meals included. No access to showers. No linens. $ Budget option.
- Roomette – Private yet tiny roomette with a window and two comfortable seats in the daytime that convert into a bunk bed setup at night. Turndown service with linens is included. Meals in dining car included. Roomettes have access to shared bathroom and shower facilities. $$ Mid-range option.
- Family bedroom – This car-wide room is like a double roomette meant for a family of four. The two sofas by day convert to bunk beds for four by night. Same inclusions and amenities as roomette (turndown, meals, shared showers, etc.) $$ Mid-range option for families.
- Bedroom – This is the nicest seat/room you can book on the Empire Builder. Double the size of roomettes, the Empire Builder’s bedrooms include a sofa and armchair during the day that converts to bunk beds at night. Bedrooms include all the same amenities as roomettes (turndown, linens, meals, etc.). The added benefit of a bedroom is extra space and a private ensuite bathroom with a shower. Bedrooms are often the first to sell out on the Empire Builder. So if you want one, book in advance. $$$ It’s not “luxury,” but it’s the best onboard.
Can You Upgrade from Coach to a Roomette Sleeper on Amtrak?
It is possible to upgrade while onboard an Amtrak train, but you’ll pay for it. There are no free upgrades on Amtrak. If you book a coach seat, you’ll stay there unless you pay to upgrade.
We inquired with a conductor about upgrading our coach seats to a roomette on the Amtrak Empire Builder. In doing so we discovered that the official Amtrak policy for upgrades is now for passengers to call the reservations line from their mobile phone while on the train.
When calling, the customer service representative was super helpful. She checked the prices for upgrading at different stations along the way, in an attempt to find us the best deal. But the cost to upgrade after the first day was several hundred dollars, with exact pricing varying depending on what point in the route the upgrade would take place.
Amtrak Empire Builder Layout: Book Upper Level vs Lower Level Seats?
The Amtrak Empire Builder layout is all double-decker train cars. When booking your tickets, you may be asked to choose upper-level or lower-level seats. So it’s important to consider which level may make the most sense for you.
Amtrak does not assign your actual seats on the Empire Builder until you board the train. But you can choose the level in advance. There are pros and cons to consider between upper and lower-level coach seats.
⬆️ Why book upper level on the Empire Builder:
The upper level of the train is better for viewing out the window. Also, the Empire Builder’s upper level is configured to allow passengers to walk through all the train cars, making it easier to move from car to car.
⬇️ Why book lower level on the Empire Builder:
Since the Empire Builder’s lower levels don’t connect, they tend to be quieter. The lower-level seats are also where the bathrooms are. So if you have to “go” often, this is another reason to consider booking a lower-level seat.
Best Side of Empire Builder to Sit: Left Side Versus Right Side
Sitting on either side of the train will provide nice views. You can also change your perspective by going to the open seats in the lounge car or while eating meals in the dining car. So it shouldn’t be much of a concern for which side of the train you choose.
That said, securing a seat or roomette on the north side of the train may prove marginally better throughout the expanse of the long journey. This is the right side of the westbound Empire Builder train and the left side of an eastbound Empire Builder train. The north side of the train can provide views alongside the banks of the Mississippi River, into official boundaries of Glacier National Park, and of Puget Sound when nearing Seattle.
Here are the views to consider when choosing which side of the Empire Builder to be seated on:
- Chicago and Milwaukee cityscapes: Both sides have their own draws
- Wisconsin Dells: Both sides give a look into the Wisconsin River (south side takes in Lake Delton, while north side gets a quick glance into Upper Dells)
- Mississippi River: North side of the train provides views along the banks of the Mississippi River in Minnesota.
- Great Plains: Either side is fine, lots of the same flat scenery and farmland
- Glacier National Park: Both sides have great scenic mountain views, but the north side of the train contains views into the official boundaries of the national park
- Cascades: Both sides boast scenic views, although some of the Cascades will pass at night
- Seattle: North side of the train is better for views of Puget Sound, Seattle skyline, and Space Needle
When choosing which side of the train to sit on, do realize that you may not get a choice. That’s because a conductor will assign you a seat when boarding. If you do have a preference for the right side or left side, simply let the conductor know. If the train isn’t very full, they should be able to accommodate.
Which Direction is Best: Eastbound vs Westbound Journeys on Amtrak Empire Builder
Both directions are worthwhile. Both directions include some of the best scenery during daylight hours. So ultimately taking the Empire Builder westbound or eastbound may be best determined by your own agenda and travel plans.
The Westbound Empire Builder is better for building anticipation. After spending a long day covering the monotonous scenery of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains at Glacier National Park Montana offer a very dramatic change and a rewarding end to the day. The views from east to west get better and better throughout the lengthy rail journey from the Rockies and into the Cascades. Evening views are of the Mississippi River (Day 1) and Glacier National Park (Day 2), with morning views of the Cascades (Day 3).
The Eastbound Empire Builder doesn’t pack the same dramatic punch as it transitions away from mountainous splendor and into flatlands and farm country of the Midwest. That said, there’s a major benefit to taking the eastbound route when traveling during the fall and winter months. Between September and March, eastbound passengers have more daylight views of Glacier National Park (Day 2) and the Mississippi River (Day 3), whereas westbound passengers may pass by this scenery in full or partial darkness during those months.
When is the Best Time of Year to Ride the Amtrak Empire Builder?
Late Spring and Summer. It’s not just about the weather and greenery. Summer is a preferred time to ride on the Amtrak Empire Builder due to the increased day lengths, enabling passengers to better enjoy some of the best scenery along this rail route.
Since the Empire Builder travels along the northern reaches of the US, daylight lengths vary from about 8.5 hours in late December to nearly 16 hours in late June. So during the winter months, sunsets can be before 5 pm and sunrises not until after 8:30 am. This can make it impossible to view some of the best scenery from the train, particularly so for westbound Empire Builder passengers.
Take a westbound Empire Builder train during the months of May, June, July, and August for longer daylight hours that will best enable you to see some of the most scenic landscapes from your seat. These months will allow westbound passengers to see the Mississippi River and Glacier National Park.
The westbound Empire Builder is scheduled to exit West Glacier at 9:27 pm each day. Assuming the Empire Builder is on schedule, you’ll pass entirely by the National Park before sunset if you take the Empire Builder between May 30 thru July 26. The months of May and August will still get partial views of the national park with the likelihood of a sunset during trip through Glacier National Park. You can use this link to check sunset times for any date at West Glacier, MT.
The most scenic stretch along the banks of the Mississippi River concludes at Winona, MN with a scheduled stop 8:34 pm each day. Assuming the Empire Builder is on time, westbound passengers will be able to fully take in the Mississippi River scenery during daylight hours from May 23 thru July 28, with Mississippi River sunsets occurring during May and August.
Eastbound Empire Builder passengers have greater flexibility to take in these views throughout the year. The eastbound Empire Builder arrives in West Glacier at 7:57 am. The sunrise in West Glacier is before 7:57 nearly all year, with the exception of November 25 – February 6, in which partial daylight hours through Glacier are still possible. And with the eastbound Empire Builder reaching the Mississippi River around 11 am, this scenic stretch of the rail journey will be daylight all year long for eastbound passengers.
A final consideration for the best time of year to take the Amtrak Empire Builder is cost and crowding. While summer months can be ideal for longer days, often that comes with higher ticket prices and more passengers on board.
One consideration is to take the Amtrak Empire Builder is in late Spring. During May before Memorial Day weekend, you may find: (1) long enough daylight hours for the daylight views of Glacier NP & Mississippi River and (2) cheaper tickets with fewer passengers.
Get To Know the Empire Builder Schedule
The Amtrak Empire Builder is now scheduled every day of the week. Trains depart in each direction daily, Sunday through Saturday!
It can be fun to have some idea about where you’re going and what cities you’re passing through. The Empire Builder schedule is the same each day, as long as its running on time. You can also use it to determine what stations may be worth stretching your legs or perhaps to plan a stopover in advance.
Every day of the week, the westbound Empire Builder trains depart from Chicago Union Station at 3:05 pm to begin the 46-hour journey to the Pacific Northwest. Conversely, eastbound Empire Builder trains depart Seattle at 4:55 pm, or alternatively Portland at 4:45 for the 46-hour ride to Chicago.
The Empire Builder timetable below is directly from Amtrak, current as of August 2022. Over the years there have been small changes made to the timetable periodically. So be sure to check the timetable on Amtrak.com for your travel dates.
Which Stations on the Empire Builder Can You Briefly Get Off the Train?
With such a lengthy rail journey, it can be nice to step off the train to stretch your legs, use better restrooms at the stations, or grab something to eat or drink. It is possible to do so at a few stops. But be careful!
⚠️ Caution: Do NOT stray far from the train. Conductors told us that people are regularly left behind. The Amtrak Empire Builder keeps a strict schedule and waits for no one. Your clock may be slightly different than onboard. Check with a conductor and ensure timing is synced. Also, the times listed here are accurate only if your train is running on time. Always check with the Amtrak crew about timing and trust what they say above this blog, the official schedule, or anything else. Imagine the grave logistical difficulties you’d encounter if left behind.
That said, if you’re feeling adventurous, can be quick, and fully understand the risk & consequences – then here are some places where you’ll be stopped for more than a minute if the train is on time:
- St Paul-Minneapolis – 17 minutes: You may have enough time to poke around this historic station and see the handcrafted ceiling in the Great Hall.
- Minot, North Dakota – 45 minutes: There’s a very friendly lady in a coffee cart called the Daily Buzz just across from the Minot train station (Google Maps directions here). It’s great coffee, quick, and the closest establishment to the Minot train station. Strolling through Minot’s antique district is a consideration, which is about a 5-minute walk away. Only if you can really hustle should you consider a run to McDonald’s for breakfast. It’s about a 15-minute walk once you factor in waiting to cross a busy street. A McMuffin isn’t worth the risk of missing the train. Reader tip (thanks Dan C!): The Minot Public Library is a 1-minute walk, nearly across the street from the Minot Amtrak Station. The library has art exhibits, restroom facilities, and free wifi access to download media for the rest of your journey (opens at 9am weekdays, 10am Sat, closed Sun).
- Havre, Montana – 21 minutes: There’s an old steam engine that’s now a monument right at the Havre station itself (pic below). You can see it directly from the platform so you don’t have to stray far from the train. A few casinos outside the train station offer a quick chance at luck to take a pull on a slot machine while risking a chance of missing the train. For a snack, grab a scoop at Gram’s Ice Cream, just outside the station. Just a few minutes walk is a Dominos Pizza. You can place an order in advance of arriving in Havre and take a speedy walk to pick it up.
- Shelby, Montana – 8 minutes: There are some old saloons across from the station. The saloons are closed, but it’s worth stepping outside in Shelby to get some fresh air and have a look at the old brick saloons. There’s also a gas station with a convenience store, Main Street Convenience, a 3-4 minute walk from the Shelby station. You likely won’t have enough time to make it there and back during the scheduled 8-minute stop, but the Empire Builder sometimes gets in before schedule here, allowing extra time to do so.
- Whitefish, Montana – 15 minutes: Right from the platform you can check out a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, listed as the “Great Northern Railway Passenger And Freight Depot And Division Office.” It’s now the Whitefish Station, in which the Tudor-style building has been preserved from 1928. You can also find a Great Northern Railway engine and a 1950s Bruck (bus-truck) on display. Stretch your legs on the grassy lawn on of Depot Park in front of the station. It would be quite risky to go much further into this town filled with restaurants and shops. A pre-ordered pizza at MacKenzie River Pizza Co could be a consideration for a speedy take-out.
Amtrak Empire Builder Menu, Dining & Drinking Tips
The Empire Builder menu changes periodically, but dinner ranges from vegetarian pasta ($16.50) to the Land & Sea Dinner ($39), consisting of steak and a seafood cake. Check this Empire Builder sample menu here to see potential options for drinks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Signature Steak ($25) is a favorite among Amtrak loyalists. Vegetarians are catered for with a few different offerings. A children’s menu (for kids 12 and under) provides hot dogs or mac & cheese ($7.50).
Early Seating vs Late Seating in Empire Builder Dining Car
There are two dinner seatings each evening. Depending on the time of year, earlier seatings may come with a view while later seatings may be timed after nightfall. Check sunset times for your travel dates. Earlier seatings have a hard stop in which diners must clear out. The later seating can carry on at the diners’ leisure.
Dining car meals are included for passengers in a roomette. Coach tickets do not include any meals. Plan accordingly to budget for cheap microwaved items available in the cafe car, full meals in the dining car, or bring your own food.
BYOB on Amtrak
It’s perfectly acceptable and allowed to bring your own food and drinks aboard Amtrak trains. And with high drink prices in the Amtrak bar car, it can be a wise move to save for those who want to enjoy a few adult beverages throughout the long journey.
Here is the official Amtrak policy on bringing a private stock:
You may bring aboard your own private stock of alcoholic beverages subject to the following limitations:
- You may consume private stock alcoholic beverages only in Sleeping Car accommodations for which you have a valid ticket.
- You may not consume private stock alcoholic beverages in any public areas.
In other words, it’s against Amtrak’s policy to have a drink in another person’s sleeper car and/or public lounges. Other than those two restrictions, it’s fair game to drink your own alcohol on Amtrak.
Even though it is forbidden to drink in public places on the Empire Builder, we noticed this was not enforced during our Empire Builder trip. We witnessed passengers drinking their own beverages in the domed lounge car. So although it’s against the official policy, this seemed to be tolerated for passengers behaving themselves.
How to Book a Stopover on Amtrak
If you have the time to do so, we strongly recommend breaking up this cross-country rail journey by stopping along the way. Spending 46 hours on a train may seem like a fun idea. But that’s a long journey to do all in one shot. There are so many great travel destinations across the Empire Builder route to stop at!
With Empire Builder trains now running daily, it makes the possibilities of stopovers even more convenient! It’s now possible to hop off the train for just a night, explore for a day, and hop back on the next. Prior to Amtrak’s switch to run the Empire Builder route daily, passengers would have to plan their stopovers in 2-3 night increments. Not anymore!
If you want to include a stopover on the Empire Builder, be sure to book what’s called a “multi-city ticket” when making your reservation on Amtrak.com. Purchasing a multi-city ticket can allow for a lower rate compared to booking two separate one-way tickets
When thinking about where to stop along the Empire Builder route, be sure to consider walkability and transportation options since you’ll be without a vehicle. You must also weigh out the time of the stop since a stop at 3:30 am would prove impractical. Thankfully, there are some great places to stop during non-sleeping hours in locations where a car isn’t needed.
Best Places to Stop Along the Amtrak Empire Builder Route
With 39 scheduled stops along the Empire Builder route, there’s no shortage of options. Here are our recommendations
A Stopover in Milwaukee, WI
The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is located in the heart of downtown with many hotel options within walking distance. A stopover in the Cream City can be filled with visits to the Harley Museum, the Milwaukee Riverwalk, the Milwaukee Art Museum, great breweries & restaurants, and more – all walkable within downtown. Check out all the Best Things to Do in Milwaukee.
Stay & Play in Wisconsin Dells, WI
This is a major regional tourism destination with loads of attractions to fill 2-3 days. There are plenty of hotels within walking distance, while resorts may be a short drive by taxi or Uber away. The main tourism strip lies just one block from the Amtrak station and is full of restaurants, bars, and attractions. Many people come to the Wisconsin Dells for its numerous water parks and many results include shuttles to them. Yet we have particularly enjoyed the Wisconsin Dells’ natural side by taking the beautiful boat ride into the cliff-lined dells themselves.
How to Plan an Amtrak Stopover in Glacier National Park
For those who appreciate nature and the outdoors, Glacier National Park is the best place to stop over on the Empire Builder route. This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is often referred to as the Crown of the Continent. Across a million acres of rugged wilderness on the northern fringes of Montana lays abundant wildlife, 175 mountains, 131 named lakes, and 26 glaciers – the park’s namesake. For those who enjoy hiking, it would be easy to fill 2-3 days or even a full week.
The Empire Builder delivers passengers to Glacier’s doorstep. You can choose to either rent a car or utilize shuttles and tours to get around the national park. There are plenty of hotels and lodges in and around Glacier NP. Just be sure to book accommodation well in advance during the popular summer months.
Four different Amtrak stations around Glacier National Park offer passengers a chance to explore its beautiful wilderness:
- East Glacier has a few hotels within walking distance of the train station, such as the Glacier Park Lodge, which accommodates Amtrak passengers. Shuttles and tours can be arranged in the park, or use the Dollar Rental Car that’s within walking distance of the station.
- Essex serves the Izaac Walton Inn and about 25% of their customers arrive from the Empire Builder. There are hiking and recreational opportunities directly from the hotel. But to get to the main sections of Glacier National Park, you’ll need a rental car. The Inn has a few cars to rent with advanced reservations.
- West Glacier is the closest station to any road entrance to Glacier National Park, with the West Entrance located one mile away. A handful of hotels are within walking distance of the West Glacier Amtrak Station but there are no rental cars. Instead consider using this shuttle, which connects Empire Builder passengers with the Village Inn and Lake MacDonald Lodge, located inside the park. From there, further hikes, tours, and shuttles can be pursued.
- Whitefish Amtrak Station is located 27 miles (35-40 minute drive) from Glacier’s West Entrance. Although it’s further away, the benefit to getting off here is to use it as a transportation hub and staging ground. Since it is a larger town close to Glacier NP, it has a greater selection of stores, transit options, hotels, and amenities. A Hertz location at the station is coordinated with the Empire Builder arrival/departure times. Many hotels and restaurants are also within walking distance of the Whitefish station. Whitefish makes a great starting point for a longer trip into Glacier National Park.
What to Pack for the Amtrak Empire Builder
If you’re checking large bags, don’t forget to pack a few changes of clothes for your carry-on. Amtrak passengers do NOT have access to checked bags during the 46-hour journey, so be sure to bring a change of clothes with you.
Also, wear comfortable clothes on the Empire Builder. Some passengers complained it was cold. If you chill easily, pack warm clothing, even in the summer.
Here is a complete Amtrak Empire Builder packing list for your carryon bag:
- A change of clothes
- A sweater or something to keep warm
- A comfortable eye mask
- Earplugs to block noise
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Hand sanitizer
- Face mask (no longer required by federal law, yet a precaution to consider)
- Mobile phone
- Tablet or phone loaded with books, movies, and/or games
- We love the Kindle Fire as an economical tablet for around $100
- Charger for your gadgets
- If you have multiple phones, tablets, and/or laptops, be sure to take a travel power adapter like this to give your travel party additional outlets
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Beats and Airpods are great, but these Sony headphones are a good value choice
- Deck of cards or other travel games
- A soft-sided insulated travel cooler like this highly-rated portable cooler
- Drinks, bottled water, and possibly ice
- Money and/or credit cards
- Deodorant (your seatmates will thank you)
- Medicine, vitamins, pain reliever, sleep aid
- Sanitary cleansing wipes (comes handy for coach passengers who can’t shower)
- Pillow & blanket (needed for coach passengers only)
While those are some items specific to bring in your carry-on luggage on Amtrak, you can also check out our full post detailing: The Ultimate Travel Pack List and Packing Tips to ensure you don’t forget anything on your next trip.
Staying Safe on Amtrak Empire Builder
Risk of Empire Builder Derailment
On Saturday, September 25, 2021, near Joplin MT, there was a derailment of an Amtrak Empire Builder train traveling from Chicago to Seattle. This made news headlines, as tragically, three deaths were reported during this Empire Builder accident among the 141 passengers and 16 Amtrak crew members onboard the 10 train cars.
While scary to think something like this could happen, do know that such incidents are extremely rare. Looking at NTSB records going back to 1971, there have been a total of six Amtrak Empire Builder derailments, only two of which resulted in any deaths:
So with a rough estimate of about 25 million passengers traveling on the Empire Builder during the past 50 years, there have been four deaths due to derailment, roughly sixteen millionth percent.
For perspective, the National Safety Council puts the (2020) odds of death for a motor vehicle crash at 1 in 101, a bicyclist at 1 in 3,396, and a train passenger at “too few deaths in 2020 to calculate odds.” So although a deadly train accident can happen and is a terrifying thought, odds are extremely unlikely.
Crime and Theft on Amtrak Empire Builder
While also rare, crime on the Empire Builder can occur. It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings. But there’s no need to be overly paranoid. During our trip on the Empire Builder, we never got a sense of any shady passengers overall. But it can only take one bad passenger to ruin a trip.
In regards to preventing possible theft on the Empire Builder, it’s always recommended to keep any valuables on your person at all times. In other words, don’t risk venturing to the lounge car while leaving your expensive iPad on your seat. While aboard the Empire Builder such a petty theft may seem rather unlikely, but it’s best to minimize the possibility.
For us, we felt comfortable leaving non-valuable items (clothes, toiletries, etc.) at our seats unattended. But items like wallets, cameras, laptops, and phones always came with us into the lounge car and dining car, never to be left unattended, just in case.
A Feb 2020 Washington Post article reports that disorderly conduct ranks as the top offense across the Amtrak network (2015-2019), followed by theft and assaults. We presume that such incidents are more common on busy short-distance routes (e.g., Northeast Corridor). That said, we could not find any hard data to support our speculation that there are far fewer crime incidents on the Empire Builder. Simply take common sense precautions, without causing yourself extra stress or concern.
Coronavirus Safety Protocols on the Amtrak Empire Builder
Amtrak has taken considerable steps in attempts to try and stay safe and let train travel continue during the lingering pandemic conditions. They have enhanced safety protocols, reinforced disinfecting, have air filtration systems, and require their crew to be fully vaccinated or take weekly covid tests.
As of the last update, Federal law no longer is requiring all passengers to wear a mask while aboard Amtrak trains. Those wanting privacy and/or minimizing contact with others should consider booking private rooms on the Empire Builder.
As conditions and restrictions regularly change, check Amtrak’s coronavirus page for the latest official information.
Does the Amtrak Empire Builder Have Wifi?
No, there is no wifi on the Empire Builder.
To stay connected, you will need to rely on your mobile carrier’s data plan. Download books, games, and movies to keep entertained, particularly if traveling with children. Do all your downloading before your trip, while connected to wifi, to save your data.
When using data to stay connected throughout the Empire Builder route, expect to encounter some dead zones along the way. There will be momentary lapses in your service in which you won’t be able to make calls, text, or browse the web. But as nationwide coverage has improved, these outage areas should be relatively short-lived and mostly limited to rural areas of Montana.
If connectivity is important to you, check your mobile carrier’s coverage map in advance to anticipate possible outage areas:
More Amtrak Empire Builder Travel Tips
- Have fun with this!
- Come in good spirits.
- Get to know other passengers.
- Don’t forget to appreciate the sights of America passing outside the window.
- Step outside for fresh air when possible.
- Be respectful of fellow passengers.
- Be kind to others.
- Don’t talk loudly.
- Try to wait until stops to talk on your phone, if you must.
- Most importantly, enjoy the journey!
Wait, don’t leave just yet!
Also, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. We’ll try as best we can to answer. And if you’ve ridden the Amtrak Empire Builder, please come back and comment with your own Amtrak Empire Builder reviews.
Finally, if you enjoy traveling, come join us and thousands of other travel lovers on the Roaming Around the World Facebook Page where we dole out daily travel inspiration and tips from wherever in the world we’re roaming around.
Happy travels! 🚆
Publishing note: This article was initially written in December 2017 and has been updated in August 2022 to reflect the most recent Amtrak Empire Builder travel tips and information.