Road Trips

Route 66 Amtrak Train Vacation: Epic Guide

Southwest Chief route 66 train
Written by Town & Tourist

Route 66 by Rail offers a nostalgic slice of old school Americana! Starting in “The Windy City” of Chicago, then onto St Louis Missouri. Afterwards head through middle america before taking a tour of Albuquerque, New Mexico…Maybe even see the Worlds Largest Hot Air Balloon Festival!

Hop on the Grand Canyon Railway before heading to the Canyons South Rim. As the train goes through the wild wild west, be entertained by local musicians who board the carriages.

Route66

Route66

History of Route 66:

Route 66 was America’s Main Street, it was intended to be replaced entirely by the new Interstate highway system. However, parts of Route 66 refused to die, these days you can find old school signposts, motels, diners and filling stations.

There is even a Preservation group dedicated to preserving this authentic part of Americas Golden age of road trips.

Which train runs by Route 66?

The main train between LA and Chicago is the Southwest Chieftan which runs daily. Amtrak offers multi-city bookings via its ticketing system, but only 4 trip portions are allowed so choose wisely .

If you would like to make extra stopovers, you should do a price comparison between a 15-day rail pass and 2 multi-city tickets, to see which suits you best.  If you prefer to take a motorcycle or car, Check out: Ultimate Motorcycle Road Trip: U.S.A: Coast to Coast!

Insider Tip:

Be sure to experience Sky City where Native Americans live the same as they did four hundred years ago!

amtrak-california-zephyr-onboard-dome car

amtrak-california-zephyr-onboard-dome car. Source: flickr

Ultimate Route 66 Vacation by Rail Itinerary

Day 1 & 2: Chicago 

Transport: Take a Flight to Chicago. 

Starting in the Windy City, Chicago, Illinois is a large metropolis on the Scenic Lake Michigan. The Skyline is punctuated with vast skyscrapers, such as the Willis Tower (Former Sears Tower) and the Legendary John Hancock Center at over 1,451ft high.

Chicago is also known for Chicago style pizza (Deep dish) , and Chicago hot dogs in addition to Jazz and of course the Notorious 1920s gangster Al Capone.

5 Classic Things to do in Chicago: 

1. Millennium Park – FREE! 

Millennium Park  is not just a public park, its a true expression of the Chicago experience! It is the largest public space inside the 319 acres of Chicagos Grant Park, located downtown. This area includes, gardens, sculptures and attractions.

Crown Fountain: 

Crown Fountain was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa the fountain is made up of two 50 foot glass block towers which of display rotating images of over 1000 Chicago residents.

The fountain fires water out of the giant mouth and is really popular with kids during the summer months.

Crown Fountain Chicago

Crown Fountain Chicago

Cloud Gate (The “Bean”)

A Large public sculpture weighing in at over 110tones and is over 66 feet long and 33 feet high. This is an astonishing sculpture to see and was designed by British Artist Anish Kapoor.

Other highlights at Millennium Park include, Lure Garden and Maggie Daley Park. A large 20 acre adventure park which includes rock climbing, slides and mirror walks.

Cloudgate Chicago Bean

Cloudgate Chicago Bean

2. Willis Tower (“Sears Tower”) 

The Willis Tower is a 110-story, 1,450-foot skyscraper in Chicago. When it was completed in 1973, it surpassed the World Trade Center in New York to become the tallest building in the world!

Skydeck Chicago offer views from 103rd floor of the former Sears Tower with clear observation boxes & views extending to four states!

Willis Tower Sears Tower

Willis Tower Sears Tower. Source: www.willistower.com

3. Navy Pier

Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot-long pier on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Here you will find many fairground rides & attractions including a 360 Chicago, (A Premiere observation deck), Centennial Wheel (Observation Wheel)  Museum of Contemporary Art, the Childrens Museum, River Cruises and many more!

Navy Pier Chicago

Navy Pier Chicago

4. Art Institute of Chicago 

Head to the world renowned Art Institute of Chicago  in downtown. Here you find many unique paintings such as Nighthawks, american gothic and even a paperweight gallery!

5. Green Mill Lounge – Can you spot Al Capone?? 

Head back to the 1940s at Chicagos Green Mill Lounge. Here you can find local Jazz Musicians, poets and was once a hangout for the Notorious Gangster Al Capone.

Green Mill Lounge Chicago Al Capones hangout

Green Mill Lounge Chicago Al Capones hangout

Insider Tip:

To see everything in one swoop, take hop on/hop off Sightseeing tour, this is a highly recommended one HERE. Be sure to take a photo of the Route 66 sign before catching the Amtrak  train.

Where to Stay in Chicago?

For our list of recommended places to stay in Chicago follow the link HERE.

Day 3, 4, 5: St Louis

Transport: Take the Amtrak Train from Union Station (Chicago – St Louis)

You will be able to enjoy some nice views from the train as your travel south through the “Land of Lincoln” and the Midwest.

Located on the banks of the Mississippi & Missouri Rivers, StLouis is known for its baseball, beer and the incredible 630ft gateway arch, “The Gateway to the west”, which is the tallest man made monument in the USA. It was built in the 1960’s and honors the 19th-century explorations of Lewis and Clark .

Insider Tip:

One of the best ways of seeing the arch is from one of the Replica paddlewheelers along the river.

St Louis, Missouri

St Louis, Missouri

For some authentic blues head to the Soulard district which is home to many barbecue restaurants and live blues venues.

Where to stay in St Louis?

For our list of recommended places to stay in St Louis follow the link HERE.

Day 6, 7: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Transport: Head to the station and board the Overnight Amtrak (Southwest Chief) to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Upgrade to a sleeper cabin which includes meals.

From the train you will see everything from wheat fields to ranches, missions and Native american reservations. As you head towards New Mexico, the train carves out canyon passages which offer breath-taking vistas, unique to the rail route.

No matter your interests, Albuquerque has countless opportunities for you to explore.  From sampling the tasty New Mexican cuisine, to exploring museums, landmarks and even Route 66.

Are you a fan of Breaking Bad? The popular netflix series was filmed here in Albuquerque so you can actually check out “Walter Whites House” and even get your car washed in his car wash! 

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta: The Largest in the USA

The locals are always very excited when the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is in Town, the whole city has a buzz to it.

The locals embrace the festival partly due to the extravagance and also due to it landing on there door step…sometimes literally!

As the hot air balloon rides and direction are dependent upon the wind direction, the whole thing could end up on someones doorstep or your neighbours backyard! This adds an excitement to Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta like no other.

Hot-Air-Balloon-Tours-Sri-Lanka

Albuquerque Hot-Air-Balloon Festival

Artistic Madrid:

Once a coal mining town and relative “ghost town”. Madrid is now a creative community with over 40 shops and galleries, several restaurants, a spa and museum.

A couple miles north is the quaint village Cerrillos that includes a state park with hiking paths and horseback riding. The village of Madrid is nestled in a narrow canyon in the Ortiz Mountains.

Old Town

Other popular areas to see are the authentic Old Town Founded in 1706!  In the heart of Historic Old Town, you will find the Old Town Plaza, where Albuquerque was founded 300 years ago!  Here you’ll find the historic San Felipe de Neri Church built in 1793.

This historic place is surrounded by a charming gazebo, popular for a variety of music and dance performances. 

Within walking distance are the New Mexico Museum of Natural History with its Planetarium and the beautiful Albuquerque Museum, where outdoor musical concerts happen all summer in the sculpture garden!

Latin_Dance-albuquerque-new-mexico

Latin_Dance-old town-albuquerque-new-mexico. Source: visitalbuquerque.com

Bandelier (Native American Ruins)

Bandelier National Monument is in the Jemez Mountains and 20 miles west of Santa Fe, in north-central New Mexico. For more than 10,000 years, Bandelierwas the home of an Ancestral Puebloan civilization.

700 years later, its a national monument is filled with ancient artefacts from potsherds to multi-storied buildings and more than 70 miles of trail.

Where to Stay in Albuquerque?

For our list of recommended places to stay in Albuquerque follow the link HERE.

Day 8: Williams Junction Arizona

Travel to the station and board Amtraks Southwest Chief to Williams Junction. From here you can stay overnight at Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.

Day 9: Grand Canyon Railway

Have breakfast at the Grand Depot Café  before boarding the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon National Park. This route is popular with dome carriages offering wide windows and seat facing outward towards the stunning views.

On the Grand Canyon Railway you may also come across many locals buskers who board the train the play some classic country music!

Grand Canyon Railway live music

Live entertainment is common on the Grand Canyon Railway! Source; Xanterra Parks & Resorts

Day 10: Grand Canyon

Explore the South Rim and enjoy the spectacular vistas formed over 17 million years ago. Around 12,000 years ago, the Native Americans who lived in and around the Grand Canyon thought of it as a place of wonder formed by the gods.

The same is true today with over 6 million visitors flocking to the  Grand Canyon National Park like a pilgrimage to experience all its wonder!

Hot-Air-Balloon ride Grand Canyon

Balloon Rides, Photo by: Jennifer C, Helena, MT)

Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Grand Canyon?

6 Million visitors a year can make the Grand Canyon very busy especially during peak season. So one of my favourite ways of seeing the Grand Canyon is by Air! More specially a bucket list hot air balloon ride. To find out more see: Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Grand Canyon? 5 Golden reasons to try it!

Day 11: Southwest Chief to Los Angeles 

Hop on the Grand Canyon Railway back to Williams, before changing over to the Southwest Chief train to Los Angeles. Upgrade to a sleeper cabin which includes meals if you wish.

Southwest Chief route 66 train

Southwest Chief route 66 train. Source: Latimes.com

Day 12: Los Angeles 

You will arrive early in the morning so its best to check into one of our recommended hotels before exploring what Los Angeles has to offer!

Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis in Southern California, know as being the center of Americas Movie & television industry.

Movie Stardom is everywhere from the Iconic Hollywood sign to studios such as Paramount Pictures, Universal and Warner Brothers, which all offer behind the scenes tours.

Head to Hollywood Boulevard, where the TCL Chinese Theatre display movie stars hand and footprints on its walk of fame.

California also has some great beaches which include Ventura Beach and Santa Monica Beach.

Los Angeles - Road Trip with Public Transport USA

Los Angeles is the perfect place to wrap this Route 66 by Rail Vacation. We snapped this great shot of Downtown LA…which made it truly memorable!-

Insider Tip:

Head to Santa Monica Pier and take a picture of the famous sign which marks the end of ROUTE 66!

While in Los Angles you should really take a tour of the movie stars homes in Beverley Hills. Sarah from Town&Tourist wrote a great post on Celebrity Homes in Beverley Hills! This includes an interactive map to each of the homes so you can take a self drive tour. 

Insider Tip:

Watch out for street vendors selling maps to celebrities homes, these are often dated and even fake!

Where to Stay in Los Angeles?

For our list of recommended places to stay in Los Angeles follow the link HERE.

Want the best deals when booking a train?

Try out our: Best Public Transport Booking Tools

Do you have a decent Camera??

If not, Check out our Recommended Travel Photography Gear

Photography Gear

Make sure you are equip with some great Photography Gear!

Want to know the secrets of great Hotel Deals?

See this essential post:  How to find the Best Hotel Deals??

Got everything else you need?

Check out our  Travel Essentials   (Things You can’t travel without!)

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White Pass Yukon train alaska

White Pass Yukon train alaska. Source: wpyr.com

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Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.