Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page >

It's the Journey, not the Destination (aboard the California Zephyr)

It's the Journey, not the Destination (aboard the California Zephyr)

Old Sep 26th, 2010, 05:30 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 166
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It's the Journey, not the Destination (aboard the California Zephyr)

After two wonderful days at Lake Tahoe (and one okay day in Reno and one very looong day in San Francisco waiting for our 8 hour plus delayed flight) we drove the rental car back to Reno to catch the California Zephyr to Emeryville.

If you have the chance to take the California Zephyr, do it. It is one great train ride. The train was a bit late leaving Reno, but since it was our only activity of the day, the only inconvenience was that we got on too late to have breakfast in the dining car. (and of you think that we could just get something at the train station, then you have clearly not been to the Reno train station.) No restaurants, but there are some interesting artifacts there– the WCTU water fountain which had bowls for horses and dogs as well as a fountain for people.)

One of the conductors assigned seats as we boarded to make sure that the couples could sit together. The majority of seating is upstairs(!!! On a train!) so even if you are not in the observation car there are huge windows high up for unobstructed views.

And what views! One gloriously beautiful mile after another. We rode through the Sierras and by Donner Lake. There were two railroad Historians ( cute older gentlemen complete with white handlebar mustaches) who made announcements describing everything. Every tunnel has a name and every valley a history. The scenery was beautiful beyond my poor descriptions. The train is comfortable and none of the passengers were rushing to business meetings. Most had come aboard in Chicago (or someplace between Chicago and Reno) and all were enjoying the beautiful ride.

And the service. Lunch was served on white linens in the dining car (it was pretty good). And the great views continued.

Once we got out of the mountains it was not spectacular– just a slow train ride with narration. When we got to Sacramento the Railroad Historians left. But not before telling us that the federal government had subsidized the building of the tracks over the Sierras. Leland Stanford, Mark Hokins, and the two other railroad barons had Congress declare the beginning of the Sierras to be 8 miles east of Sacramento (lest you think legislation for special interests was a modern innovation).

So, although we had been in flat country for a while before we hit Sacramento, it was when we got there that the historians announced that we would be leaving the Sierras in 8 miles. Isn't legislation wonderful?

One can’t be in a hurry on this train. It travels at 30 MPH.

After Sacramento I started reading Roughing It by Mark Twain. He describes his overland stage journey West. He notes that in just a few years one could take a speeding locomotive across the same territory! With linen covered table service! Comfortable seats! And travelling at the unbelievably fast rate of 30 MPH.

Perspective is an interesting thing, yes

After we reached Emeryville we checked into our hotel, went out to an unmemorable dinner with new friends in Berkely and turned in early since we were flying out to San Diego the next day. But that's another post
con_brio is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2010, 06:36 PM
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 5,904
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sounds like an interesting way to spend a day. Thanks for reporting.
emalloy is offline  
Old Sep 27th, 2010, 07:09 PM
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 16
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We have done this trip several times and getting ready to do it again. You are right, the scenery is beautiful and you can't be in a hurry on the train.
Becky_Snyder is offline  
Old Sep 27th, 2010, 08:03 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,483
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville was simply breathtaking in places, one of the most eye-popping, mindblowing trips I've taken in my life in terms of scenery. I too feel that words struggle to capture the majesty that are the Sierras, especially around Donner Pass.

Thanks for this report, which brough back to my mind a treasured memory.

Daniel_Williams is online now  
Old Sep 28th, 2010, 05:40 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 166
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
You're welcome! We loved it so much that I'm researching the next one-- from Vancouver to Banf and Lake Louise!
con_brio is offline  
Old Sep 28th, 2010, 09:11 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 26,243
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts

I've heard that's spectacular (certainly the Rockies are, and I've only seen them "from the ground")!
sf7307 is offline  
Old Sep 28th, 2010, 09:38 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 485
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the report--I've always wanted to take the California Zephyr. Sounds like fun.
Miramar is offline  
Old Apr 29th, 2014, 05:43 PM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 62
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We're going to take this train to Reno from Chicago this coming July 2014.Is there a reasonable place to park near the station in Chicago?
sunnypm is offline  
Old Apr 29th, 2014, 06:05 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 73,086
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
sunnypm: You have tacked on to a 4 year old thread that is tagged for California . . . and are asking about parking in Chicago.

Someone might see your question - but you will do much better if you start a new thread of your own, tagged for Illinois.
janisj is online now  
Old Apr 29th, 2014, 07:55 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 11,752
Likes: 0
Received 17 Likes on 4 Posts
sunnypm: janis is right start your own thread.
I looked at where you live. My suggestion is to drive to Indianapolis and park in one of the 1100+ long term (free) spots and take the Hoosier State (or Cardinal) out at 6AM to Chicago.
You have nearly 4 hours before the California Zephyr is scheduled to leave so a late train should not be a problem.
The fare from IND to CHI ($24) is less than the cost of a day's parking in Chicago.
tomfuller is offline  
Old Apr 30th, 2014, 07:17 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,884
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I love that route also. Farther east, the same train passes through the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Grand Junction and that stretch is spectacular as well.

A word of advice on the trip between Vancouver and Banff. If it were me, and I had the budget for it, I would take the Rocky Mountaineer rather than ViaRail's Canadian. The RM is a private excursion train that travels only during daylight hours, with an overnight stop in Kamloops. The Canadian is a cross-country train that passes through some of the most spectacular areas of the Rockies in the dark. It's still a great trip but the RM is better IMO.

The RM has one other advantage. At Kamloops, the train splits and one segment goes to Jasper while the other one goes to Banff on the way to Calgary. With the Canadian, you would wind up in Jasper and would need ground transport of some kind to get down to Banff. It's a gorgeous trip along the Ice Fields Parkway but it would take more time and effort.
dwooddon is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
United States
May 3rd, 2016 04:48 PM
United States
Apr 25th, 2011 08:58 PM
United States
Oct 9th, 2010 06:36 PM
United States
Sep 16th, 2010 04:17 AM
United States
May 7th, 2002 12:49 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -