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Exploring the U.S. National Parks by Train

Riding a train to or near one or more U.S. national parks is a journey

that is unrivaled for its focus on domestic travel that combines adventure, nature, and spectacular scenery.


It’s an opportunity to connect with your own country, its history, and the vision to preserve large expanses of land for current and future generations
to explore.


There are many ways to see U.S. national parks, but here we will focus on selecting the park or parks you wish to see and rail tours that include riding Amtrak trains as well as the Rocky Mountaineer.


Amtrak Vacations offer a variety of packaged trips that bring travelers near or to the national parks. They typically combine riding one (or more) Amtrak long-distance trains, and sometimes include a rental car and hotel nights, and onboard sleeping accommodations as well.


Some include national park tours. The vacation packages are available for customization as well. If you like train travel and want much of the planning done for you, an Amtrak Vacation can be a good choice.


For example, say you are interested in visiting Glacier National Park in Montana. One option is a five-day, three-destination package called Whitefish and Glacier National Park Getaway Roundtrip from Chicago that includes riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder.


Another package is the Whitefish and Glacier National Park Getaway Roundtrip from Washington, DC, which includes riding on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited from Washington, DC, to Chicago, and continuing your journey via Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Whitefish, Montana. It’s a seven-day trip that includes two days in Whitefish, an alpine community adjacent to Glacier National Park, a tour of Glacier National Park, three-day car rental, two hotel nights and four nights aboard Amtrak, and roundtrip in Coach on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Empire Builder. The sightseeing tour of Glacier National Park is seasonal, limited to July to September.


Glacier National Park is popular possibly because some travelers want to see the glaciers before they might shrink and disappear. In 2022, recreation visits to Glacier National Park reached 2.908 million, according to the National Park Service. In 2021, visits were even higher at 3.081, topping visits in 2019, before the pandemic, which were 3.049 million.


Will glaciers shrink and, eventually, disappear is a question that scientists ask and research. Predictions of glaciers’ demise have been more positive in recent years. The future is unclear. “What is clear, is that glaciers shrink when summer melting outpaces winter snowfall. If over time more snow falls in the winters than melts in the summers, a glacier will grow,” according to the National Park Service. “Though the park’s glaciers are all getting smaller, variations in snow avalanches, ice flow dynamics, and ice thickness cause some glaciers to shrink faster than others. Sometimes a glacier will retreat very quickly where it was thinly and widely spread, only to shrink much more slowly when only the shaded, high elevation ice remains,” according to the NPS website.


Another Amtrak Vacation, which will take travelers to two parks is Arches and Canyonlands Getaway, a three-day trip. The vacation includes two hotel nights, sightseeing tour of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, and roundtrip transfer from Grand Junction, CO, to Moab. Travelers can depart from the closest Amtrak station to their hometown. Travelers ride Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which stops in Grand Junction, CO.


Amazing Landscapes
Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches, hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks can be seen.


According to the National Park Service, natural forces created the unique landscape at Arches, which is the site of the largest density of natural arches in the world. With hot summers, cool winters, and scare precipitation, Arches’ is a desert landscape.


The National Park Service aims to protect the arches, natural bridges, window spires, balanced rocks in their natural settings.


Canyonlands National Park features innumerable canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. In total, Canyonlands National Park includes 337,598 acres in four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the Rivers. The Green and Colorado rivers separate the sections. Each is a desert area with its own character.


Water and gravity have created the landscape, carving layers of rock into the rugged geography that is Canyonlands. No roads directly connect the districts so that traveling between them can take two to six hours by vehicle because there are only a few places to cross the rivers, according to the NPS. This makes it difficult to visit more than one area in a single trip. For scenic views, visit Island in the Sky, which is the easiest to reach. The Needles is more of a “backcountry” experience that requires hiking or four-wheel driving. The Maze is the most remote, and the most difficult to visit. The Rivers offers flatwater trips (calm water) on both the Green and Colorado rivers; there are whitewater trips in Cataract Canyon.
Permits are required for both types of trips.


Another rail trip that includes Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park is America’s National Parks with Rocky Mountaineer, an 11-day Amtrak Vacation that includes eight destinations and two trains.


The trip includes sightseeing tours of four national parks: Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
In addition, travelers ride the Rocky Mountaineer in SilverLeaf class from Denver to Moab, Utah, as well as one-way on Amtrak’s California Zephyr in Coach from Grand Junction, CO., to Salt Lake City. Also included are a one-way transfer from Moab to Grand Junction, roundtrip transfers from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone, 10 hotel nights, two breakfasts and one lunch.

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