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I Took a Train Across the U.S. and These Were the 18 Most Stunning Things I Saw

Check out photos of rivers, oceans, forests, and farms from coast to coast.

Anyone who has taken a road trip before knows how much beautiful scenery this country has to offer. But if you want to experience an even wider breadth of sightseeing, consider a cross-country train. I recently traveled on Amtrak from New York to Los Angeles and back, and I snapped hundreds of photos along the way. This wasn't my first coast-to-coast journey, but I still found myself marveling at the diversity of landscapes and vistas I experienced in a single day. To give you a taste of what that's like, I collected 18 of the most beautiful sights I saw from the window of my cross-country train: cities, towns, forests, plains, and countless bodies of water.

My journey headed west was the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago, the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville (in the San Francisco Bay Area), and the Coast Starlight from Emeryville to Los Angeles. Headed east, I took the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York. There were long stretches without much to see, so the following photos don't account for every hour of the many days I spent onboard. But I'm presenting them in chronological order to give some sense of what the experience was like. Read on to see what I saw.

RELATED: I Took a Train Across the U.S. and Here Are 12 Great and Awful Things About It.

Hudson River (New York)

hudson river in rhinebeck
Louis Peitzman

I live a couple avenues away from the Hudson River, so it's not exactly a rare sight for me, but I still made sure to get a pic on the first leg of my journey. Here, we were somewhere near the town of Rhinebeck. It was overcast and rainy, and I only had a couple hours before it got dark, so I had much better views of the Hudson on the way back.

Chicago skyline (Illinois)

chicago skyline from amtrak train windows
Louis Peitzman

Yes, cities can be beautiful, too—especially when there hasn't been much to see up to that point. After hours of largely flat land, you come to appreciate the sudden emergence of skyscrapers living up to their name. I took this pic as the California Zephyr departed Chicago.

RELATED: 13 U.S. Cities With the Most Beautiful Old Houses.

Cornfields (Illinois)

fields of corn in illinois
Louis Peitzman

For someone who has always lived in a big city, cornfields are also something to behold. I took plenty of photos of farms across multiple states, but I think this one—taken around the village of Kirkwood, Illinois—turned out the best.

Mississippi River (Iowa)

mississippi river from burlington
Louis Peitzman

Most of the time when you move between states, you don't even notice it, unless you happen to be paying attention. To get to Iowa, however, we went over the Mississippi River, which is always a gorgeous sight. (This wasn't the last photo I got of it on my trip.) I took this photo as we arrived in Burlington, Iowa, from Gulfport, Illinois.

Glenwood Canyon (Colorado)

glenwood canyon
Louis Peitzman

Sadly, track work meant that my train ride from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado became a bus ride instead. There were still some amazing views, including this one of Glenwood Canyon, but I imagine it would have looked even better from the train's observation car.

Mesas (Utah)

a mesa in utah with the moon above it
Louis Peitzman

I didn't get to see much of Utah before it got dark, but I enjoyed the mesas we passed. I got a picture of this one with the moon hovering above it near Wellington.

RELATED: The 10 Most Naturally Beautiful States in the U.S., New Data Shows.

Truckee River (Nevada)

verdi nevada
Louis Peitzman

After hours of pretty arid Nevada landscapes, I was delighted to encounter the Truckee River, which you follow as you move from that state into California. The views were also great as we made our way into the town of Truckee itself.

Donner Pass (California)

donner pass
Louis Peitzman

My sleeper car attendant let me know that I needed to look out the windows across from my room to get the best views of Donner Lake and Donner Pass, and I'm glad that she did because they're stunning. Both are named after the ill-fated Donner Party, which adds some important (and upsetting!) historical context.

Tahoe National Forest (California)

tahoe national forest in the mist
Louis Peitzman

For a while, there wasn't much to see, if only because the fog was so heavy. But there was something magical about moving through Tahoe National Forest in the mist.

Pacific Ocean (California)

the pacific ocean through train windows
Louis Peitzman

One of the most scenic parts of the entire trip was my final leg on the way to Los Angeles, which I rode on the Coast Starlight. As the name suggests, this train takes you down the coast and right above the water, allowing for a few hours of blissful ocean views.

RELATED: The 12 Best Oceanfront Hotels and Resorts in the U.S.

More mesas (New Mexico)

mesas from a train window
Louis Peitzman

Headed back east, we spent many hours moving through New Mexico. I've traveled through this state a couple times now, and it always feels so big. This photo was taken passing through Coolidge.

Bright blue skies (New Mexico)

clouds in the sky in new mexico
Louis Peitzman

As far as I can tell, nothing can compete with New Mexico skies. I snapped this pic somewhere near Glorieta (I had terrible service throughout this part of the journey, so it's tough to say exactly where with any certainty).

Purgatoire River (Colorado)

purgatoire river in trinidad colorado
Louis Peitzman

We stopped in Trinidad, Colorado at sunset, where I saw a river I'd never heard of before, the Purgatoire. It's also known as the Purgatory or Picketwire River, but everything sounds better in French.

Missouri River (Missouri)

missouri river
Louis Peitzman

The Missouri River is one I have heard of, of course. The morning sun reflecting on the water meant that I nearly blinded myself getting this shot as we made our way into Sibley, Missouri.

RELATED: 8 Best Natural Wonders Found in U.S. National Parks.

More Mississippi River (Iowa)

mississippi river
Louis Peitzman

Later that day, we arrived in Fort Madison, Iowa, and I couldn't resist taking more photos of the Mississippi. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we were stopped for a while, so I got to watch tourists visiting the eponymous fort and a riverboat making its way down the river.

Main Street (Illinois)

main street in princeton illinois
Louis Peitzman

There's nothing remarkable about this Main Street in Princeton, Illinois, a city of just under 8,000 in Bureau County. But I came to really love our brief stops in towns across the U.S., and I loved this passing glimpse of Princeton.

RELATED: The Most Beautiful Small Town in Every State.

Mohawk River (New York)

mohawk river
Louis Peitzman

On my last day of train travel, I got to see New York in much better lighting conditions. That included ample opportunities to admire the Mohawk River, the largest tributary of the Hudson. I took this in the hamlet of Jacksonburg, New York, about 20 miles outside of Utica.

More Hudson River (New York)

hudson river at sunset
Louis Peitzman

That last day, it felt like there was always water to look out at—the Lake Shore Limited gave me views that were almost as good as the Coast Starlight's. I snapped photo after photo of the Hudson River, especially as the sun started going down. This pic was taken near the village of Croton-on-Hudson, not long before we finally arrived back at Penn Station in the city.

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Louis Peitzman
Louis Peitzman is the Editor-in-Chief of Best Life, currently overseeing content across all verticals. Read more
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