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Amtrak Empire Builder

Route Guide of travel on the Amtrak Empire Builder.

* Seattle/Portland * Spokane
* St.Paul-Minneapolis * Chicago


You are traveling on board the Empire Builder,an Amtrak® Superliner® train, that takes you between Seattle or Portland and Chicago. While on board, you will be experiencing the utmost comfort and service in train travel along with many of the same vistas first viewed by the early settlers.

(Steve's Note: I suggest you click here now to read the older version of this Route Guide. The new vesion has hardly any information about the sights that you will see on this train. I don't know why Amtrak has done away with their wonderfully detailed route guide for this route and replaced it with such a horribly truncated version, but I have preserved the old version for you at this web site.

All of us at Amtrak are proud to have you aboard today, and want to ensure your trip is everything you want it to be in train travel. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask one of your friendly on-board service staff


There is a lot to see and do aboard the Empire Builder, from relaxing, socializing with family and friends, or enjoying a delicious meal. Please listen for announcements of the specific times and locations of these activities, and most of all -- have fun!

Movies in the Sightseer Lounge Car and other videos, including features for children during summer months, will be shown.

Hospitality Hour. Join fellow passengers in the Lounge Car for drinks and complimentary snacks, and don't forget to ask about regional specialties.

Games are usually conducted in the Dining Car. Small prizes will be awarded. Listen for announcements for time and location.

Stretch Your Legs. The Empire Builder stops in Havre, Minot and St. Paul-Minneapolis so the train can be serviced, refueled and washed. This is your opportunity to explore the station. Please do not leave the station platform area, and return to the train as soon as the departure announcement is made.


The Chicago skyline fading from view... the beautiful sandstone formations of the Wisconsin Dells... tracing the Mississippi River north to Minneapolis-St. Paul... the strange shapes of Devils Lake... Fort Buford, a 19th century U.S. Cavalry fort in North Dakota... Montana's Bear Paw Mountains... Marias Pass through the Rockies. To Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood, Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock; to Seattle, the Icicle Canyon, the passage through the Cascade Mountains, Skykomish and Puget Sound.


The Conductor is in charge of all crew members aboard, and is responsible for the collection of tickets and the safe operation of the train. The Chief supervises the on-board service people, and is responsible for the service you receive while you are on the Empire Builder.


Roomy Coach Seats with a Coach Attendant ensures that you are comfortable and well taken care of during your travels. Please keep in mind that seats are assigned for the duration of the trip. If you wish to change seats consult your Attendant first. Please do not re-seat yourself.

Private Sleeping Accommodations with your own Sleeping Car Attendant will provide you with true First Class Service. Your Attendant will prepare your room for daytime or nighttime travel, provide wake-up service and bring your morning paper and beverages to your room. Meals and other amenities are included with your First Class accommodations. Individual speakers bring you recorded music (Channels 2 and 3) and train announcements (Channels 1 and 2). The channel selector is located near the reading light in your room.

Private Sleeping Accommodations are available based on your needs. Deluxe Rooms can accommodate two adults and have a private restroom and shower. Family Rooms can accommodate up to two adults and three children, and also have a private restroom and shower. (Steve's note: This is not correct. The Family Room does not have its own private restroom and shower. However, don't be too concerned. There are 3 restrooms and a shower on the same level with the Family Room. I have never found all 3 restrooms in use at once and it isn't difficult for everyone to get their turn in the shower). Economy Rooms can accommodate one or two people. Ample public restrooms and showers are conveniently located in the lower level of the Sleeping Car. Sleeping Accommodations may be purchased on board from the Conductor (subject to availability).

Sightseer Lounge Car on the Empire Builder allows you to view the spectacular scenery along the route through the panoramic windows on the upper level of the car. The lower level offers light dining. Sandwiches, snacks and beverages, in addition to various sundry items, can be purchased. The Lounge Car also features first-run movies, a Hospitality Hour with specialty drinks, and complimentary snacks during the evening.


THE Empire Builder is a train for people who think big. It can carry you to the greatest of the great outdoors -- a National Park spanning two nations, Glacier International Peace Park, and two major mountain ranges, the Rockies, and the Cascades. It can take you to one of the tallest buildings in the world, Chicago's Sears Tower, the largest collection of ice sculptures in the world and the biggest shopping mall in the 50 states, the Mall of America, in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It can take you to the biggest cities of the Northwest, Seattle and Portland. And it does it all under the famous Big Sky of the northern prairie -- a sky that is bigger and grander than any you've ever seen.

This guide is written from west to east, in most cases noting how many minutes past the previous Amtrak® station you can expect to see a particular sight and whether you should look right or left. The first time reference tells you how far that point is from the station to the west, and the second time, how far it is to the Amtrak stop to the east.


SEATTLE The Space Needle, symbol of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, is on the right. As you cross Shilshole Bay, watch for a statue of Leif Ericson on your left, the Norse explorer thought to have "discovered" America before Columbus.

EDMONDS Here, Old Milltown Shopping Arcade is in the turn-of-the-century Ford garage. The train stops next to the dock for ferries to Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula.

EVERETT For the next 65 miles, the tracks will climb more than 2,800 feet. You'll pass through the 7.79-mile Cascade Tunnel 4,061 feet above sea level.

Icicle Canyon (1:45 Min./1:10 Min.) Watch for goats on the hillsides; and elk, beaver and deer in the marshes. The train is now descending more than 100 feet for every mile of forward progress.

WENATCHEE The "Apple Capitol of the World" grows more than 15% of the nation's apple crop.

Columbia Basin The largest lava basin in the country. During the night, the train stops at EPHRATA and SPOKANE.


PORTLAND calls itself the "City of Roses; the cleanest, greenest, most beautiful city in America."

Columbia River Draw Bridge The train crosses the Willamette River, then a 1,516-ft. bridge over the Oregon Slough (a second channel of the Columbia River) to reach Hayden Island. From the island, the train crosses over this 2,806-ft. structure to enter Washington.

VANCOUVER To the north is Mt. St. Helens, nearly 10,000-ft. high.

Beacon Rock (43 Min./39 Min.) The 840-ft., 1,700 acre basaltic formation is said to be second in size to Gibralter.

Bonneville Dam (48 Min./34 Min.) More than a half mile from end to end, this dam is one of the government's greatest power and navigation projects.

Bridge of the Gods (51 Min./31 Min.) This bridge replaced a natural rock formation, which the Indians say was destroyed by their deity in anger when his two sons argued over a young maiden. The two sons became Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. The maiden became Mt. St. Helens. Soon you enter the Columbia Gorge -- a magnificent area 55 miles long. The Gorge was formed by the incredible strength of the Columbia River as it cut through ancient lava rocks. Watch for Mt. Hood, the highest mountain in Oregon at 11,235 feet.

Dalles Dam (28 Min./7 Min.) The 8,700-ft. dam created Horsethief Lake, a popular spot for fishing and recreation.

WISHRAM Early explorers Lewis and Clark visited this area, named for an ancient village where Indians gathered to trade for almon. Watch for the 5,000 foot John Day Dam, constructed between 1959 and 1968 at a cost of $487 million.

PASCO The farthest point up the Columbia River that can be reached by seagoing ships.

SPOKANE calls itself "Monarch of the Inland Empire." Here the Seattle and Portland routes join. During the night, the train stops at SANDPOINT and LIBBY.

Note: If you're traveling east, set your watch forward an hour; west, set your watch back an hour.

WHITEFISH Nearby is the popular Big Mountain ski resort.

BELTON-WEST GLACIER is the western entrance to Glacier Park.

ESSEX We cross the Flathead River atop a high trestle.

Marias Pass (30 Min./18 Min.) As you cross the Continental Divide here, you are traveling 5,216 feet above sea level. On the right at the summit is a monument to President Theodore Roosevelt.

EAST GLACIER PARK Nearby are 50 "living" glaciers and 9,000-10,466 foot mountains. The impressive Glacier Park Lodge on the left was partially constructed from trees estimated to be 600 years old.

BROWNING Headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

CUT BANK Seetgrass Hills and the Canadian border, 25 miles to the north, can be seen to the left.

SHELBY Site of the World Heavyweight Championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Tom Gibbons on July 4, 1923.

HAVRE This is a service stop, so you may have time to walk around a bit.

Wagner (1:10 Min./10 Min.) In 1901, Kid Curry, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed the Great Northern's Oriental Limited. They blew up the express car and got away with $68,000.

MALTA inspired the famous western artist, Charles Russell.

GLASGOW The center of an area rich in dinosaur bones.

Ft. Peck Dam (15 Min./36 Min.) This earth-filled dam is 250-ft. high and stretches four miles across the Missouri River.

WOLF POINT The wolf sculpture on the right memorializes this town's frontier-era role in wolf trapping and trading.

Ft. Union (60 Min./15 Min.) The train crosses Montana for 675 miles.

Note: If you're traveling east, set your watch forward an hour; west, set your watch back an hour.

Ft. Buford (1:05 Min./10 Min.) Here Chief Sitting Bull surrendered after the Battle of Little Big Horn.

WILLISTON Oil was discovered in this area in the 1950s.

STANLEY This small town is known for its grain and livestock production.

MINOT A service stop for the Empire Builder. Minot is still known as "Magic City," because it grew overnight when the Great Northern announced its route.

RUGBY The geographical center of North America.

DEVILS LAKE The Indians called this "Evil Spirit Lake" because they believed its shattered walls and loose rocks were the result of a mammoth struggle between thunderbirds and water monsters.

GRAND FORKS Where the Red Lake River and Red River of the North meet.

FARGO Named for Wells Fargo Express Company founder William Fargo, this town lies in the heart of the famous Red River Valley. During the night, the train stops at DETROIT LAKES and STAPLES.

ST. CLOUD The wall that surrounds the Reformatory on your left is the longest granite wall in the world.

ST. PAUL-MINNEAPOLIS Midway Station, serving the Twin Cities, is a servicing point for fuel and water for the Empire Builder. This spot is not only midway between the two cities, but midway between the Equator and the North Pole. The fairytale castle on the right

Mississippi River For the next 140 miles, you'll see scenes that have inspired visitors for decades. You'll also see an impressive system of federally-funded dams and locks that tame the waterway for modern-day needs.

RED WING Named after a Dakota Chief who had adopted the custom of wearing a swan's wing dyed scarlet.

WINONA Sugar Loaf Mountain, on the right, was a ceremonial meeting place of the Sioux.

LACROSSE The Empire Builder enters Wisconsin as it crosses the great river for the last time. French trappers watched Indians playing a game on the fields here, which they dubbed "la crosse."

TOMAH Gasoline Alley creator Frank King grew up here. Two of his characters hold up the sign for the Chamber of Commerce, which is headquartered in a railroad car to the right.

WISCONSIN DELLS As the Midwest's premier family vacation destination, Wisconsin Dells has it all -- scenic beauty, nationally known attractions and impressive events. Take a Dells Boat Tour and see lush canyons, nature trails and the unusual sandstone formations along the shore of the Wisconsin River. Or, discover a piece of history on the Original Wisconsin Ducks Tour. You'll find Noah's Ark, America's largest waterpark, the Ho-Chunk Casino, the Tommy Barlett Thrill Show, Family Land, the International Crane Foundation and more.

PORTAGE Once a regular stopover for traders and settlers who had to "portage" (carry) their gear between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

COLUMBUS The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, on the right, features a bell cast from pieces of a French cannon acquired in the Franco-Prussian War.

MILWAUKEE It was beer that made Milwaukee famous and German immigrants who brought the beer. In addition, they also transplanted German beer gardens, theater and opera. On the right, you can see the home of the Brewers of Milwaukee County Stadium. On the left is the home of another favorite, the Miller Brewery.

GLENVIEW Modern, suburban Glenview is punctuated by older farms and industrial complexes.

Niles (3 Min./19 Min.) Here in the heartlands, Niles' replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a YMCA, is on the right.

CHICAGO The railroad route between Chicago and St. Paul -- known in the past as the Milwaukee Road -- began as a plank road for horses and wagons. Now, this energetic city on the shore of Lake Michigan is the business and industrial center of the Midwest. The tapering Hancock Building comes into view, and the Sears Tower dominates the skyline to the south. You can see Marina City's twin cylindrical towers and the Merchandise Mart rise above the river on the left.

Scenic Photo Tips

SCENIC SPOTS: Your train passes many beautiful and interesting sights. The "camera" symbol on your Route Guide Map marks the best spots, so have your camera ready!

OUTSIDE SHOTS: Medium-speed films (ASA 200 or higher) are recommended for shooting scenery through the train windows. If your shutter speed is adjustable and light conditions permit, set it at a higher speed (1/125 or 1/250 sec.) for the clearest results. Hold your lens close to the window to eliminate glare and reflections.

INSIDE SHOTS: Flash is recommended. To avoid glare and reflections, do not point the flash directly at the windows.

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