I boarded the Empire Builder 7 just after midnight on the 9th of October. I had purchased a coach ticket from St. Cloud to Seattle, and was looking forward to seeing the North American countryside pass by my window. Before boarding, the conductor split us off into different cars based on whether we were going to Seattle or Portland. On the lower level they have storage for luggage bags, bathrooms, a powder room, and a changing room.
I got on and was pleased to find plenty of open seats. That meant a double seater all to myself. Having two seats side by side dramatically increases your number of sleeping options. Not only that, but the seats themselves recline, double in length when you pop up the “recliner” footrest, and have about 3 feet of floorspace before meeting the next chair. I slept a healthy 7 hours with plenty of repositioning throughout the night.
By the time they made the 2nd call for Breakfast in the dining car, I decided it was time to be officially awake. I hopped to the other side of the train to catch a dramatic sunrise to the east. I found my way to the Dome Car (aka “Lounge Car”) where the chairs face giant windows which extend up to the roof. It’s a popular place to make friends and share commentary about the scenery.
The dining car offered all your square meals, but at $15-25 a plate, I opted for the foods I brought from home. Crackers, string cheese, apples, oatmeal, boiled eggs, kohlrabi, and a protein shake kept me well fed. The cafe offers free hot water, so I took advantage of that for tea and oatmeal on a couple occasions.
The scenery through the Dakotas and Montana was beautiful and barren. White-tailed deer blended perfectly with the grasses. Fall colors boasted golden leaves and maroon shrubs. Sage plants added a nice muted green to the pallette. Every town seemed to have a grain elevator. Ranches popped up here and there, with cows and horses grazing the endless surrounds.
It was almost dark by the time we passed through Glacier National Park. All I could see was the hulking shadow of the mountains. Pine trees stood outlined against a misty haze. The train felt extra cozy as rain drops sped across the window. I had seen Glacier in its August glory already this year, and was amused to see it veiling itself with mystery come autumn.
Another night and we woke to the Cascades. We were suddenly in a different world, where moss clung to every tree and rock, a river wound beneath the train and trees climbed all over each other trying to reach the sky. After Everett, the train traveled along the Puget Sound until it hit Seattle. This was my favorite part of the journey.
In three past experiences with Amtrak, they had always been late. I prayed earnestly that this time would be an exception, knowing I needed to catch a bus in Seattle. Well, not only were they on time, but the train arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule. With cheerful staff, and a smooth, scenic ride, I would recommend the Empire Builder route to anyone with the time for it.