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Amtrak Train to Glacier National Park: the Beautiful Empire Builder Route

Amtrak Train to Glacier National Park: the Beautiful Empire Builder Route

Train travel is so common around the world, but here in the United States most of us always opt to fly places. Our first family train travel was taking Amtrak to Glacier National Park and it was pretty cool.  We don’t do many trips in the northern USA in the fall or winter because driving is a bummer, but getting to venture to Glacier National Park in the fall via Amtrak was the perfect combination of vintage awesome and epic fall colors.

The Amtrak network goes all over the USA and there are some really cool yesteryear train stations to stop at with some amazing destinations you might not even consider out of season, so why not?  Train travel is a different sort of travel, and just because you arrive by train doesn’t mean that your options for fun when you get to your destination area limited. We have the full scoop on taking the Amtrak train to Glacier National Park, how to plan it and just what to expect.

Updated October 2023

Taylor Family in Amtrak King Street Station Seattle 15

Train to Glacier National Park from Seattle

Starting at King Street Station in downtown Seattle, the Empire Builder is your train to Glacier National Park.  This train route was the original one connecting St Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington.  This route is also the only one in the US to have a stop in at a National Park: Glacier National Park.  Since the Empire Builder route is so cool and historic, it’s actually a part of Amtrak’s Trails & Rails program.  

Trails & Rails is available in cooperation with the National Park Service (so you know we’re diggin’ on it already).  For the Empire Builder line, the program includes some nifty education from Park Rangers at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site in Pioneer Square (Seattle) with more reading material for your train trip to Glacier NP.

Tip:  if seasonal opportunities are important to you, check out both Amtrak programs and destination events when you’re booking your travel. Often tourism and education programs will change so double check what you’re interested in before you complete your itinerary.

Taylor Family in Amtrak King Street Station Seattle 14

How Long is the Train to Glacier National Park?

The Amtrak train to Glacier National Park does take a while, but it’s worth the time because you get to relax and enjoy the scenery. There are a few places the Empire Builder route can start, so depending on where you’re traveling from, you’ll have a different amount of time on the train to Glacier NP.

From Seattle, WA to Glacier on the train it takes about 14.5 hours, so you’ll likely have an overnight. From Portland, OR, which is the same route, just a different leg, it takes about the same amount of time, with the Portland portion of the train joining the main Seattle line in Spokane, WA.

If you’re approaching from the eastern end of the Empire Builder train route to Glacier National Park, you have a longer ride ahead of you. From Chicago, IL the train to Glacier takes 31+ hours and from Minneapolis, MN the train to Glacier National Park takes around 26 hours. While these longer travel times might not sound appealing, the benefit of this is more relaxation and getting to take advantage of the train elements of the lounge car and the glass top portion of the Empire Builder.

Suggestion: if you like train travel but don’t want to overnight ON the train, the Rocky Mountaineer train routes in Canada offer amazing scenery to beautiful destinations also, but each night during the train trip you stay in a hotel. I love the Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West route to Banff National Park.

Amtrak Empire Builder arriving in West Glacier MT fall colors 1

What Train Station is by Glacier National Park?

There are actually three Amtrak stations to choose from if you want to take the train to Glacier National Park. The most common choice is the West Glacier MT train station, as it’s just outside of the primary park entrance and there are several places to stay very nearby (we LOVE the Belton Chalet). You can also disembark at the East Glacier train station. This is very close to the Two Medicine part of the National Park and is the closest train station to both the St Mary and Many Glacier areas on the east side.

The third option for where to disembark the train at Glacier National Park is actually in Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is a fun town just west of the park and it’s got its own Glacier Country vibe. If you happen to be visiting in the winter, Whitefish is a great Montana ski destination. You’ll love it any time of year!

West Glacier Amtrak Train Station 1

What to Expect on an Amtrak Train

From our start in King Street Station to the constantly changing scenery, the Amtrak family train travel experience is pretty fun and unusual. The kids love taking the train, and as our oldest said about the overnight train to Glacier NP “It’s like a moving hotel!”  The service from our train attendant was great and for being a family who’s traveling all the time, this is a different type of experience than we usually choose.

The kids really enjoyed our family cabin on Amtrak’s Empire Builder with their favorite part being looking back and forth between our windows.  We didn’t see any bears or moose during our train travel, but we did watch an enormous sea lion as we headed north along the Puget Sound, and then countless beautiful rivers and mountains until it got dark.

Tip:  if you’re able to book a train with an early departure, do it! It’ll ensure you get more waking hours to watch the world go by. If you’re looking just to get someplace while sleeping, book an afternoon departure.

Taylor Family in Amtrak King Street Station Seattle 23

Dining on Amtrak Trains

Dining on the Empire Builder was so simple and delicious.  Since we’re true PNW guys through and through, of course we had to order salmon and potatoes.  We also enjoyed flat iron steak, roasted chicken with red pepper sauce, and a really great pecan tart… because fall.  Breakfast was also good with a very simple menu making it easy to get in and out and hop off the train quickly when we arrived at the West Glacier train station.

Note:  dining with food allergies is always tricky.  When traveling via Amtrak, be sure to make an inquiry with the company prior starting your train travel so you can plan appropriately.  When you’re actually in the dining car, be sure to call out any allergy concerns upfront so they can help you appropriately.

Taylor Family dining on Amtrak Empire Builder 2

One other thing to note for adults going via Amtrak that might enjoy wine during their train travel, you can bring your own wine onto the train if you desire, but it must be enjoyed in your cabin.  If you’re traveling in the open seating/coach class, this may not be an option for you, but the attendants can point you to an appropriate train car for assistance.

TIP: for certain parts of the Empire Builder route, because the train staff has to be ready for turning around for another route, if a meal time is approaching before arriving at the end of the line, be sure you’re 100% aware of your dining time. We had one experience where we actually we not allowed to sit for breakfast because they needed to close the dining car despite dining time being posted without a notation of CLOSING the dining car. Amtrak puts all responsibility on the overnight guests to dine within set windows.

Taylor Family dining on Amtrak Empire Builder 4

Service during Amtrak train travel  

When you’re flying you get to interact with your flight attendants for a few hours and it’s great, but train travel as a family needs something more. When you’re traveling by train there is a lot more to consider to ensure that things are seamless.  You’ve got basic needs, dining times, prepping your sleeping quarters, making your luggage ready and then actually disembarking.

Taylor Family in bunk beds sleeping cab Amtrak Empire Builder 5

Our attendant, was awesome.  He was hilarious, informative, helpful, the kids loved his little ditties he’d hum and sing.  He made the trip extra fun.  And when it was time to depart he was ON IT making sure that we were staged and ready to roll since our departure station was such a short stop.  Taking the train to Glacier National Park was initially a stressful though because we knew there was a lot of coordination with short stops, but Amtrak attendants are pros at it.

While we cannot guarantee that every Amtrak attendant will be as on-the-ball and fun as ours was, the attendants we talked to on our trips had all been working on the train, specifically the Empire Builder, for years and years and they were great.

Taylor Family in bunk beds sleeping cab Amtrak Empire Builder 4

Tips for Train Travel with Kids

Train travel is very different from flying with kids.  When you’re flying you’re in assigned seats and it’s pretty standard, and if you’re a family that travels frequently, like we are, you know just what to expect.  With train travel, kids have the ability to be up and about a lot more. You’ve got space and activities and such.  It’s a whole new world.

Here are our top tips for train travel with kids on Amtrak:

  • Bring easy, fun activities for waking hours on the train – the Amtrak views are great, but kids need a little more
  • Teach the kids how to walk with their arms out for when the train is moving – it’ll help with balance issues
  • Pre-pack your overnight/next day clothes – even if you have access to your luggage, this will make EVERYTHING easier
  • Confirm all dining times to ensure your family has ample time for meals before disembarking the train – dining schedules vary from route to route
  • Leverage your train attendant to help for transitioning to/from the train – they’re there to help
  • Look at your route map in advance to be ready to tell kids when something cool is coming up
Taylor Family in sleeping cab Amtrak Empire Builder 1

As an adult, you have a few other things to consider to make your Amtrak ride the best it can be.  If you’re a light sleeper and doing an overnight trip, being prepared with ear plugs or a white noise maker is a great idea.  Any sensitive sleeper will need a buffer to make it a smooth ride.  And FYI: kids apparently sleep like mummies on trains; like, they don’t wake up no matter what.

Taylor Family Inside Amtrak Empire Builder Sleeping Car at King Street Station Seattle 1

After the Train: Things to Do at Glacier National Park

We always love to experience our National Parks and will do so in almost any weather.  When we started thinking about fall travel via Amtrak it was a no-brainer where we wanted to go. We wanted to take the train to Glacier National Park.  Glacier is one of our favorite camping and hiking destinations anyways, but before this trip we’d never been during the fall.  The Park is such a cool mix of evergreen and deciduous forests that we knew it would be beautiful.  We were right. We’ve since had several trips to Glacier during autumn, including one paired with Missoula, Montana.

The fall colors in Glacier National Park are truly amazing. Traveling so much, we get to experience all kinds of places, views and activities, but nothing compares to the untouched Rocky Mountains during autumn. We love visiting Glacier in the summertime, but Glacier National Park in the fall is unforgettable.

Tip:  if you can book your train travel for before October 1 you’ll have access to more services up in the mountains. The colors should still be changing and amazing, but you also can score more open businesses and tour opportunities.

For our Amtrak train to Glacier National Park, we arrived at the West Glacier train station bright and early to start our experience and it was ideal.  For this trip, we were staying with Glacier Guides Lodge while there and luckily for us there was a sign for Glacier Guides visible from the second we stepped off the train.  We made our way to the Glacier Guides Guest House and started to fall into our autumn travel adventure.

We also have stayed at the Belton Chalet vintage railway hotel directly across from the West Glacier Amtrak station and it’s lovely. We really like the historic aspect of the Belton and you can’t beat its location. Book it here!

Taylor Family with Bear carving at West Glacier Amtrak Train Station 1

During our time in West Glacier and the surrounding area we enjoyed:

We’ve been to Glacier National Park lots of times, so taking the train and approaching a trip we’ve done many times differently was delightful. Spending time in Glacier NP in fall is unique because there are so few people in comparison to summer. If we do the train to Glacier National Park again, we may aim for a springtime trip to see the other end of the shoulder season at the park.

Taylor Family hiking at Two Medicine Lake Glacier National Park 4

Would we the Train to Glacier National Park again?

Yes, we would do train travel with kids again in a heartbeat.  We definitely prefer doing a day trip with the kids vs overnight, just because us dads are sensitive sleepers, but overall it is a great way for us to go on an adventure together that is very different from our norm and loads of fun.  Train travel with Amtrak got us out and visiting places we’d normally only hit up in the spring and summer.  Train travel gave us time to relax as a family while still getting to our destination.

My grandma always enjoyed the train and I never understood why until we did it with our kids: it’s a great way to see America, get where you need to go, and to not stress about the process. Our family would like to do some train travel here in the USA that includes an observation car and going through tunnels in the daytime (it’s the little things).  

If you have any questions about taking the Amtrak train to Glacier National Park, are curious about visiting Montana in the fall, or need suggestions for any other time of year visiting Glacier Country, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share more and love getting to help others plan unforgettable trips.


Thursday 14th of January 2021

I can't wait to do this trip with my kids! I am curious though (and this may be a stupid question)- did you rent a car once you arrived? If so, from where? If not, how did you get around? Uber? Shuttles?


Friday 15th of January 2021

That's a very good question. Taking the train to Glacier does mean that you need to rent a car once there. There is transport within the park via tour buses, but outside of the park and to many hiking spots you for sure need your own vehicle. You can rent one in Whitefish or Columbia Falls.

Your name

Tuesday 5th of February 2019

We are also traveling to Glacier by Amtrak and we are wondering what types of public transportation, if any, are available for getting to and from places such as Apgar visitors center to catch the shuttle.? We are looking forward to the the trip and your information was helpful thank you


Tuesday 5th of February 2019

Great question! There is the main park shuttle, which you can walk to, but it's about 30-40 minutes walking from West Glacier Village to the new Apgar Visitors Center. Note, the new Visitors Center is separate from Apgar Village, so if you're planning to walk to the village, that'll take longer. From outside the park in West Glacier, we've heard that there are some Ubers during busy season but haven't seen them ourselves.

J. Hartman

Friday 5th of October 2018

Unless you are in the Accessible Roomette, and stuck downstairs!


Friday 5th of October 2018

I wasn't paying full attention to accessibility options on the train since I was scrambling with kids, but usually we do try to take note of what's well done for accessibility and what's not.

Which route have you done? If you have specific accessibility concerns or suggestions, leave them here in the comments and we'll pass them onto the Amtrak team. Thanks!

Priya Vin

Wednesday 25th of October 2017

Montana and Glacier National Park looks gorgeous. Fall seems like a great time to visit based on your photos. Too bad about train travel is not that popular in the US, it is such a fun and romantic way to travel.

Agness of aTukTuk

Monday 23rd of October 2017

This seems like an ultimate experience and the train seems charming! Thanks a bunch for sharing your amazing experience and motivating me!