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Journeys from a Rail Insider: Yosemite National Park

By Amtrak Vacations Tuesday, July 24, 2018 Read time: 5 minutes

Regardless of the time of year, Yosemite National Park is beautiful - so is taking the train. For those seeking a memorable vacation in any season, visiting this treasured national park is an excellent choice! Visitors from around the world travel here to see the breathtaking natural wonders, including the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, Bridalveil Fall and the views from Glacier Point. Upon entering the park, many people are actually rendered speechless by its wild and sublime grandeur. At least, that's what our Content Marketing Specialist, Jill Wyatt, experienced last November when she went on a FAM (familiarization) trip from Chicago to Yosemite by train with her fellow colleagues. A passionate photographer, Jill found beauty and perspective in every moment—both on and off the train.

Jill in Yosemite with group

Jill (with camera) and her colleagues in Yosemite I

n this edition of Journeys from a Rail Insider, she tells us all about her experience riding aboard Amtrak across the country for the first time, and what it was like having the opportunity to discover some of North America's most impressive natural wonders. Let's just say it was a journey to remember.

Tell us about your experience onboard the train from Chicago to San Francisco (Emeryville Station) to Yosemite onboard the California Zephyr:

I had never taken an overnight train before, so I was excited to get the full experience, from the roomette to the food and, of course, all the views. I was not disappointed! The moment we boarded Amtrak's California Zephyr, and we were greeted by our friendly attendant, I knew it was going to be a relaxing and enjoyable journey. There was plenty of room on the first level to store our extra luggage and we became immediately familiar with the different train cars and our accommodations.

A view of the passing landscape from onboard the train

We spent the first day traveling through the Great Plains, with views for miles. That evening, we made our way to the Dining Car for a delicious meal. We were seated with other passengers, which made for some great stories and conversations. Afterward, we retired to our Roomettes, which were surprisingly cozy and comfortable. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to sleep well, but I had no problem whatsoever falling and staying asleep to the rhythm of the rails. The next day, I feel like I really fell into the slower pace of train travel. We had a short, early morning stop at Union Station Denver, where we were able to get out and stretch our legs. The recently remodeled station is worth checking out! Visit Union Station Denver for more details.

Denver Union Station - Journeys Post

Standing outside of Union Station Denver

Once back onboard, we settled in to witness incredible views throughout Colorado and into Utah. First, the snowy Colorado Rockies, then through dramatic red rock formations and tunnel after tunnel as the train followed the Colorado River. There were literally jaw-dropping views until the sun set in the west. The following day, we arrived into Emeryville Station and took a short coach into San Francisco.

What season did you travel? What was the weather like?

While the weather in Yosemite can be variable any time of the year, in November temperatures were around the mid-40s to mid-50s. It was cool and crisp, so lots of layers are recommended. The first snows typically arrive in late November or early December. This is about the time when tourist season trickles off, meaning much thinner crowds and shorter lines at all the popular attractions. The roads are less busy, too. Autumn is really a wonderful time to visit! The fall foliage throughout Yosemite Valley is photo-worthy, especially the red dogwood, orange oak, and bigleaf maple trees.

Yosemite Valley at cloudy autumn morning

The beautiful fall foliage in Yosemite

What was the best part of this Amtrak Vacations Yosemite trip?

The train experience itself was my favorite part, as that was what made this trip unique and unlike any I’ve ever taken. The opportunity to just unwind, be in the moment, and let my worries slip away was priceless.

What are three things you feel our clients would love about this trip?

ONE: The train experience, complete with breathtaking mountain and desert views.

TWO: Getting to visit and spend some time in two great cities, Chicago and San Francisco.

THREE: Without a doubt, the wonder of Yosemite National Park. The diversity of this Californian region is what makes the landscapes so memorable, including the deep canyons, alpine lakes, glacier-cut valleys and rushing rivers.

Yosemite Tunnel View

Another snapshot depicting just how beautiful Yosemite can be in the fall

Tell us about some of the highlights of your train experience, the cities you visited and Yosemite:

• The meals onboard and getting the chance to meet new friends in the dining car.

• Taking in all the scenic views from the train of landscapes that would otherwise be inaccessible.

• Visiting the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and enjoying cocktails at the iconic Palmer House Hilton.

• I loved taking in the sights of San Francisco, especially Fisherman's Wharf, and taking photos from all the iconic viewpoints throughout the city.

• Everything about Yosemite was a highlight! Seeing the giant Sequoias, walking right up to Yosemite Falls, and the scenic drive into the park - it was all amazing!

Rues san francisco

Memorable San Francisco

Do you have any tips or advice to offer those considering taking this rail journey?

I suggest that you be willing to just slow down and appreciate that the journey is as much of an experience as visiting whatever destination you're traveling to.

Is there anything you’d want customers to know before traveling with Amtrak Vacations to Yosemite National Park?

It was nice to know that everything was all planned out in advance. From the train tickets, to our hotels and sightseeing tour, everything was expertly arranged.

From your experience, not only as an Amtrak Vacations employee but also as a first-time overnight Amtrak traveler, what stood out to you about the overall experience of an Amtrak Vacation?

What really stood out is just how unique and special a vacation by train really is. The ‘slow travel’ experience riding the rails really lets you appreciate the journey, and makes the entire vacation that much better.

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