All Aboard for Montana: A Day Trip on Amtrak’s Empire Builder

Not to toot my own horn, but I think I do a pretty good job of taking advantage of the offerings that are found in my Montana backyard. Except, I don’t always try everything that I wish I would. Take for example Amtrak’s Empire Builder line. It runs between Chicago and Seattle and passes through Montana’s northern tier two times per day, making stops in Libby, Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex, East Glacier Park, Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby and Havre.

Amtrak's Empire Builder traveling the tracks near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak

Amtrak’s Empire Builder traveling the tracks near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak

Ready for the truth?

Here it comes: the last time I rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder I was six years old and on a first grade field trip when we rode the train from Shelby, Montana to East Glacier Park, Montana which—by the way—I thought was so awesome. And since I haven’t been six years old for a few years, it seemed like it was time that I got back in the train-lovin’ saddle and took a ride through my own backyard. So I grabbed one of my favorite traveling companions and we climbed aboard the Empire Builder. And you guys, it was pretty fun.

Take a look…

Our starting point: Whitefish, Montana.

Our starting point: Whitefish, Montana.

Waiting for the train to come in.

Waiting for the train to come in.

Here's our ride.

Here’s our ride.

Making our way to our seats.

Making our way to our seats.

Fall colors were starting to arrive along the river.

Fall colors were starting to arrive along the river.

Loved this view looking back west out of the train.

Loved this view looking back west out of the train.

Something I learned on this trip: it's really hard to get good photos from the inside of a train car looking out.

Something I learned on this trip: it’s really hard to get good photos from the inside of a train car looking out. 😉

The observation car was my favorite spot on the train.

My favorite spot on the train: the observation car.

Making friends with a National Park volunteer in the observation car.

Making friends with a National Park volunteer in the observation car.

Hello, gorgeous.

Hello, gorgeous.

Coming down off Marias Pass, you're rewarded with this view.

Coming down off Marias Pass, we were rewarded with this view.

Entering the Blackfeet Nation. Traveling from west to east, you abruptly notice the change in Montana's topography as you hit the plains.

Entering the Blackfeet Nation. Traveling from west to east, you abruptly notice the change in Montana’s topography as you hit the plains.

Arriving at our destination: East Glacier Park, Montana.

Arriving at our destination: East Glacier Park, Montana.

The train station at East Glacier Park.

The train station at East Glacier Park.

Displays from the Blackfeet Nation inside the train depot at East Glacier Park.

Displays from the Blackfeet Nation inside the train depot at East Glacier Park.

It's official: we love train travel in Montana.

It’s official: we love train travel in Montana.

A few things to note when riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder to (or through) Montana:
-Go with the flow. Trains aren’t known for always operating on time; our eastbound train was 90 minutes late, but I’ve found that when doing a trip like this where things can tend to run behind, it’s easier to just roll with it. You’ll be happier and pleasantly surprised when it’s on time.
-If you can, snag a seat in the observation car. During the late spring, summer and fall, Amtrak’s Trails & Rails program has volunteers from the National Park Service on the train who offer interpretive commentary from Seattle, Washington to Shelby, Montana.
-You can get the best pictures by placing your camera as close to the window as possible (thanks to NPS guides who shared that insider tip!).
-If you’re getting on or off in Whitefish, West Glacier or East Glacier Park, plan to arrive early so you can check out the train stations. The Whitefish station has an on-site museum, while East Glacier Park has interesting and historic photos from the early time of train travel to the area.
-Don’t be afraid to ask the conductors questions about the train, best views, etc. They literally know everything there is to know and are incredibly nice.

xo,
TT

9 thoughts on “All Aboard for Montana: A Day Trip on Amtrak’s Empire Builder

  1. Kitty Manscill

    Over 50 years ago, my daughter was a Brownie Girl Scout, we took the troop from West Glacier to Whitefish on the train. It was an exciting and memorable trip for little girls who had not ridden the train before.

    Reply
    1. tiatroy Post author

      Hi Diane, Yes! We jumped the evening train back to Whitefish at about 6:40 p.m. the same night. It was awesome. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Diana Snell

    Took the Empire Builders from Chicago to Seattle several years ago. Great trip, 46 hours of a long, skinny cruise. Great food and wonderful people along the way. Checked one more off the bucket list
    PS: Montana was beautiful and the train was full of boy scouts heading to Glacier.

    Reply
  3. Bob Sherazi

    Hi Tia,

    Great read & loved your pics. too.
    We travelled on the Westbound Empire Builder, breaking our trip in Whitefish, only a couple of weeks back.
    But it looked like you had the best of clear skies & weather though. Sadly we mostly encountered low cloud, rain & a little sleet when we passed through & stopped off in Glacier park.
    Did you hire a vehicle to travel around Glacier park? As I’m told that the park’s shuttle buses don’t run outside of the Summer season.
    Look forward to reading more of your adventures.
    Best regards.

    Reply
    1. tiatroy Post author

      Hi Bob! I’m sorry you had not ideal weather while you were here, that’s a bummer. 🙁 We did rent a car in East Glacier Park and headed into the park from there. It was a gorgeous day and the car rental was across the street from the Amtrak station, so it was really easy. Check out my latest post for a look at how we did that: http://www.glaciermt.com/blog. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Nadine Robertson

    Since 2004, my parents once a year take this train from Wisconsin to Malta, MT where I pick them up. They have met many wonderful people including making friends with one conductor, love all the scenery going by whether it’s in a city or out in the country & have waited through situations like train tracks flooded, a car on the tracks, stops out in the middle of a field. They love the ease of the ride especially in winter & all that goes on in the train.

    Reply

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