The California Zephyr is a daily long-distance Amtrak train connecting downtown Chicago to the San Francisco Bay area (Emeryville, near Oakland). The journey takes about 51 hours, longer if delays occur along the route. Equipment used is common to most Amtrak long-distance routes, with two-level Superliner passenger cars, sleeper cars, dining cars, an observation/snack bar car, and possibly several baggage/expedited cargo cars.
The California Zephyr begins its westbound journey at Chicago's Union Station . Passengers see the Chicago River and central Chicago as the train eases out of the station. The train soon leaves the urban zone behind, and crosses the open prairie of central Illinois, southern Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado. The following morning, the train pulls into Denver's Union Station .
After Denver, the California Zephyr climbs the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, passing through resort towns like Winter Park and Glenwood Springs as it follows the path of the Colorado River. Soon, the East- and West-bound trains pass each other, high in the mountains. The train continues following the increasingly-larger Colorado River, leaving the Rockies behind. The train crosses into Utah after sunset, and stops in Salt Lake City (typically before Midnight).
The bulk of the night passes as the train clears the salt flats west of Salt Lake City before entering the Great Basin of northern Nevada. In the late morning, the train arrives in Reno, gateway to the Sierra Nevadas. Early afternoon of day three, the train goes through the extraordinary scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains, gradually descending to Sacramento. A couple of hours later (approximately 6:00 PM) the California Zephyr arrives in Emeryville.
Passengers continuing on to San Francisco can use an Amtrak-provided bus or connect to public transit (AC Transit busses or BART commuter rail) out of Oakland via a free shuttle out of Emeryville.
The California Zephyr is timed so passengers will see the most-scenic points of the Sierras and Rockies, regardless of direction traveled.
There are varieties of pricing options available depending on the distance traveled, with group discounts available.
Alternatively a frequent traveler can purchase a "USA Rail Pass" in 15, 30, and 45 day increments for $389.00, $579.00, and $749.00 respectively. Take note that these prices are for an adult (16+) and are dated 9/17/2010. Prices change every year, so it is advised to visit the Zephyr website.