Amtrak California Zephyr title card
Amtrak California Zephyr

The Amtrak California Zephyr: A new passenger’s guide

The Amtrak California Zephyr travels daily between Chicago, IL, and Emeryville, CA, with connecting services to San Fransico and Oakland. The train has several intermediate stops, including Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City. The train travels 2438 miles from end to end, taking around 52 hours.

A quick look at Amtrak’s California Zephyr

  • Train number 5 goes west, and number 6 goes east.
  • Accommodations on this train include
  • Food on the Zephyr
    • There is a cafe car open to all
      • It closed at night and for breaks.
      • It is located on the lower level of the Sightseer lounge car.
    • The dining car offers traditional dining.
      • Free for sleeper car passengers
      • Flat fee for coach passengers
        • Limited reservations are available for coach passengers.
  • This train does not have Wi-Fi.
  • Checked baggage is available between some stops
  • Get the California Zephyr schedule.

If you only take one Amtrak train, this is the one you should take; it is one of my favorites!

Travels with Kev Podcast on the Amtrak Californa Zephyr

What can you see while aboard the Californa Zephyr?

The Californa Zephyr uses tracks owned by the host railroads BNSF and Union Pacific (UP) as it crosses the country, but Amtrak does own the tracks around Chicago Union Stations.

The scenery on this train is different every day you are on it, from small midwest towns with agriculture and small manufacturing to the lights of several large communities like Chicago, Denver, Omaha, and more.

The train follows the Colorado River for miles as you go through the Rockies and then many tunnels along the route. As you travel, you will see the High Searias and beautiful sections of Califonia.

If you take this train at the right time, you can recreate the song of America: the Beautiful, spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountains, and more!

While going through the Rockies is breathtaking, I love traveling through the beauty of Utah. Check out this map to see the train’s day and night sections!

California Zephyr’s on-time performance & host railroads

The Californa Zephyr uses tracks owned by the host railroads BNSF and Union Pacific (UP) as it crosses the country, but Amtrak does own the tracks around Chicago Union Stations.

  • From January 2023-2024, the Amtrak California Zephyr had an average station-on-time performance of 31.6% with an average delay of 138 minutes.
  • The primary cause of delays by the host railroads:
    • BNSF: Freight train interference and slow order delays
    • UP: Freight train interference and passenger train interference

Information from Amtrak Host Railroad Report January 2024.

Accommodations For The California Zephyr

Amtrak’s California Zephyr offers a few different types of accommodation to reserve for your next trip. P

Coach Seating

The Zephyr offers coach seating features:

  • Comfortable reclining seats
  • Ample legroom
  • A fold-down tray
  • Seat back pocket
  • Individual reading lights
  • 120v grounded (three-prong) electric outlets under the window.
  • Foot and leg rest.
  • There is an above-seat luggage shelf and a baggage rack on the lower level.
  • You will also find the restrooms on the lower level of the cars.
  • Upper and lower-level seating is offered.
    • Often, the lower-level seats are for those who have issues with stairs.

California Zephyr coach car layout.

Sleeping accommodations on the California Zephyr

All rooms include:

  • Fresh linens and towels
  • Traditional Dining
  • Lounge access in Chicago
  • Dedicated car attendant
  • Room lights, plus reading and night lights.
  • Closet or hook to hang things, and Amtrak provides hangers!
  • Seating by day and beds by night
  • Cup holders and a table with a checkered board
    • Bring your checkers or chess pieces.

Room types offered on the California Zephyr

California Zephyer Sleeptin car layout

In most cases, this is the car you will have, but sometimes there is a transdorm car with all roomettes on the upper level. Typically, Amtrak runs the bedroom side forward in the direction of travel, but that can change anytime.

Luggage

When you travel on the California Zephyr, you can take advantage of Amtrak’s generous carry-on policy or, in some cases, check bags.

California Zephyr Carry-on

Each passenger may carry on:

  • One personal item, 25 lbs. (12 kg) and 14 x 11 x 7 inches, and 
  • Two carry-on pieces of luggage, 50 lbs. (23 kg) and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each
  • If you transfer to the Pacific Surfliner at some point along your journey, the baggage size for that train is up to 28 x 22 x 11 inches each. 

Charges apply for additional and oversized luggage; check out Amtrak’s carry-on bag policy for more information.

Checked bag rules

Not all locations can handle checked baggage; your first and last stations must offer this service.

  • Amtrak allows two bags up to 50 lbs. Seventy-five linear inches are per person for free.
  • Charges apply for additional and oversized luggage, up to four bags total.

Add-ons Bikes And Pets

This train allows a few paid add-ons to bring your ride or furry family.

Bringing your bike

  • There is space on the train for standard, full-size bicycles
    • Up to 50 lbs, 70 inches x 41 inches x 8.5 inches.
  • Amtrak stores bikes in designated bike racks/areas inside the baggage car.
  • For more information, please check out Amtrak’s bike policy.

Bring your pets with you.

  • Amtrak allows dogs and cats.
    • Up to 20 pounds combined weight of pet and carrier
    • For trips up to seven hours.
    • Paperwork is needed to be filled out before leaving for the station.
    • Get the paperwork and learn more about Amtrak’s pet policy.

Other useful information

Here are the answers to a few other questions I get.

Accessibility on the California Zephyr

A wheelchair ramp is available to assist passengers with a wheeled mobility device in boarding and detraining. There is accessible seating on the lower level of coach cars and rooms on this train.

Wi-Fi

There is no Wi-Fi on this train, and there will be sections of the route where you will not have cell service.

Food Offerings On The California Zephyr

This train has two food cars; find your options for this train!

The Califonia Zephyr Cafe Car

  • The cafe is on the lower level of the Sightseer Lounge,
  • It sells a variety of meals, snacks, and beverages
  • Open for all customers from early morning until late at night.

To see a sample menu, check out the button below and look for the National Cafe car menu.

California Zephyr Dining Car

Sleeper passengers and limited coach passengers can enjoy themselves in the dining car!

  • The California Zephyr offers traditional dining.
    • Meals are chef-prepared meals with table service.
    • Meaks offered breakfast, lunch, and a three-course dinner with selections for kids.
    • Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages.
    • Your first drink at dinner is on Amtrak!
  • In this car, you can purchase a wide array of wine, beer, and spirits to accompany your meal or for later in your room.

Sleeping passengers can have meals brought to their rooms if needed. The meals are complimentary for customers with sleeping accommodations or at set prices for coach passengers. Amtrak can limit seating for coach passengers.

DIRECTIONCITY SECTIONSDAYS OF TRAVELMEALS OFFERED
#5 WestboundChicago, IL- Omaha, NE1st daydinner
Lincoln, NE – Salt Lake City, UT2nd daybreakfast, lunch, & dinner
Elko, NV – Emeryville, CA3rd daybreakfast & lunch
#6 EastboundEmeryville, CA – Elko, NV1st daylunch & dinner
Salt Lake City, UT – McCook, NE2nd daybreakfast, lunch, & dinner
Holdrege, NE – Chicago, IL3rd daybreakfast & lunch

Amtrak California Zephyr Schedule

If you want to print out the Amtrak California Zephyr Schedule, there is one below, or you can print an Amtrak Schedule or custom schedule yourself!

Train 5
Westbound
Communities Served
By the California Zephyr
Train 6
Eastbound
Read DownDaily TrainMilesLast Stop
2:00pChicago, IL
Union Station (CHI) (CT)
02:50p
2:34p RNaperville, IL (NPV)
BNSF Metra Line
281:53p D
3:44pPrinceton, IL (PCT)10412:33p D
4:38pGalesburg, IL (GBB)*
S. Seminary St.
16211:41a D
5:25pBurlington, IA (BRL)20510:36a
5:59pMt. Pleasant, IA (MTP)2339:54a
6:53pOttumwa, IA (OTM)2799:00a | 9:09a
8:09pOsceola, IA (OSC) (Des Moines)3597:40a
8:41pCreston, IA (CRN)3927:04a
10:55p | 11:05pOmaha, NE (OMA)5004:59a | 5:14a
12:08a | 12:14aLincoln, NE (LNK)5553:20a | 3:26a
1:47aHastings, NE (HAS)
(Grand Island)
6521:42a
2:34aHoldrege, NE (HLD)70612:54a
3:43aMcCook, NE (MCK)78311:49p
5:05aFort Morgan, CO (FMG)
(Sterling)
9608:25p
7:15a | 8:05aDenver, CO
Union Station (DEN)*
10386:38p | 7:10p
10:07aFraser-Winter Park, CO (WIP)11003:50p
10:37aGranby, CO (GRA)
(Rocky Mt National Park)
11133:12p
1:46p | 1:53pGlenwood Springs, CO (GSC)
(Aspen)
122312:04p | 12:10p
3:57p | 4:10pGrand Junction, CO (GJT)131110:11a | 10:23a
5:58pGreen River, UT (GRI)14177:59a
7:20pHelper, UT (HER) (Price)14886:37a
9:26pProvo, UT (PRO)15634:35a
11:05p | 11:30pSalt Lake City, UT
Amtrak Station (SLC)* (MT)
16083:05a | 3:30a
3:03aElko, NV (ELK) (PT)18719:31p
5:40aWinnemucca, NV (WNN)20137:08p
8:25a | 8:36aReno, NV (RNO)22023:56p | 4:06p
9:37aTruckee, CA (TRU) (Lake Tahoe)22372:28p
11:48aColfax, CA (COX)230112:21p
12:57p DRoseville, CA (RSV)233611:35a
2:13p | 2:25p
D
Sacramento, CA
Sacramento Valley Station (SAC)
235310:58a | 11:09a
2:46p DDavis, CA (DAV)236710:36a
3:26p | 3:32p
+D
Martinez, CA (MTZ)
(San Joaquins Trains)
24119:54a
3:59p DRichmond, CA (RIC)24309:22a
4:10p DEmeryville, CA (EMY)24389:10a
Last StopTransefer between train and busMilesRead Up
4:25pEmeryville, CA (EMY)*
San Fransico Bus Transfer
08:30a
5:00pSan Fransico, CA
-Chase Plaza Curbside Stop
28:00a
Last StopStationsMilesRead Up
‘Use this chart as a guide and check with Amtrak for any time corrections they may cause.

Abbreviations

Yellow = bus connection

R = Receive passengers only; this means you can board the train, but you cannot buy a ticket on this train to this station.

D = Depart only; you can buy a ticket to this station but not from this station.

* = Stations with Amtrak Connecting Services.

Printable California Zephyr Schedule

You can use the button below to print out the Califonia Zephyr schedule or get the latest from Amtrak.com. You can even print out customs schedules that include other transportation on your Amtrak ticket! Learn how to print route or customs Amtrak schedules here!

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Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Valerie

    Hey Kev I love your stuff. Can you help me find out how I know which station is a stop that you can get off the train for a bit?

    1. Here is a list of most stops where you can get off the train; sometimes there are more, and sometimes these stops get abridged.
      Galesburg, IL; Ottumwa, IA; Omaha, NE; Dever, CO; Frasier, CO; Glennwood Springs, CO; Grand Junction, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; Winnemucca, NV; Reno, NV; Sacramento. CA.

      1. Valerie

        Thanks Kev!

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