Besides riding trains, I enjoy watching them too. Going to Chicago to watch trains is fun and a great adventure.
On a beautiful July day in 2016, I rode Amtrak’s Hiawatha from Sturtevant, WI, to Chicago, IL, a trip I have often done.
While I didn’t have a solid plan for the day, I made up my mind while traveling the 63 miles down to Chicago to watch passenger trains roll in and out of Chicago Union Station.
Chicago’s Roosevelt Rd Bridge to see Amtrak and BNSF Metra rail yards
Roosevelt Road Bridge is a mile south of Chicago Union Station and is walkable from the station.
The other choice is you could ride the bus there. This bridge can offer an elevated view of Amtrak’s coach yard and BNSF Metra’s yards. Private rail cars are often in storage that is visible from the bridge.
Many trains, including Amtrak’s long-distance and regional railroads, travel through this area daily, plus BNSF Metra trains. Walking further east, you can view the Rock Island Metra trains in and out of the LaSalle St Station. Additionally, the CTA “L” area is also observable from this area.
Besides watching trains depart and return to Chicago Union Station, often train sets are being built or taken apart. Amtrak and Metra have train washes in the area; Metra’s near Whole Foods, and Amtrak’s is south of the bridge and the last building on the right (facing south).
Roosevelt Rd Bridge is a well-known area for watching passenger trains. This bridge is a reasonably safe area for bringing kids, but be aware of your surroundings like in any big city. Occasionally panhandlers are usually closer to the S. Canal St corner and don’t bother you much.
Watching trains is fun for the young and the young at heart. If you plan on hanging out for a while, there are several places to get food or drink, such as Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Portillo’s, and a few local spots.
When to visit Chicago to watch trains
Weekday morning and evening rushes are the best bet to get the most activity, but weekends and afternoons work well if you have the time. The first Amtrak train leaves at 7:00 am, the Lincon Service and the long-distance trains start at 1:45 pm, and another at 2 pm. The first train to return is the Capitol Limited around 8:45. Metra arrives around 5:30 am and leaves around 6:30 am.
Having a few timetables downloaded on your phone and this page can help you figure out when trains are arriving or leaving. The morning and evening rush hours are the best times to catch more trains.
Why go to Chicago to watch trains?
Day trips are fun because you get a walk-in, possibly new Instagram or Facebook photos (if that is your thing), memories, and fun hanging out with others in watch trains.
If you are in the greater Chicago area, Amtrak or Metra trains can transport you into Chicago (depending on your location) and make your trip more exciting and fun, especially if you bring your kids along. Taking the train makes the adventure unique for them. Plus, parking is expensive, but there is parking by Whole Foods if you drive.
If you have a layover at Chicago Union Station, this could be a fun way to spend your time. Make sure you are back in time. If you lose track of time, you could watch your train leave without you.
Things you need for this trip
- Camera or smartphone with a camera
- Good walking shoes
- Clothing that is right for the weather
- Water and snacks
- Spending money
- Train tickets if arriving by train
- CTA card if you take the bus (available at Union Station)
- Uber or Lyft app if you want
An address for a map app: 327 W Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL
Day trips like this are fun solo trips and a great bonding time for you and a friend or the kids. You want to ensure that your kids are old enough to walk there and back or that they can ride the bus.
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