Chicago: a day trip with trains

by Kev

A day trip to Chicago

On a beautiful July day in 2016, I rode Amtrak’s Hiawatha from Sturtevant, WI to Chicago, IL, a trip I have done many times before.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha at the Sturtevant, WI, stop

While I didn’t have a solid plan for the day, I made up my mind while traveling the 63 miles down to Chicago. I decided to watch passenger trains roll in and out of Chicago Union Station.

Chicago’s Roosevelt Rd Bridge and Amtrak and BNSF Metra rail yards

Roosevelt Road Bridge is a mile south of Chicago Union Station that you can either walk or take a bus to get there. From this bridge, you can get an elevated view of Amtrak’s coach yard and BNSF Metra’s yards. Often there are private rail cars in storage that are visible from the bridge.

Many trains travel through this area daily, including Amtrak’s long-distance and regional railroads and BNSF Metra trains. If you walk a little further east, you can view the Metra trains that use the LaSalle St Station. The CTA “L” can be observed in this area as well.

A view from Roosevelt Rd Bridge

Besides watching trains depart and return to Chicago Union Station, often train sets are being built or taken apart. Amtrak and Metra both have train washes in the area, Metra’s in 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 you to bring kids, but like any big city, be aware of your surroundings. Occasionally there are panhandlers, but they usually are closer to the S. Canal St corner and don’t bother you much.

Watching trains is a fun activity 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 dink such as Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Portillo’s, and a few local spots.

When to visit 

To get the most activity the weekday morning and evening rushes are your best bet, but weekends and afternoons work well too.  The first Amtrak train leaves at 7:00 am, the Lincon Service and the long=distiance trains start at 1:45 pm and another at 2 pm.  The first train to return is the Capitol Limited around 8:45.  Metra starts arriving around 5:30 am and leaving 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. During the morning and evening rush hours are the best times to catch more trains.

Why go?

Day trips like are fun because you get a nice walk in, and possibly some new Instagram or Facebook photos (if that is your thing), and memories, and fun to hang out others into watching trains.

If you are in the greater Chicago area, Amtrak or Metra trains could bring you into Chicago (depending on your location( and make your trip more interested and fun, especially if you bring your kids. Taking the train always makes it a unique journey 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

Optional needs

  • 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, but also are a great bonding time for you and a friend or the kids. You do want to make sure that your kids are old enough to walk there and back or that they can ride the bus.

If you are interested in learning about other trip suggestions, please sign up for the newsletter/email list to keep up with all the new of Travels With Kev.

Plan your next day trips soon!

Safe Travels!





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