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AMTRAK - Empire Builder Train | Montana

Scenic Drive
Amtrak Empire Builder trains along the edge of Glacier National Park. – Courtesy of Amtrak

Driving Directions

The views are best during the spring, summer and fall months.

Book your fall and winter getaway to Whitefish, MT. The beautiful mountains of Whitefish coupled with the welcoming town make this an unforgettable experience and a perfect jumping off point for your Crown of the Continent travel. Book now to save on the Empire Builder.

Bring your binoculars and be sure to get a seat in the viewing car when traveling through the mountains between East and West Glacier.

Points of Interest and Highlights along the Drive

Evening in the 161 room historic Glacier Park Lodge built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1912. It is listed on the National Historic registry.

Further West, the train stops at the beautiful Izaac Walton Inn. In winter there is plenty of snow for cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. When summer rolls around, take advantage of hiking opportunities in Glacier National Park. Fish or raft the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

The ride through the canyon offers spectacular views of Glacier National Park. Watch for wildlife in the river corridor. The next stop is the Belton Station in West Glacier Montana. This is the west entrance to Glacier National Park. Take a look inside the train station where the Glacier Natural History Association book store offers retail items and an abundance of information about Glacier National Park. The whistle blows again farther down the line for the Whitefish Depot, where the Stumptown Historical Society's museum documents the Great Northern's influence on local communities.

Route Description

Traveling daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak's Empire Builder provides the perfect way to experience the rugged splendor of the American West. By taking the train, you can reduce your carbon footprint to approximately 1/10 the emissions produced by flying.

The mighty Empire Builder takes you on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers. From Chicago, you'll have magnificent views of the Mississippi and see the glowing night skyline of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Awake the next morning as you cross the North Dakota plains and travel over the spectacular Gassman Coulee Trestle. Skirting the Missouri, you'll cross into the Big Sky country in Montana. As you pass Glacier National Park the panoramic windows of the Sightseer Lounge make for the best seats in the house. You gotta give credit to Amtrak: the Empire Builder is timed so that travelers can see Glacier in the best possible light --both coming and going.

Just a few generations ago, the route of the Empire Builder was wilderness, roamed by Indians and buffalo. Later, it was visited by fur traders and gold miners. And still later, it was developed by merchants, timberman, farmers and -- most dramatically -- by railroads.

In this northern plains country, the greatest railroader of all was James J. Hill, a freewheeling, big-dealing tycoon who linked St. Paul and Seattle with his Great Northern Railway. He acquired the land, built the tracks and even encouraged home-steading along the route. In the process, "Empire Builder" Hill came to govern the fate and fortunes of a good part of this powerfully beautiful area.

The original Empire Builder was inaugurated by the Great Northern on June 11, 1929. The service was altered to carry additional passengers during World War II. After the war, new streamlined, diesel-powered trains were placed into service. This postwar service began on February 23, 1947. The train was fully re-equipped again in 1951.

The schedule of the route was optimized to allow riders views of the passing Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountain landscapes of Glacier National Park, a park that was established through the decisive lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. After it was re-equipped in the 1950's passengers viewed the route through its three dome coaches and one full-length "Great Dome" car for first class passengers. The train was named in honor of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, who reorganized several failing railroads into the Great Northern Railway and extended the line to the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century.

Since its inception service has run from Chicago to Spokane, and split into Seattle and Portland sections (except during the Amtrak era between 1971 and 1981, when there was no Portland section). Prior to 1971, the Chicago to St. Paul leg of the train's route was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad via its mainline along the Mississippi River through Wisconsin. The Spokane-Portland section of the train was historically operated by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.

After 1971 Amtrak assumed operation of the train and shifted the Chicago to St. Paul leg to the Milwaukee Road mainline route through Milwaukee.