Five Great American Train Trips

Amtrak's large, shiny trains run to all major American cities and pass through the country's most beautiful landscape. Their harsh charm distinguishes them from the more common means of transport, although it may not be the quickest way to get around, ideal for sightseeing. You can choose your companions, read a book, let your thoughts develop, sleep horizontally, and generally enjoy most of the comfort of your home. It's much more fun than being isolated above the clouds or driving through endless highway billboards.

Amtrak operates almost all US passenger trains and the most pleasant sightseeing routes include:

California Zephyr is one of the largest trains in the world, departing from Chicago to San Francisco through the American heart and high plains of Colorado, then climbing the Oregon Trail to the Rockies. The pioneers came in this way, as did the gold explorers, the pony express and the first continental telegraph. After Salt Lake City you cross Bonneville Salt Flats and beautiful but dangerous Sierra Nevada.

The epic Sunset Limited takes you from coast to coast from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The train will make a dizzy crossing of the Mississippi River on the Huey P Long Bridge in Crescent City before it travels between bays, white herons, alligators, houses and sugar cane fields. After San Antonio joins the Rio Grande and takes a day on crossing the sagebrush and mesquite prairie of Texas.

The Southwest boss travels between Chicago and the Pacific, watching the part of the Santa Fe Trail first used by Native Americans, Spanish conquerors, train cars and coaches. Cross the Mojave Desert and walk through the famous Boot Hill burial site in Dodge City. From Williams, Arizona, you can travel by train to the Grand Canyon.

Crescent crosses New York to New Orleans through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the idyllic Shenandoah National Park with dogwood and cedar trees. Beyond Atlantis lie the sleepy southern towns with picturesque department stores and sun-bleached houses. The train also makes a dramatic junction of Pontchartrain Lake, skimming a few meters above the water at the six-mile dam.

The Coast Starlight operates between Seattle and Los Angeles through Washington, Oregon and California. It passes through some of America's highest mountains, such as Mt Hood, as well as the emerald forests and Twin Peaks waterfalls. Outside San Luis Obispo, the trail runs high on the cliffs with stunning views of the Pacific surf and beaches.