A train journey can take you where you need to go and show you the USA on the way there.
A train journey can take you where you need to go and show you the USA on the way there. Phil Schermeister/Corbis

Rumbling through glittering cities and slipping past slumbering small towns, Amtrak trains offer scenic thrills just outside your picture window — revealing both the majesty of the American landscape and glimpses into the nation's storied heartland. For many, the roomy, comfortable trains are a convenient alternative to driving or flying. Here are some of the company's most celebrated train journeys.

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1. The Empire Builder

Traversing a breathtaking range of landscapes, the Empire Builder chugs between Seattle (or Portland, Oregon) and Chicago just as it has since its inaugural ride in 1929. The 46-hour train journey takes you to the Columbia River Gorge, Montana's Big Sky Country, Glacier National Park, rolling stretches of Midwestern prairie and vast swathes of farmland punctuated by sleepy farm communities. It's a big slice of scenic Americana. In summer, along certain stretches of the route, National Park Service rangers from nearby historic sites climb aboard for informal talks.

2. The Coast Starlight

This popular, 1,377-mile, 35-hour train journey makes its daily run between Los Angeles and Seattle — past verdant valleys, the snowcapped Cascade Range and the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you can dine on real china at tables draped in fine linen. Tastings of California wines and artisanal cheeses are available in the Pacific Parlour Car, and the Arcade Room keeps youngsters occupied with video games. Along certain stretches of the route, National Park Service rangers from the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park climb aboard for informal discussions of the region's gold heritage.

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3. The City of New Orleans

Musician Steve Goodman made this nightly Mississippi River meander famous in the song "City of New Orleans." It's a 926-mile, 19-hour daily rumble between Chicago and New Orleans, making a midpoint stopover in bluesy Memphis, Tennessee — linking three of America's most famous music cities. In addition to its trek through Illinois farmland, this train journey is a real Southern sojourn, crossing Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. In spring, frothy pink and white azaleas brighten the landscape.

In bayou country, keep an eye out for lavender water lilies, slender egrets and the occasional gator snoozing on the riverbank. You can even dine on a bayou-inspired meal in the train's Cross Country Café, whose menu features corn-crusted Louisiana catfish and spicy crab and corn soup.