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This Scenic San Francisco Train Will Take You to a Winter Wonderland

Written by Han LiPublished Dec. 07, 2022 • 6:00am
Seen through the train windows, the trees on the Sierra Nevada mountains are covered by snow in early December 2022. | Han Li/The Standard

A blustery San Francisco winter won’t bring you snow-covered landscapes, but you can take a train to see it.

The California Zephyr, a storied Amtrak train line connecting the Bay Area to Chicago, is well known for its stunning scenic views along the way back east.

In the winter months, within a short few hours, San Francisco passengers can find themselves immersed in a wondrous snowy world as the train steams through the Sierra Nevada mountains from the Golden State to the Silver State and beyond.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr crosses through the Sierra Nevada mountains in early December 2022. | Han Li/The Standard

For a relatively quick trip to wintertime, a roundtrip ticket to Reno is your best option for a seven-hour journey—complete with floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge train to drink in those breathtaking landscapes.

It’s very affordable too, with recent round-trip tickets booked by The Standard for one passenger from San Francisco to Reno coming in at $86.

How You Can Take the Train to Winter

Amtrak’s California Zephyr crosses through the Sierra Nevada mountains in early December 2022. | Han Li/The Standard

First, why are you heading east? The train will stop at some major cities like Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City, Denver and Omaha if you want to go visit them. The total ride to Chicago is about 50 hours. 

Second, the train actually departs from Emeryville in the East Bay (close enough!) every morning at around 9 a.m. 

Amtrak also offers shuttle bus services from San Francisco and Oakland to Emeryville via Thruway. 

Emeryville station is a few miles from multiple East Bay BART stations, so plan your trip accordingly. From MacArthur BART, you can take the free Emery Go-Round shuttle to the Amtrak station on weekdays.

Heavy snow storm hits the Sierra Nevada mountains in early December 2022. | Han Li/The Standard

Book the ticket, take the ride.

“Experienced travelers say the California Zephyr is one of the most beautiful train trips in all of North America,” reads the first sentence on the California Zephyr’s webpage. Click “Book Now” on the upper right side, type in your destination and choose the California Zephyr ride. 

Don’t worry about the cold, it’s a cozy ride. 

Standard reporter Han Li rides Amtrak’s California Zephyr through the Sierra Nevada mountains in early December 2022. | Courtesy Han Li

The double-decker train has coach seats and carriages with plenty of room to move around in, sleeping rooms for intrepid travelers to the Midwest, a cafe and, most importantly, a lounge room with big windows for your viewing pleasure. 

Not to mention a heating system that will keep you toasty while snowflakes flurry by.

Han Li can be reached at

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