Train travel from Vancouver to Seattle, Portland, is all about the scenery
There are some good alternatives to driving—and long border lineups—if you’re heading down to Seattle or Portland, including the new BoltBus and the Amtrak Cascades train. I recently took the train to Portland as a guest of Amtrak, and as the following photos will show you, the scenery on the train route makes the I-5 look like…well, the I-5.
While the future of the Amtrak Cascades route was up in the air in 2010, it’s now operating indefinitely as a daily round-trip route between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, B.C., stopping in Seattle and points along the way.
Below, Carolyn Ali photos.
Seats are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis when you line up for a boarding pass at the station (even if you have an e-ticket). If you’re travelling for the views, make sure you arrive at the station very early and ask for a seat on the water side of the train. That’s the right side going south, and the left side going north. Most seats face forward, but there are several pairs that face each other, which are usually allotted to foursomes. If it’s important that you don’t face backward, tell the person assigning your seat.
Some of the best views come early in the trip, from White Rock down past Bellingham, where the train hugs the water for large sections before it disappears through trees.
The next section, through to Mount Vernon, is also beautiful in a different way as the fields of the Skagit Valley flash by, complete with red barns and roaming cows. (If you’re travelling by highway, you’ll see this section by road, too.)
Further along, near Everett and Edmonds, the train traces the coast again. This section has some fantastic views of the ocean, including the Edmonds ferry crossing.
If you get hungry, the dining car offers light meals including sandwiches and Ivar’s clam chowder, as well as a small selection of wine and microbrews. It also offers coffee and muffins and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, which is convenient since the train leaves Vancouver at 6:40 a.m.
If you didn’t snag a seat on the water side of the train, you can always head to the dining car or the adjacent seating car to take in the views. There's free wifi throughout the train and table trays and power outlets at your seat for laptops.
For those continuing on to Portland, the train makes a short stop in Seattle where you can stretch your legs, but there’s not enough time to leave the station. There’s more nice scenery to come past Tacoma when the train hugs the water again near Olympia.
The 513 Cascades train to Portland departs Vancouver daily at 6:40 a.m. and arrives in Seattle at 11:05 a.m., about four-and-a-half hours later. The full trip to Portland takes just over 8 hours, arriving at 2:55 p.m.
Returning from Portland, the 516 Cascades leaves daily at 2:50 p.m. It departs Seattle at 6:50 p.m., and arrives back in Vancouver B.C. at 10:50 p.m.
Southbound, passengers go through border formalities before they board the train in Vancouver. Northbound, passengers clear customs on arrival in Vancouver. Remember that you need a valid passport or B.C. enhanced drivers’ license to cross the border by rail.
Prices fluctuate like airline prices, based in demand, but in general, the earlier you book the cheaper the ticket will be. A one-way coach fare from Vancouver to Seattle ranges from $39 to $68. From Vancouver to Portland, a one-way fare ranges from $60 to $104. Children aged 2 to 15 go for half price.
Each train has a bicycle rack that can accommodate six bikes, although Amtrak is working on installing more. Book early to reserve a bike spot, which costs an extra $5. If all the spots are taken, you can check your bike as luggage, but it must be boxed up.
For more information or to book, see Amtrak Cascades.
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