Hop aboard the California Zephyr! See the Sierra in style!   Leave a comment


Donner Lake from the Zephyr


If you’ve never had the opportunity to take the Amtrak train from the little depot in downtown Truckee to the Bay Area you certainly should. Not for speed mind you, because the train takes six hours to cover what you can drive in three and a half. Nor should you hop aboard if you absolutely, positively, have to be somewhere by a certain time, because the Zephyr is notoriously late, which is understandable since each train reaches Truckee after a three day trip from Chicago. But if you have time on your hands, it’s a relaxing and enjoyable way to experience the Sierra and California. And with the aspen trees about to turn, now’s a great time to catch some fall colors.

The ride begins with a winding roll through Coldstream Canyon, leading to a spectacular view of Donner Lake while traversing the Shallenberger Ridge. Eventually you reach a long tunnel that brings you to the top of Donner Summit, where you begin the long descent through the mountains and foothills to the valley and the coast. The scenery is breathtaking, and takes you to places you just can’t see on the Freeway. You pass raging rivers, shooting ranges in the marshes, and along the Bay between Martinez and Richmond.


IMG_2064 Donner summit

Fall colors on Donner Summit


Taking the train provides an experience that in many ways is better then both a plane or a car. First, you are leaving the driving to someone else. But unlike a plane, you don’t sit sardined into a tiny space, or have to run to the bathroom in between turbulence outbreaks. Instead you have the option of sitting in very comfy chairs with tons of leg room, or making your way to the observation car, where you can sit on top of the world and gaze through the humongous windows or just enjoy the sunshine coming through the class ceiling. And the slower speeds make the train a perfect way to sit back and enjoy the view. Or take a nap. It’s really quite civilized.

The California Zephyr is scheduled to roll into Truckee at 11:30 am each day, and arrives in Emeryville at just after 6 pm. From there, you can catch a bus to San Francisco. Go to amtrak.com for information.

Tim Hauserman wrote the guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail. His latest endeavor, Gertrude’s Tahoe adventures in Time, a children’s book, was just published.




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