October 21, 2017

Amtrak train to Whitefish, Montana

Amtrak train station in Whitefish, Montana

Do you live somewhat close to Whitefish, Montana, but don’t want to take a plane or drive on the snow-covered roads in the winter?  You should consider taking the Amtrak Train to get to Whitefish, Montana!!

I consider myself extremely knowledgeable about the Amtrak train system.  I attended law school at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, while my husband was living in Whitefish, Montana.  I only had classes 3 days a week, so let’s just say I took the train home “a few times” to see him!   On the route from Portland, Oregon, to Whitefish, Montana, the train leaves in the late afternoon, heads into Washington, and then follows the Columbia River through southern Washington, and heads up through Spokane, Washington, and arrives in Whitefish the following morning.

The unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) thing, is that coming from the east or the west, you arrive in the dark, so you won’t see much of the beautiful Rocky Mountains as you roll into Whitefish.  This is great coming from the West, because if you wake up just before the train arrives around 7am, you will be awake as it comes around Whitefish Lake (literally, right next to the lake!), and get to see the rising steam and Whitefish Mountain Resort.  Also, coming from the west, you will be able to take the train overnight, which saves travel time!  This is what I loved about taking the train to and from Portland (and Seattle).

If you come from eastern Montana (depending on the time of the year and how long the days are), during the winter, you won’t see the mountains as you arrive in the dark around 9pm.  But then when you leave headed east, you will travel during the day and the train will take you right through the Rocky Mountains along Glacier National Park, and then to the plains of the east side of the state.  What a spectacular way to travel, winding through the mountains along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

The Amtrak station stop is right in downtown Whitefish.  It is just a walk across a small park and you are in the stores, restaurants, and bars.  This makes it a great way to travel.  Just grab your bag and go!  Most Whitefish hotels have a shuttle that will pick you up from the station, and car rental companies will come pick you up and take you back to their offices to get a vehicle rented.

 

Whitefish, Montana, Amtrak Train Station, Copyright Montana Vacation Blog 2012

Whitefish, Montana, Amtrak Train Station, Copyright Montana Vacation Blog 2012

There are several doors to enter the train as you are boarding, so you should ask someone if there isn’t a person stationed at each door to tell you which one to board.  On the train from Whitefish to Seattle/Portland, the train splits apart in the middle of the night in Spokane, and you need to sit on the right section of the train so you don’t end up going the wrong way!  Once you sit down, the conductor will come around and collect tickets and will stick a white card above your seat marking where your destination is.  This is to make sure they know where you are going, so they don’t have to wake up the entire train in the middle of the night/early morning to ask where you are going.  It will also mark your seat so that no one takes it at a later stop.  You are able to step off the train at most stops for about 5 minutes if you need to stretch, or smoke a cigarette, etc.  I do not personally smoke, so I never did get off the train during stops.

I have not rented a sleeper on the Amtrak, where you receive a bed to sleep in.  I have always traveled coach, in the sit-up seats.  I find this a fantastic way to travel, but it probably depends on how flexible you are.  The seats go in rows of two along each side of the train.  The seats recline (not a lot, but enough).  There are also footrests that flip out from the seat in front of you.  It is open seating, unless they are really full.  If the train is full, they will assign you a seat as you walk on the train (not when you buy your ticket).  There will be a person standing there, and will tell you what seat to sit in as you board.

In my year and a half experience of traveling on the Amtrak, I rarely saw the train full.  That is, there are usually lots of empty seats, and therefore, open seating.  If you are traveling with a family (or other people), they sometimes mark off certain sections for those traveling in groups.  That way, you are more guaranteed to get seats together.  I figure you can always ask someone to move too if you need to, so that you can sit with your friends and family.

Since the train was always empty, I was almost always able to get two seats to myself.  That is, I rarely had someone sit next to me.  At least not the entire trip to Montana.  Sometimes people would hop on the train for a short leg of it and sit next to me, but other than that, I pretty much usually had two seats to myself.  This for me was a comfortable way to travel.  I could recline both seats, curl up with a pillow and sleep curled up over both seats with the curtain pulled shut.

I would put a small bag at my feet, and leave a suitcase at the bottom of the steps.  As you board the train, there are a few metal shelves to store large luggage.  The bathrooms are also located downstairs.  Then you go up a narrow set of steps to the seating area on the upper level.  There is room above your seats to store smaller luggage and personal items.

I have to say, the Amtrak staff that I have met has always been very friendly.  Anyone that I have had to sit next to (or sleep next to), has also been really nice.  Besides that, I didn’t make a lot of small talk.  I was in law school, so I spent a lot of time reading and studying on the train.  But I have seen people forming friendships all over the train with strangers.  If you strike up a conversation, you will likely meet some characters, and make your trip quite enjoyable.

There is a lounge car that has tables and seating, where you can also buy food and drink.  The food and drink are somewhat expensive, similar to buying food on a plane.  The lounge car is always lit up, so if you want to stay up late and talk with people, this is the place to do it.  The rest of the train they make quite dark during the night so that people can sleep.

The best part?  Amtrak is offering a few treats to make your trip even more worthwhile:

Amtrak also offers discounts for students, AAA members, military, senior citizens, kids, and more!

I really think that Amtrak is a less expensive, enjoyable form of travel if you have more time to spare and want to see more of the state!

Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,

Alex M. Neill

Montana Vacation Blog

www.montanavacationblog.com

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