Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityChoo-Choose Amtrak Cascades for your next PNW adventure | Seattle Refined
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 (Image: Richard Schmitz)
(Image: Richard Schmitz)
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Choo-Choose Amtrak Cascades for your next PNW adventure

It's a misty morning in the PNW as the Amtrak Cascades train rolls into the station. The sound of its whistle is heard first, moments before the outline of the big engine is seen coming down the tracks to a full stop.

We're gathered with fellow travelers on the platform, our breath forming small cloud puffs as we exhale, rising to mix with the foggy air. There are no snaking security lines. Strangers greet each other with nods and smiles. A little chatter breaks up the calm. In fact, it seems the only thing missing (if you can call it that) is the stress so often linked to traveling.

We approach the waiting passenger cars, pulling up the e-tickets on our phones, as the assistant conductor greets us with, "Welcome aboard!"

"All Aboard" Made Easy

We used the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) app loaded onto our smartphones from start to finish on this trip. It's a great format to make your reservations, purchase tickets, plus check arrival and departure times. The WSDOT app is free and easy to navigate.

Pro tip: Remember there are two Vancouvers that will pop up when scheduling your destination. Amtrak Cascades also services Vancouver, Washington. For this excursion, we selected the Canadian stop.

Our Amtrak Cascades train is headed north from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. with stops in Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham. Amtrak Cascades has resumed daily routes to Canada after two years of absence due to the pandemic.

On Board and Seated

On board, we quickly find two seats along the left side of the train for the best viewing, aware that this scenic, northbound ride follows rail lines along the Salish Sea. These tracks were once lumber routes, requiring them to be close to the shoreline making for some spectacular landscapes. Gaze across the Puget Sound framed in by the Olympic Mountains, or spot a flock of snow geese dotting the fertile fields of the Skagit Valley in a blanket of white. Look east to see a snow-capped Mount Baker beckon from the Cascade Mountain Range, the namesake for this train route. Look west for lovely scenic views of the San Juan Islands, while lightheartedly speeding by the watery inlets of Bellingham Bay.

The coach cabin on the Amtrak Cascades is two seats per row on either side of the aisle, meaning there is no middle seat! There's ample leg space, along with plug-ins for your devices. Charge up those electronics while you stare out the picture window pondering life's questions or catch up on a little rest while Amtrak Cascades does the driving.

It is lovely to have enough space to put a bag at our feet and still feel comfortable. For our additional belongings, we stowed those above us in the overhead compartment. Passengers are also free to move about the train cars for a little more room, a change of scenery or to visit the Café Car.

The Café Car Is Open

Who doesn't love snacks during a road trip? There may not be any traffic jams to sit in but there are snacks aboard the train.

We brought our own snacks for a train-style picnic, then headed up to the Café Car to explore more options. One of the best things about riding the train is that you can bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks aboard and then supplement with offerings from the Café Car. Before you plan to bring anything across the border, be sure to check restrictions.

Located at the front of the train, the Café Car boasts a Pacific Northwest theme and a bevy of beverage offerings, including locally roasted coffees, liquor, beers, ciders and wines. You can purchase a variety of dishes, depending on your palate and dietary needs. There are blue corn vegan tamales, mac and cheese skillet, burgers, tacos and the iconic Ivar’s clam chowder. For a lighter fare, there are snacks to munch on like hummus with pretzel chips, a cheese and cracker tray or the good ol' standby of potato chips. In this case, it is Tim's Cascade chips that we add as a side to our homemade sandwiches, how fitting!

Arriving In Vancouver

Just like that, our four-hour train ride is coming to a close. We pass by the Peace Arch and are officially in Canada. Outside our window is White Rock, B.C. and its longest pier. Next stop: downtown Vancouver.

When asked why passengers choose Amtrak Cascades, Assistant Conductor Chad said, "If you want to get somewhere fast, take a plane. If you want to get there cheap, take a bus. But if you want to enjoy the ride, leave that to us and take the train."

The best thing about Amtrak Cascades is exactly that. The journey itself is as much an adventure as the destination. It is an interesting experience, one where the world is seen from a different viewpoint. One where you can stretch out reading a good book, kick back listening to good music and enjoy some favorite snacks, all while cozied up in a comfortable seat, leisurely viewing the world outside your window. Perhaps a murmuration of sea birds will startle as the train goes by, flying up into formation on the wind, as they did for us.

Pacific Central Station

Stepping off the train and onto the platform, we head for the queue forming near the Border Patrol terminal, which is located inside the train station. With passports in hand, we step up to the desk, answer a few questions and are told, "Enjoy your stay in Canada." On the return trip, the train will make an announced stop right after crossing the U.S. border. This is to allow Border Patrol officers to board the train and clear customs.

In 28 hours, we will be returning to Pacific Central Station for our return trip home. There is a ticketing booth at this station where we will check in 60 minutes prior to our 5:45 p.m. train. Then, again pass through customs with a few questions. "Have a good trip home," we're told, "and enjoy the ride."

What's On Track

Currently, Amtrak Cascades offers three round trips between Seattle and Portland, two round trips between Portland and Eugene and one round trip with Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

On March 6, Amtrak Cascades will add one more round trip between Seattle and B.C. as well as one more between Seattle and Portland, benefiting those who live south of Seattle with a more direct trip to Canada.

WSDOT recently announced the rollout of a new fleet of Northwest-themed Amtrak Cascades trains linking Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.

"Eight new trainsets and two new locomotives will arrive in the Pacific Northwest in 2026," WSDOT said. This fleet of locomotives aims to elevate the Amtrak experience while keeping the environment front and center with more fuel efficiency and producing significantly less air pollution.

Discover more about Amtrak Cascades here.

MaryRose Denton is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. While the products, services and/or accommodations in this story were provided without charge, the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.