Montana’s history is intricately connected to rail travel. The introduction of rail lines to the state allowed folks to travel more freely, found new towns, and transport materials drawn from mines more quickly and efficiently. Especially during the gold rush, rail travel and freight lines became necessary for its new inhabitants; it’s likely Montana would not be near as populated today if not for the introduction of comprehensive rail travel.
While passenger rail in Montana has declined considerably from its heyday, there are still a few scenic train rides in the state available to tourists. If you’re a train enthusiast planning a trip to Montana, you should consider taking a ride on one of these historic train lines.
The passenger rail lines that are still in operation within the state of Montana are:
1. Rail Museums in Montana
Before you head out on one of Montana’s scenic train rides, you may want to visit one of its rail museums. There are a handful across the state, and each offers different insights into the history of rail transportation and travel within Montana.
Built in 1902 to act as a hub for rail travel into Yellowstone, the Livingston Depot is now a museum and community center. It was designed by the same architects who created New York City’s Grand Central Station, and though it doesn’t serve as a working train station today, it’s an awesome reminder of Montana’s history.
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Though it was originally built as a passenger train station for the Milwaukie Railroad, today it’s a museum that tells a significant part of the history of Harlowton. There’s a variety of exhibits here, but maybe the most intriguing is the collection of vintage rail engines.
Passenger Trains in Montana
Though Montana has an intricate railroad system, the majority of the lines that are still in use today are used for freight. Though passenger rail is limited in the state, there is a growing push to bring back intercity rail travel to Southern Montana, thus connecting it to the north and maybe eventually into Wyoming.
In the meantime, there are a handful of scenic train routes in Montana that you can take today. Here’s an outline of the available passenger rail services in Montana.
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This 56-mile round-trip dinner train passes through the picturesque mountains and valleys of Central Montana. The train travels down a historic route, passing across two trellises and through a half-mile-long tunnel. And it’s not uncommon to see wildlife: eagles, antelope, hawks, and deer all call this wild part of the world home.
While you’re enjoying the Central Montana sunset, you’ll get to relax and enjoy a hearty prime rib dinner and maybe a nice wine pairing if you’d like. The Chew Choo operates on a former Milwaukie Railroad line beginning just north of Lewistown to Denton, and back.
Though this little rail line is only a mile and a half long, it’s an entertaining and educational way to travel from Virginia City to Nevada City. Installed in 1964 as a sort of ad-hoc transportation system between the two towns, the Alder Gulch Short Line is today far more safe, secure, and reliable than many of its earlier iterations. Though it’s now more of an experience than a legitimate form of transportation, it’s nonetheless a fun activity when you’re visiting the region.
One of the most famous, picturesque train rides in the entire United States, the Empire Builder line connects Chicago with Seattle. Along the way, it passes through Montana’s unmatched landscape including a leg directly through Glacier National Park.
If you’ve always wanted to see Glacier during the winter but feared the frigid temperatures, booking a train trip through it is a lovely – and considerably warmer – way to get a taste of the park when it’s sparkling and white. You can either book the entire trip and travel all the way from the midwest to the Puget Sound, or you can opt for a shorter version, even one that merely begins in East Glacier and ends in Whitefish or vice versa.
Total there are 12 train stops along the Empire Builder’s route through Montana. Of them, there are a few that are popular with tourists for a stopover.
The small town of Havre, the seat of Hill County in north-central Montana, is home to the oldest bar in the state. Though no one is sure exactly how long it’s been around, Palace Bar is well over a hundred years and has a committed following of locals and tourists alike. Nearby is a quirky tourist attraction called Havre Beneath the Streets, which commemorates the 1904 Havre fire in a series of exhibits and an underground tour.
The East Glacier Station is, as the name might lead you to believe, near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. It’s perfectly located if you’re planning a stay at the Glacier Park Lodge, a historic hotel in the region famous for its incredible timbered lobby. The Amtrak station is less than a half a mile away from the lodge, and they offer a shuttle for guests.
Across the park, the West Glacier Train Station is just south of Lake McDonald and the middle fork of the Flathead River, so it’s easy to embark on many water excursions from here. The Glacier Raft Company can easily arrange everything for you, including gear, guides, and transportation. The region is famous for its whitewater rafting, but if you’re looking for something a bit more temperate, you can opt for a boat trip on the lake instead.
And finally, the busiest train stop in Montana is in the town of Whitefish. This bustling town west of Glacier National Park is a prime destination all on its own, and conveniently, the train station is right downtown and within walking distance of many of the most popular hotels. Fans of the outdoors, the arts, sports, and dining will all feel right at home in Whitefish, and the Empire Builder is the most iconic way to travel there.
Helpful Items for Train Rides in Montana
Even on just a short train ride, there are some items that you may not have thought to pack that can make your journey more enjoyable. Whether you’re riding the 15 minutes to Nevada City or three days to Seattle, take a look at these items that can enhance your experience on a scenic train ride.
12×42 HD Binoculars
- 【18mm Large Eyepiece Binoculars, Larger Image, Clearer Details】2.25 times the image size of 12mm eyepiece (e.g. 10x25, 12x25, 10x21 binoculars), 1.28 times of 16mm eyepiece (e.g. Ordinary 10x42, 12x42 binoculars). Large eyepiece binoculars make full use of 12x magnification, deliver larger image, ensure clearer details
- 【16.5mm Big BaK4 Prism HD Binoculars, Super Bright, Crisp View】Collect 32% more light than 12.5mm prism lens (e.g. 10x25, 12x25, 10x21 binoculars), 13.7% of 14.5mm prism lens (e.g. Ordinary 10x42, 12x42 binoculars). 16.5mm Prism lens take 100% advantage of 42mm objective lens, collect more lights, deliver brighter view.
- 【Powerful 12x42 Binoculars for Adults with only 1.25lbs.】With only 560g weight, Adasion 12x42mm binoculars deliver 367ft/1000yds large field of view. Perfect binoculars for bird watching, hunting, sports events. Binoculars with adjustable eye cups, suitable for glasses wearers.
- 【HD Binoculars with 2022 Updated Photography Accessory Set, Enjoy Photographing】With phone adapters, tripod adapters and tripods, you can get a more stable photographic image when watching birds, whales, deers and other wild animals. The phone adapter is suitable for iPhone 13 series, 12 series, 11 series, X, XR, Samsung GALAXY S series, Samsung NOTE series, LG, One Plus, Sony, Etc.
- 【Perfect for Bird Watching, Hunting, Hiking and Sports 】Equipped with Fully Multi-coated lenses and 18mm BaK4 prisms, the HD binocular provides a great brightness, clarity and sharpness. Taking an excellent viewing experience especially when bird watching, hunting, hiking and sports.
A pair of binoculars can greatly increase your chances of seeing wildlife from the comfort of the train, especially birds. This pair combines with your phone, to display a magnified version of your surroundings onto your device so everyone in your group can enjoy it.
Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera Kit
- Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera Body (Import Model)- 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor ,EXPEED 4 Image Processor , 3.2 inch 1.037m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen ,Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps ,Multi-CAM 4800DX 39-Point AF Sensor ,ISO 100-25600 and 5 fps Shooting ,SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with NFC ,Time-Lapse Movie Recording
- Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens - F-Mount Lens/DX Format ,27-82.5mm (35mm Equivalent) , Aperture Range: f/3.5 to f/38 , Two Aspherical Elements , Super Integrated Coating , Pulse Stepping Motor AF System ,VR Image Stabilization , Access Lens Settings in Camera Menu , Rounded 7-Blade Diaphragm , Two aspherical elements , AF-P pulse motor , retractable lens barrel
- 3.2 inch 1.037m-dot rear LCD touchscreen, and utilizes a vari-angle design to better facilitate working from high and low shooting angles. Additionally, SnapBridge is also featured, which can utilize Bluetooth low energy technology for wireless sharing of photos to your mobile device, including automatic transferring of resized images between the camera and your mobile device for seamless online sharing. Wi-Fi with NFC is featured, too, for larger file transfers, such as movies, to a linked device.
- SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC Memory Card -64GB Storage Capacity,UHS-I / V30 / U3 / Class 10, Max Read Speed: 170 MB/s, Max Write Speed: 90 MB/s, Record 4K UHD Video, compatible with the UHS-I bus, and features a speed class rating of V30, which s minimum write speeds of 30 MB/s, Once the shots are taken, your work is only half done. Accelerating your workflow means you can carve out more time to take your creativity to the next level.
- Movavi Professional Video and Photo Editing Software Kit - Compatible with Windows and Mac Operating systems this 5 software package comes with premium softwares to fulfill your Photo/Video/Vlogging Editing need
Owning a camera beyond the one on your phone is a fantastic investment for travelers of all types. A proper DSLR camera, beyond the fact that they can be fitted with incredible lenses, offers the ability to use super-fast shutter speeds to cut down on blurring when you’re shooting from a moving train.
American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage
- 21 inches Spinner luggage maximizes your packing power and meets most carry on size restrictions for those traveling domestically and looking to stay light
- Packing dimensions: 20" x 14" x 9", Overall dimensions: 22” x 15”x 9.5”, Weight: 8.2 pounds
- 10 Year limited warranty: American Tourister products are rigorously tested to ensure our products meet stringent standards; This bag comes with a 10 year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship
- Book opening case with mesh divider and Cross straps in main compartment with a zipped modesty pocket
- 4, multi directional oversized spinner wheels for effortless mobility, re engineered lightweight;Volume : 44 Litres
If you’re headed out on the Empire Builder, you’re going to want to bring a sturdy piece of luggage that’s easy to access on the fly. Unlike a plane voyage, you’re going to want to get things in and out of your luggage frequently, so you should opt for a sturdy, lie-flat rolling carry-on.
Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler
- Xtreme Technology; Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90°F
- High Capacity: Holds Up to 100 Cans
- HAVE-A-SEAT LID: Closed lid supports up to 250 lb.
- Cup Holders: Molded Into the Lid to Keep Drinks Close and Prevent Spilling
- COMFORT-GRIP HANDLES: No-crush design with positive stop for pinch-free carrying
If you’ve booked your own private cabin on Amtrak, you’re more than welcome to bring your own food and drink, including booze. If you don’t want to be limited to the options in the dining car, you can haul all of your snacks, beer, and wine in a cooler to keep it fresh over the sometimes days-long journey.
Murder on the Orient Express
- William Morrow Paperbacks
- Christie, Agatha (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 288 Pages - 01/18/2011 (Publication Date) - William Morrow Paperbacks (Publisher)
Agatha Christie’s classic novel is set on one of the most famous trains in the world: the Orient Express, which once connected Paris to Istanbul. It’s the perfect read to tuck into your travel bag to pass the time on your journey.