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Glacier National Park: Rail & Drive - Chicago

You are viewing the 2024 itinerary. Select your departure year
7 days From $1,174 per person

Let Amtrak’s Empire Builder lead the way for this independent rail vacation that introduces the epic sights and bucket-list adventures of Glacier National Park.

Travel on your own following a well-planned itinerary

2024 Tour code: RM-GRDC-24

About the tour

Imagine the possibilities when you combine a journey on one of the country's legendary overnight trains with several days to explore the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park. This independent vacation brings all of the prospects to life over seven adventure-filled days. Sweeping views of cities, farms, lakes, plains and the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains punctuate the beginning of your trip during your time on the Empire Builder. As you arrive in Big Sky Country, Whitefish, Montana, wraps you in its mountainous embrace. The gateway to Glacier National Park, this resort town is as charming as it is brimming with offerings. You have the freedom to explore them as you wish behind the wheel of your included rental car. Of course, the pinnacles of your trip come with your included excursions in Glacier National Park. Marvel at the contrast of the high mountains above and rolling valleys and meadows that surround the Going-to-the-Sun Road as you travel aboard vintage Red Jammer Buses and immerse yourself in the majestic scenes of jagged peaks reflecting off of glimmering, crystal-clear water while cruising Lake McDonald. Get a taste of adventure with plenty of leisure time to set out on your own. The tour wraps up with another overnight on the Empire Builder, transporting you back to Chicago with memories of a lifetime. 

Please Note: Glacier National Park is spectacular to visit no matter the season. The complete opening/closing of the Going-to-the-Sun road changes each year based on winter conditions, and the entirety may not be accessible in the Spring and Fall. If you choose to visit in the shoulder season, the Red Bus Tour and/or the Boat Tour may not be running. You will still be able to explore many areas of the park and spot wildlife with your vehicle and on the trails.



What’s included


Day 1 - Depart Chicago on the Empire Builder

Bubbling with the excitement of new adventures, arrive at Chicago Union Station this afternoon to board Amtrak's Empire Builder for your journey deep into the mountains of the West. The route ahead is a showcase of the varied scenes of the Midwest. Settle into your Coach seat, or if you have chosen to upgrade your onboard accommodations, your Roomette or Bedroom. Upgrading to a Sleeping Car gives you added privacy as well as complimentary meals in the train's Dining car. Overnight train.

Day 2 - Arrive in Whitefish

A full day of beautiful sights lies ahead as the Empire Builder presses forth with its route, continuing toward Whitefish, Montana. Soak in the passing vistas from the train's Sightseer Lounge, an upper-level room open to all guests. Here, chat with your fellow travelers while watching cityscapes transform into rural scenes. Domed glass windows and swiveling armchairs allow you to capture the views from all angles. As afternoon falls, the train enters Big Sky Country, eventually making its final stop in Whitefish late this evening. Make your way to your hotel on arrival. Overnight Whitefish.

Day 3 - Whitefish at Leisure

You have the freedom to explore the region to the fullest today. Begin your day by transferring on your own to the nearest Avis car rental facility to pick up your intermediate vehicle equipped with GPS navigation. Return to Whitefish to explore the charming downtown area, brimming with award-winning restaurants, interesting boutiques, and art galleries that speak to the region's culture, both past and present. The colorful town set against the rugged peaks of the Rockies is truly breathtaking. Setting out further presents breweries and distilleries and a plethora of interesting destinations and attractions to explore. Of course, you may also begin your explorations of Montana's natural side. Perhaps visit Flathead or Whitefish Lakes or trek one of the region's incredible hiking paths. Overnight Whitefish.

Day 4 – Glacier National Park & Crown of the Continent Tour

A grand introduction to the sights, sounds and splendors of the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park, beckons this morning. Drive from your hotel to the Apgar Visitors Center on the west side of the park and meet your expedition team. This full-day tour is one of great beauty and tradition and takes place aboard vintage Red Jammer Buses straight out of the 1930s. As you board your bright-red bus, notice the soft top that rolls back in fair weather and the large windows - the combination of which allows you to marvel at the highest mountain peaks in Glacier. The main pathway for this adventure is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier's most iconic byway. The scenery along the way seemingly envelops you, from the deep, rolling valleys, to the lush forests, flowered meadows, and impressive mountains. Your tour takes you through Lake McDonald, St. Mary and Swiftcurrent Valleys and offers stops at notable viewpoints along the way. If you are lucky, you may spot some of the wildlife that calls the national park home, such as bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, and moose. Following a full showing of the park's grandeur, enjoy an encore, as the Red Jammer bus follows the same path back to the Visitor's Center. The remainder of the day is yours to continue your explorations or return to Whitefish. Overnight Whitefish.

**Please Note: Departures beginning May 17th through June 18th will include the Huckleberry Mountain Tour. Departures beginning September 13th through September 26th will include the Western Alpine tour


Day 5 - Lake McDonald Cruise

Return to the beautiful surroundings of Glacier National Park this morning for a memorable cruise on Lake McDonald aboard the historic DeSmet. This wooden boat is docked at Lake McDonald Lodge and offers two decks - an upper and a lower - from which to marvel at the panoramic views. While looking around, do not forget to look down. Lake McDonald is beloved for its lakebed which is made up of an otherworldly assortment of rainbow rocks. Because of the cold year-round water temperature, the water is crystal clear, making it quite easy to see down to the red, green, blue and maroon stones that lie beneath.

As your hour-long cruise concludes, you have the rest of the day at leisure. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure in Glacier National Park, including hiking on any of over 700 miles of trails. Set out on your own or join one of the ranger-led expeditions for a more informative trip. Mountain biking, rock climbing and fishing are just a sampling of the ways you can pass your time in these gorgeous, protected lands. On your way back to the hotel this evening, stop off at Avis to return your rental car. Overnight Whitefish.

**Please note: Departures after September 18th will not include the Lake Mcdonald Cruise.

Day 6 - Empire Builder to Chicago

Depart your hotel early this morning and make your way to Whitefish's charming alpine-inspired Amtrak station to reboard the Empire Builder. Settle in for a comfortable and scenic overnight route back to Chicago. Watch the mighty Rockies fade into the backdrop and the unobstructed scenes of Big Sky Country change time and time again. The train follows the Missouri River and crosses the 1,792-foot long Gassman Coulee Trestle. Venture through the plains of North Dakota and Minnesota. The contrasts of modern cities and timeless landscapes are best seen from the Sightseer Lounge. Overnight train.

Day 7 - Chicago

Awake this morning with the final miles of the route ahead. The Empire Builder continues through Wisconsin and creeps along the southern bend of Lake Michigan in its pursuit of Chicago. The journey concludes this afternoon as the tall buildings of the Windy City come into view. On arrival at Union Station, you are free to continue your vacation independently or transfer to the airport to return home. 

Additional information

Departure times

Departure times vary based on selected rail vacation. This information will be provided in your final documents. For more information please speak with your rail specialist.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular vacation with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.


Amtrak's Empire Builder


1.8 stars1.8 / 5 · 4 reviews

  1. 5 stars
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  5. 1 star


2 stars

Submitted 18 Jul 2023

Definitely not worth what they are charging. The park and train experience were amazing but save yourself the headache and book everything yourself. VBR did a horrible job with itineraries not even emailed until week of our trip so we had to scramble to try and get park reservations etc. Rental car was not reserved correctly so we had to pay out of pocket then wait to be reimbursed by VBR. We would have saved approx. $2000 if we would have just booked it ourselves and been way better off and prepared.

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Celeste Meade Maurer

1 stars

Submitted 30 Jun 2023

This trip was terrible! Between multiple hundred s of dollars for 3 taxis to our hotel back to get rent a car then back to train Station. Multiple delays, poor service and dirty train. Real bad trip

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3 stars

Submitted 29 May 2023

details were missing

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1 stars

Submitted 26 May 2023

Vacations by Rail is overpriced and services lacking. Overcharged for multiple items on vacation including roomette, rental car, and excursions. Reservations never made for excursions. Hassle with other items. Would not use again.

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