Take the Amtrak Train from Seattle to Leavenworth in 2024

First, the bad news: There’s only one Amtrak train per day from Seattle to Leaveneworth (and vice versa). But the good news outweighs the bad. A no-hassle, no-driving trip to European-style Leavenworth in winter is more than worth it.

The Empire Builder train leaves downtown Seattle (SEA) at 4:55 and arrives at 8:17. On the return, the Amtrak leaves Leavenworth Icicle Station (LWA) at 7:23 a.m. and arrives in Seattle at 11:29 a.m.,and takes about 4 hours. The train’s schedule makes it impossible to go on a day trip.

Visiting Leavenworth really requires two full overnights, particularly if you stay at a place like Sleeping Lady Resort or even if you stay downtown.

The train can be plagued by performance; only 47% of passengers on the Empire Builder train arrived on time, according to an Amtrak report. Ouch.

Now, the good news: The scenic three-hour, 20-minute ride between Seattle and Leavenworth on the Amtrak offers enchanting scenery and incredible views for much of the year. Seat children next to the window to look for wildlife among the fir-layered mountainsides and rambling rivers. You’ll also whiz through the second-longest tunnel in the U.S., the Cascade Tunnel, while traversing 4000-foot peaks. You won’t deal with closed mountain passes or the twisting highways. So just sit back and relax in the giant seats. Or really, really splurge for the Amtrak family room.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Train from Seattle to Leavenworth

Pros of the Seattle to Leavenworth train:

  • No-hassle travel, year-round
  • Beautiful scenery in summer
  • Pedestrian-friendly Leavenworth is great destination
  • Fun experience

Cons of the Seattle to Leavenworth train:

  • Serious train delays can occur and require advance planning
  • Timing isn’t good for a one-night or day trip
  • Requires taxi or other ground transportation from Icicle Station to Leavenworth hotels
  • Can be expensive after adding up all fares involved

Leavenworth, Washington in Autumn

13 Tips for Taking the Amtrak Train to Leavenworth

  1. Book your ticket through Amtrak.com. Note that kids ages 2-12 go half-price, which makes for a sweet (and less-expensive ride). Adult tickets range from $20-$55+ each way, depending upon traffic volume, and whether you want refundable or non-refundable tickets. Also, check the Amtrak site’s Smart Deals area for discounts. If you want a more memorable or private experience, you can splurge for a Superliner bedroom, family suite, or roomette. It’s a pretty serious splurge though, starting at about $223.
Kid on Amtrak Train
Kid on Amtrak Train

2. The Amtrak train departs from three Seattle-area stations en route to Leavenworth. These stations are Seattle King Street, Edmonds and Everett. Those living in North Seattle may want to board in Edmonds, while Snohomish County residents may want to board in Everett—you’ll save yourself a few dollars, too. South Seattle families can board at at King Street. Important note: Make sure you don’t book your destination as “Leavenworth 76 Gas Station.” That’s a bus. You don’t want a bus. Unless you do.

3. Parking is limited at King Street, Edmonds and Everett stations. Bring cash for any olden-days pay lots (though most take credit cards), and arrive at least a half-hour in advance to scope out your parking choices. Better yet, ask a friend to drop you off at the station or take a Lyft.

Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu
Vintage Amtrak Dining Car Menu

4. Weather and freight train backups can delay Amtrak trains. Our train from Edmonds to Leavenworth was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes; our return train from Leavenworth to Edmonds was delayed by three hours and 30 minutes. Sign up for alerts through Amtrak.com, and check the site for real-time schedule changes. If you’ll be arriving late at night (10:30 p.m. for us), you might think about how to set the kids (or yourself) up to sleep for an hour or two.

On the Train from Seattle to Leavenworth

5. Meals are served aboard the train. But for lunch and dinner, these may only be available for those with reservations. Sign up as soon as you board the train headed toward Leavenworth, but realize that some seatings may sell out, and you may not make reservations when booking your ticket. Bring extra food if you think you might be hungry.

6. Our dinner was an unpleasant combination of mediocre and expensive. Seemingly microwaved vegetable mix and rice, although the meat was okay. Maybe it was an off night (although I’ve had the same experience on other routes). The children’s menu was fine, although mostly made up of cheese and white bread. Bring your own meal, pack a hearty snack (by the time you get into town, everything will probably be closed) or ask your waitress what she would recommend.

Snacks are also served in the Cafe car but those prices aren’t much better. You may also be seated with strangers in the dining car, if you’re a party of three. Here’s a link to a sample Empire Builder menu. The service was very good and homey, though. I’m pretty sure my waitress even called me “hon.”

Amtrak Dining Car
Amtrak Dining Car

7. On-board entertainment is limited. But there are 120-volt plugs next to two-seat configurations. Bring a laptop, card games, books and quiet activity books. Particularly in winter, when it’s dark in the Northwest by about 4:30 p.m.

8. Amtrak passenger seats offer generous proportions. You’ll find reclining seat backs, extendable trays, footrests and seat pockets. So don’t worry about leg room. Think about three times the size of an airplane seat setup. Seat reservations aren’t available, but the conductor, whenever possible, will try to keep groups together.

Leavenworth Train Station
Leavenworth Train Station

Leavenworth to Seattle

10. The Leavenworth Amtrak station (‘Icicle Station”) is located only about a mile outside town. It’s along a quiet road, but you must walk up a steep hill without a wide shoulder. I would not attempt to walk this route with kids, but instead take Leavenworth Shuttle and Taxi, which charges about $5 per passenger.

11. Book your pickup in advance, and drop-off at the Leavenworth station. Our driver was courteous, prompt, and gave us frequent updates on the train delay. The driver does not have a carseat available for babies or younger children, so if that’s important to you, bring one with you.

12. The Leavenworth Amtrak train leaves early. Ask your hotel if they’re willing to pack a to-go or sack breakfast for you. Our hotel, the Bavarian Inn, was happy to do so. Request this upon check-in or when making a reservation. The rain shelters are heated, so you’ll be warm while waiting. Heat lamps even warm outdoor waits, in Leavenworth. Spend a few moments at the stations to look at historic documents and knickknacks.

13. Amtrak rail employees seem both stressed and patient. Employees appear to be doing the best they can, despite demanding, upset passengers — some of whom stuffed paper towels into the toilets on our train, rendering the toilets inoperable. That wasn’t cool.

+1 More Tip: No changing tables are available on the train, so bring extra changing pads for baby. There are toilet receptacles for diapers in the bathroom, but you might want to double-bag any disastrous works.

View from Amtrak Rail Car
View from Amtrak Rail Car

Read more about things to do in Leavenworth hotels, Leavenworth for kids and Sleeping Lady Resort.

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Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.