First, the bad news: There’s only one Amtrak train per day from Seattle to Leavenworth (and vice versa). It leaves downtown at 4:40 and arrives at 8:00. On the return, the Amtrak leaves Leavenworth at 6:08 a.m. and arrives in Seattle at 10:25 a.m.,and takes about 4 hours.
Now, the good news: The scenic three-hour, 20-minute ride between Seattle and Leavenworth on the Amtrak offers enchanting scenery and incredible views. Seat children next to the window to look for wildlife among the fir-layered mountainsides and rambling rivers. You’ll also pass 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 — just sit back and relax in the giant seats. The only disappointment: the train’s schedule makes it impossible to go on a day trip. Visiting really requires two full days, particularly if you stay at a place like Sleeping Lady Resort.
13 Tips for Taking the Amtrak Train to Leavenworth
- Book your ticket through Amtrak.com and note that kids go half-price, which makes for a sweet (and less-expensive ride). Adult tickets range from $23-40+ each way, depending upon traffic volume. Also, check the Amtrak site’s Smart Deals area for discounts.
2. The Amtrak train departs from three stations en route to Leavenworth: 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. South Seattle families can board at at King Street.
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.
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 the Amtrak.com site, 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 up to sleep for an hour or two.
5. Meals are served aboard the train – but for lunch and dinner, only 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. That said, 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 others told us they had the same experience). 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, but those prices aren’t much better. You may also be seated with strangers, if you’re a party of three. Here’s a link to the Empire Builder / Leavenworth train menu Eastbound (dinner, toward Leavenworth) and Westbound (breakfast, toward Seattle). The service was very good and homey, though. I’m pretty sure my waitress even called me “hon.”
7. Entertainment is limited, and there aren’t movies (as on the Cascades trains) but there are 120-volt plugs next to two-seat configurations. Bring a laptop, card games, books and quiet activity books.
8. Amtrak passenger seats offer generous proportions, with 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.
10. The Leavenworth Amtrak station (‘Icicle Station”) is located only about a mile outside town 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 in the morning. Ask your hotel if they’re willing to pack a sack breakfast for you, to go. 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 disasterous works.