To Portland by Train on the Amtrak Cascades

A trip to Portland via rail is the perfect little romantic getaway

Credit: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven

Taking the train to Portland makes for a relaxing and comfortable trip

Amtrak’s Cascades to Portland, Oregon lets you sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery

I always experience a twinge of envy when a train trundles steadily past my car and on through vast, glorious countryside to which suckers on highways just don’t have access.

My husband feels the same way. If there’s viable rail transport, he’ll book it. For our last train trip, we rode in a sleeper on the vintage Iron Snake of Africa from Nairobi to Mombasa.

After a friend mentioned taking Amtrak Cascades from Vancouver to Portland during competitive dinner party travel-story-swapping, it took us approximately 24 hours to book our next train trip.

Why Trains Beat Planes and Automobiles

Amtrak Cascades trains depart daily from Vancouver. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

Train travel is more appealing than air travel or car travel, especially for dates. Your travelling partner can pay full attention to both you and the view as the train sways gently.

You can partake in an early aperitif, tea and coffee, or a beery picnic while still making time toward your destination. You can also stretch your legs, pack inefficiently and get up and take a stroll. If the conversation isn’t sparkling, there’s always free wireless. Plus it’s economical and environmentally friendlier.

Meanwhile, the only thing romantic about air travel is the inevitable pat-down (cozy) and the strong possibility that a stranger may paw through the intimates stowed in your carry on.

And the only glamorous car trip I can imagine involves a red 1964 Mustang convertible on Highway 1. But let’s face it, rental insurance and potential traffic tickets are a drag, and your hair will never recover from the ride in time for dinner.

A Day Trip from Vancouver to Portland

Historic Union Station in Portland is the final destination on the Amtrak Cascades line. (Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven)

The Amtrak Cascades departs from Vancouver’s neoclassical revival Pacific Central Station, a grand heritage building completed in 1919, at 6:40 am and arrives in Portland at 2:55 pm. The total travel time is 8 hours and 15 minutes. Tickets start at $73 each way. Arrive at least 30 minutes early in order to check bags and show your passport – a system in place to expedite the border crossing process.

Once on board, settle in, spread out, locate the dining car and then sit back and relax with your first coffee as you slide out of the city, watching the early sun touch the logs floating in the Fraser River, then rise over the potato and blueberry fields as you set off toward the first stop in Bellingham, Washington.

It’s easy to fall into a train reverie. We barely noticed the time passing what with the mountain and river views, portable backgammon and smooch sessions. The customs stop at the border is swift as long as all passengers remain in their seats. We watched the car queue and gloated while we plotted which breakfast (broccoli cheddar quiche or Snoqualmie Falls oatmeal with fruit and brown sugar) to purchase in the retro-chic dining car. Then the restaurant attendant came on the P.A. to sing a show tune – not something I’ve ever experienced on an airplane – and we were on our way once more.

The Amtrak Cascades rolls into the iconic Seattle station around lunchtime, and this is your chance to get out and stretch. We followed our walkabout with preparations for my husband’s 33rd birthday party, which meant schooling ourselves in the local microbrews available on board, like Widmer Hefeweizen and Pyramid IPA, which both pair well with the bagel chips and organic hummus that are also available. The dark, buttery Black Butte Porter by Deschutes is a sweet standalone option.

By the time we rolled onto the west bank of the Williamette, into the verdant City of Roses, and right up to the red brick Union Station – visible throughout Portland because of its gigantic Romanesque clocktower – we were thoroughly jazzed by train travel.

Exiting the station, I saw the bright neon sign that reads “Go by train,” added to the building in 1948. But you don’t need to convince me.

Taraneh Ghajar Jerven is a freelance writer who has contributed to Montecristo, Western Living, Vancouver Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor. She has a knack for chasing adventure on any continent. She also specializes in rounding up design trends and profiling up-and-coming designers.