Amtrak Cascades resumed its popular daily train service connecting Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Canada this March after a two-year hiatus. The route had been halted during the pandemic, then gradually restarted on some segments leading to the full re-opening this spring.
Here’s what travel advisors and passengers should know about how best to book and enjoy this scenic route, with stopover travel recommendations for Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.
Amtrak Cascades timing and costs
The Amtrak Cascades trip between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Canada takes about 8 hours, stopping at a dozen stations in Oregon and Washington (including Vancouver, Washington, so riders should be sure to be specific about which Vancouver is their final destination).
Daily direct service departs Portland at 3:05 p.m., arriving in Vancouver at 11 PM, with the return departing Vancouver at 6:35 a.m., arriving in Portland at 2:55 p.m. Amtrak also offers alternate times with a selection of tickets using mixed service routings that include bus transfers.
Tickets begin at about $67 one-way, with $162 seats in business class. The tickets often sell out on popular weekends and holidays, so book early to secure desired dates and times.
For those interested in a stopover in Seattle on the route, Amtrak doesn’t offer hop-on, hop-off options, so you’ll have to book multiple one-way tickets. It was easy enough for me to book separate segments Portland-Seattle, Seattle-Vancouver, and a Vancouver-Portland return. I overnighted in both Seattle and Vancouver, but it is possible to stop in Seattle just for a few hours and catch another Amtrak train to Vancouver on the same day.
For Travel Advisors
Travel Advisors interested in booking Amtrak for clients should check out the Amtrak Travel Agent Resource Center, which supplies information about agent discount tickets, commission rates, and corporate travel agent programs.
Amtrak Vacations also offers commissions for advisors booking package deals for clients interested in travel combining train tickets, hotels, activities, and other transportation. Travel Advisors can create a profile and login to the Amtrak Vacation advisor portal, a source for promotional materials, advisor-exclusive deals, and training webinars.
What to know on crossing the border by train.
For passengers crossing the border on the train, passports are checked prior to boarding the train, in both directions, by a U.S. Passport Control agent at the station. Entry to Canada requires passport processing by an agent who will ask some travel questions at border control. The process was quick and smooth in both directions on my trip, but be sure to get to the station at least 30 minutes in advance for the passport check—the train actually left early on my southbound segment. After entering the U.S., Customs and Border Protection agents enter the rail cars and do a check for prohibited food and other items, and will collect customer-completed border control forms.
Tips for the Amtrak Cascades journey
Seats are unassigned, so the earlier passengers arrive, the more seat choices they will have. Train staff distribute groups across different rail cars, so even groups of four people should usually be able to find seats next to each other.
For the best views riding Amtrak Cascades north from Portland, sit on the left-hand side of the train for the best ocean scenery, with the right side being best for views on southbound travel. The windows were disappointingly dirty on my trip, but still serviceable enough for viewing.
Be sure to recommend clients bring noise-canceling headphones with them for the ride. Often passengers ignore staff requests for quiet and have loud, extended phone conversations during the trip.
Free Wifi is available on Amtrak Cascades, but coverage and speed can be variable during the trip, so don’t count on it to try to get essential work done. Cellular service is accessible for most of the trip (to the dismay of many passengers hoping for quiet).
The Amtrak café car offers food and beverages (including alcohol) and tables on which to eat a meal. The quality of food has improved over the years but is still far from gourmet, so passengers should bring their own food if they are picky (just be aware of customs control prohibiting fresh fruit and meats across the borders).
Seattle Stopover Recommendations
A great way to enjoy the Amtrak Cascades route for a long weekend trip is to do a stopover in Seattle en route from Portland to Vancouver. Depending on ticket choice, the stopover can be for a few hours or several days. Amtrak Vacations can be a resource for booking package deals, but it is easy enough to book independently.
Seattle’s downtown train station is well-serviced by cabs and rideshares, so passengers with luggage can easily find a ride to a local hotel or attraction. The station is close enough to walk to many hotels, but visitors should be aware of downtown Seattle's often steep hills.
A prime lodging option in downtown Seattle is the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. This historic hilltop destination offers 450 plush rooms, great views (from some wings—be sure to request if clients want this option), fine dining, and a central location within walking distance of the famed Pike Place Market and the worthwhile Seattle Art Museum.
On my trip, I took a rideshare from the Fairmont Olympic to Seattle’s cool Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), a repository of historic guitars, exhibits with memorabilia on movies and video games, and multimedia special exhibits. Next to MoPOP, the Seattle Space Needle is a pricey viewpoint at $42.50 for adults, but clients can save money by purchasing a Seattle CityPASS if planning to visit multiple attractions.
Seattle is a great food city, from the artisanal vendors at Pike Place Market to many fine dining options, particularly for seafood. I dined at Rock Creek Seafood and Spirits, enjoying fresh local oysters, a delectable blackened Baja Yellowtail, and some colorful cocktails.
Vancouver Stopover Recommendations
Vancouver’s train station is a convenient hub for reaching the city, with rideshares and cabs available, as well as a local train station situated a short walk away, providing easy-to-use access across town.
The city of Vancouver and its surroundings provides enough sightseeing activities to fill a multi-week vacation. But for just a quick visit, some essentials include a tour of Stanley Park, an orientation ride on the convenient Hop-on-hop-off tourist buses, a trip to the world-class Vancouver Aquarium, and even a virtual tour on the immersive Fly Over Canada movie attraction. For an alternative, fun way to explore downtown, sign up for a curated Vancouver Mysteries game. This series of self-guided challenges are part scavenger hunt, part educational tour of the city that are entertaining for adults and kids alike.
Vancouver’s Wedgewood Hotel and Spa is a great choice for a stay on a luxury weekend. The five-star boutique property is at a prime location overlooking the gardens of Robeson Square, adjacent to the Vancouver Art Gallery, and walking distance to dozens of dining options. Vancouver’s diverse food scene boasts eight Michelin-starred restaurants, including Published on Main, with its focus on British Columbia-sourced fish and fresh, foraged vegetables. Vancouver’s sushi restaurants are well-worth sampling, from quick-budget lunch diners to artful gourmet presentations.
For clients visiting Portland, Oregon at the beginning or finish of an Amtrak Cascades route, Union Station offers convenient access to hotels, restaurants, and attractions from its location on the northern edge of the city. Cabs and rideshares are plentiful for passengers arriving or departing the station.
Portland’s Hotel Zags is a hip, convenient, centrally located boutique lodging option with the bonus of The Gear Shed, an extensive rental collection of anything a traveler might want on a weekend getaway to Portland, including bikes and skateboards, cameras and video game systems, even backpacks and fishing gear. The hotel is a short walk to Keller Auditorium for shows, and the Portland Art Museum. Visiting families will love a trip to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, while stressed travelers can enjoy a peaceful respite with a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden.
Portland provides a wealth of great café and food options, including its well known food truck scene, gourmet donut shops like Voodoo and Blue Star, and an array of fine dining venues. For a special taste of Portland’s farm-to-table scene, splurge on a multi-course prix-fixe dinner (with a Oregon-focused wine-pairing) at Tercet, tucked away in a downtown post-industrial loft space. Vegans can enjoy their own gourmet prix-fixe local Portland tasting menu at Workshop Food and Drink.