Posted by: David Stewart | September 9, 2008

Amtrak for Labor Day

Amtrak Empire Builder

Deb's youngest brother got married over the Labor Day weekend. The young couple chose to marry at Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. This Inn turns out to be on the last, lonely flag stop on Amtrak. We have talked about taking an Amtrak vacation for many years, so hey, why not now?
Amtrak Empire Builder

A “flag stop” means that the train will normally not stop here in Essex unless there is someone with a reservation or they “flag down” the train. There is no station or depot per se in Essex, just a high place in the gravel where the Inn's shuttle could port us the quarter mile to the hotel.

Amtrak Empire BuilderAmtrak Empire Builder

We rode coach out to Essex and took an economy sleeper on the return.

It's about a 15 hour ride from Portland to Essex. The Portland departure on the “Empire Builder” is at around 5PM, so you get this amazingly scenic trip up the Columbia River Gorge at sunset, then overnight to Montana. Around midnight, the Portland branch of the Empire Builder joins in Spokane with the branch from the Seattle, and the newly conjoined train shoots east from there.

The main deterrent for us taking the train before has been the trip time seems long and if you take a sleeper, the cost can be higher than an airplane trip. So unless you love the romance of the rails, it's not too good.

But for this trip, direct air travel was not a good option, because the closest you could fly in would be Billings, MT or Spokane. Then rent a car and drive the rest of the way.

I did a cost breakdown in my head a few days ago, but I need to hit the “Post” key on this one and do the cost breakdown later.


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