Taking the Amtrak from Tacoma, WA to Portland, OR
I love a good road trip! But my goodness, gas prices lately are really putting a damper on my travel budget! So last month, when my husband and I were headed to downtown Portland, Oregon for a concert, we decided to try something new and we hopped the Amtrak! It was our first time riding the Amtrak – but I can tell you now that it won’t be the last!
First, let’s do the math for driving our car to Portland from our house in Olympia.
- It’s 116 miles from our house to the concert venue – that’s 232 miles round trip – without detours
- Our vehicle average 23 miles per gallon (mix of city/highway driving)
- That means we’ll need about 10.08 gallons of gas @ $5.40/gallon = $54.48 in gas
- The hotel we are staying at in downtown Portland charges $40 for overnight vehicle parking (sadly the norm for many downtown hotels anymore)
Total cost would have been about $95 to drive to Portland and park our vehicle at the hotel
Knowing this, we priced out the Amtrak. . . we decided we’d catch the Amtrak out of Tacoma since we already had to drop the kids off at the grandparents house in Pierce County. Tacoma is about 30 minutes North (in the wrong direction) and tickets are a couple dollars cheaper out of Olympia. We got dropped off at the Tacoma depot by my father-in-law.
Depending on the day/time that you leave, prices are currently as little as $22/person one-way from Tacoma to Portland. That’s only $88 ROUND TRIP for two people! You’ll get the best rates by booking your tickets at least couple weeks in advance and opting for the Coach seats and the Saver option (non-refundable tickets). Tickets get more expensive the more full the train is. . .and the closer you are to leaving – so a little notice will save you some money!
If you only want to talk about the cost-to-cost comparison of driving, there are a few considerations –
- We got dropped off at the train station so we didn’t have to pay to park our car in downtown Tacoma at Amtrak station. Depending on your local Amtrak station, parking could be a cost factor for you!
- The hotel parking was almost as much as our gas cost – so if you can swing a place to stay with free parking, the Amtrak may not come out to be such a good bargain.
- Depending on where your final destination is – it might be cost prohibitive to take the Amtrak. We took a Lyft when we got to Portland that was $9 to get to our hotel. . . but the next morning we walked back to the train station (it was a pleasant beautiful Sunday stroll!). Had our final destination been really far from the train station, our Lyft cost could have been a lot more.
- The size of your party makes a big difference when opting for Amtrak! The next weekend we went back to Portland for a Hamilton performance and brought our kids. Taking four people on the Amtrak would cost $176. . .so driving our car was a much more affordable option. Also easier to bring the car because Lyfts cost more with 4 people.
- Timing of trains makes a difference. Thankfully we were not in a hurry – if you are, it’s faster to drive. The train takes at least 2.5 hours (or longer with delays and getting to depot early). . . versus driving is about 2 hours. Also, there are only a few times to choose from – so if you have to be somewhere at a specific time it may not work for you.
Now that we have all the cost analysis out of the way – let’s talk about what I loved about the Amtrak ride!
- Let someone else drive! The biggest treat of all was that my husband didn’t have drive. My husband likes to drive – and it’s not my favorite thing to do on long trips. But it was a total treat to sit back, read our books, watch our shows and let someone else do the driving!
- The views are spectacular. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and you get to see a completely different view from the Amtrak tracks versus the highway. Tons of water views, lots of greenery, ponds and even animals and birds! It was an adventure to see a different perspective for a route we’ve taken dozens of times before!
- Comfortable seats and big window views. Reclining chairs, foot rests, food trays. . .the seats were so much more comfortable that what I thought they’d be! It’s nothing like a cramped airplane. The seats are easily more comfortable than our car and so much more room to roam around.
- Bring your own food/drink. We didn’t realize this beforehand – or we would have packed a picnic basket with lunch and drinks. We saw many passengers bring their own lunches on the train and in the future, that’s what we’ll do, too! See food rules here. If you do decide to buy food on the train – expect to find similar food (and prices) to a ballpark or street vendor – think of foods that can be heated in a microwave. It’s not glamorous or affordable – so I suggest hitting up the grocery store ahead of time and pack a picnic.
- Enjoy a glass of wine or beer. Being an adult-only vacation, with someone else driving, we splurged and got a glass of wine and beer for the trip down. There are domed food/bar cars and it’s a very pleasant place to enjoy a beverage while you kick off your vacation. Note – the prices aren’t cheap, you can expect to pay prices similar to an airport or stadium – but it’s there if you’d like it!
- Didn’t put wear/tear on our car, better for environment. Both of these are great perks! Our car stayed parked safely at my in-laws, we didn’t have to worry about wear/tear/accident with the car. . . and I loved that we didn’t burn up a tank of gas – mass transit is so much better for the environment!
- Didn’t have to sit in traffic! If you’ve driven I-5 in Washington at all. . . you know that traffic is always there and a traffic jam/slow-down is a definite possibility – we didn’t have to worry about delays, the stress of a possible accident, or the extra gas lost from stop-and-go driving!
I’m so glad we decided to take the Amtrak. It added to our weekend adventure and was a fun way to travel. At the end of the day it probably cost the same as driving our vehicle (after you figure in the Lyft/Uber) – but we didn’t have to put wear/tear on the car, didn’t have to sit in traffic, didn’t have to drive – and we got to sit back and relax!
Make sure and sign up for an Amtrak Guest Rewards account if you do book a trip because you apparently earn points that you can use on future trips!
Here are some photos of the trip. . .
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Tacoma Amtrak station. With this being our first trip, we got there about an hour early. We were the first people at the station – we definitely didn’t need to get there that early – but we were excited and anxious to get there. The Amtrak station in Tacoma is beautiful! Clean, well equipped with phone chargers, comfortable chairs, clean bathrooms and big windows! We checked in with the gate agent there and enjoyed a quiet morning while we waited for the train to arrive.
When you purchase your coach ticket online you don’t get an assigned seat. As you board the train the employee checking you in will tell you where to sit in the car. The seats were so plush with tons of leg room. There was luggage storage above the seats and you could “check” a bag if you needed to as well. We each only had a backpack for easy travel and had more than enough room.
This is what the food area looked like on both of the trains we took. It’s very much convenience foods. There was not a dining car that you could sit down and eat a restaurant-style meal on this train – but apparently on the longer routes if you have a sleeper car, there is a dining car for you on those! Next time we will pack a picnic.
Here’s an example of the deli menu on one of the trains we took.
The views. . . . . look, there is Mount Rainier!
And the water views going in and out of Portland are spectacular!
Both days we had beautiful weather and it made the trip that much more picturesque!
Portland’s Union Station is such a cool, old building! We were able to easily navigate the building and to grab a Lyft right outside that took us to our hotel. I imagine you can make it from here to most places in downtown Portland for under $10 with Lyft or Uber. It’s also very walkable.
Sunday morning after our concert we had lots of time to kill and the weather was beautiful – so we walked the two miles to the train station from our hotel. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and it was a beautiful way to start the day.
When I was in high school I was a tour guide on the Alaskan Railroad!! For an entire summer I narrated the routes for passengers on the train. I loved that job so much – and this train ride brought back so many wonderful memories of being on the train. It really is a wonderfully relaxing way to travel.
Clock tower at Portland’s Union Station – I think it’s so cool!
This isn’t a sponsored post – we purchased our own tickets and I wrote this based on our actual experience taking the Amtrak from Tacoma to Portland! I’d love to hear your tips for riding Amtrak and/or what ways you might be saving on travel with increasing gas prices!
This is part of a series I’m doing – Exploring the Pacific NW to help us explore this beautiful place we live! See my other relevent posts here