‘Zephyr’ Amtrak from Sac to Reno even more fun and scenic than expected


Amber Hullinger

The Truckee River flowed right between the train tracks and the mountains.

I recently took a train trip to Reno, Nevada, on the Amtrak for a vacation to celebrate my birthday. I picked Reno as my destination because I wanted to go somewhere with less COVID-19 restrictions, somewhere I had never been before and somewhere not incredibly far from Chico. It was my first time going to Reno and my first time riding an Amtrak train.

First, my traveling companion and I took an Amtrak connecting bus from the Amtrak station in Chico to the Amtrak station in Sacramento.

The train was delayed by four hours so we passed the time in a sandwich shop in the train station where they were playing music from the ’70s. It was a long wait but it was worth it. 

We had the train car all to ourselves on the way there, and only a handful of people joined us on the trip back to Sacramento. The space allowed us to marvel at the sights freely together. We had plenty of legroom in between the rows of seats — at least double the legroom of a plane. Each ticket cost about $90. 

The train we took was the California Zephyr. It made stops in Roseville, Colfax and Truckee, before arriving in Reno. The higher up we went in elevation, the more stunning and gorgeous the views became. We saw bright, sunlit woodsy meadows, farmland, mountains, huge pine trees, a lake and the Truckee River, which flowed right beside us. We went through several dark tunnels. The views also changed from bright green grass to snowy mountains, and the skies went from sunshine to thick cloud cover. At first, there was no snow anywhere. Gradually, we started seeing patches of snow higher up and then maybe a foot of snow on either side of the train.

Once the train arrived in Reno around 8 p.m., we took an Uber from the train station to the hotel we would be staying at, the Atlantis Casino Resort. 

Our plans in Reno were to gamble at night and spend the daytime sightseeing and enjoying the different amenities the hotel offers, like an indoor pool and several bars and restaurants. We didn’t get to go in the pool though because we found out too late that we needed reservations to use it. We ended up not doing much sightseeing because the hotel had so much to offer. We were there for three nights.

The Atlantis Casino Resort boasts multiple huge casino floors packed with machines and table games like blackjack, roulette and craps. We both played a little bit of everything, but I had the most success at blackjack and roulette, my two favorite games. 

There were probably hundreds of people in the casino at night, mostly at the slot machines, but far fewer during the day. Many of the high-minimum tables were closed during the day as a result of the slower time of day.

I met two people who had moved to Reno from California. One person was from Stockton and the other was actually from Chico. She said the cost of living in Reno is very similar to Chico, but there are far fewer college students in Reno, despite the presence of the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College. The man from Stockton said he appreciated the lower taxes in Nevada.

The beds were super comfortable, thanks to the lush pillowtop mattress. We had a great view of the mountains during the day and the city lights at night from our room on the tenth floor. The Sky Terrace sushi restaurant offers floor-to-ceiling windows that provide views of the busy street below and the mountains on the horizon. The food was also excellent and the sushi rolls I ordered from the all-you-can-eat menu were the largest I’ve seen.

The hotel strictly enforced COVID-19 safety measures, even requiring us to put our masks back on in between sips of our drinks at the bar. The blackjack dealers wore gloves while dealing and the chips were sprayed with disinfectant after each game. There were also plexiglass barriers in between each player and the dealer. All the restaurants were open indoors at limited capacity with social distancing between tables. The hotel itself was limited to 6,800 guests.

On the train back to Sacramento, sitting across the aisle one row in front of me, there was a middle-aged man with a Mohawk — but not a spiked one. He carved wood as a hobby and I watched as he etched intricate designs into a large wooden cross with great attention to detail. I heard him tell someone that it was a replica of something from the 1600s.

I marveled again at all the sights outside my window. The open land surrounding Reno was as beautiful as anything else I saw on the trip. There were green hillsides and red stone cliffs illuminated in the bright morning sun. I hadn’t gotten to see it on the way into Reno because it was already dark when we arrived. 

Our train from Reno to Sacramento was an hour late and we missed the bus to Chico, so we took an Uber back to Chico. Our driver was an African man who, to my surprise, spoke Spanish very fluently because he had gone to college in Cuba. He said Cuba was a beautiful country held back by its politics.

The trip was affordable. The room was about $70 per night for weekdays. Each train ticket (connecting buses included) was around $90. Our gambling budget was $100 per person per night and the budget for food was $100 a day per person also. Uber fare was about $10-12 per trip in Reno and usually around $100-$200 from Sacramento to Chico. Neither of us drive, so transportation costs would be different with your own car or renting a car if you take the train.

Overall, the trip was something I will never forget and I am very excited to take the Amtrak again and visit Reno again in the future.

Kelsey Ogle can be reached at [email protected] and @kelsey_ogle_ae on Twitter.