How to Take the Train from Grand Rapids to Chicago
For those living in Grand Rapids, the idea taking the train to Chicago to go shopping, visit museums, or experience a Chicago Christmas can be exciting and a bit daunting.
Worry not! I recently made this Michigan Amtrak train journey and it was a blast. We were living on the edge and went to Chicago and back in just one day. Plus, we walked 10 miles while we were there and really packed it in. It was great being able to ride the train there and back. We didn’t have to worry about parking or navigating traffic. It was fantastic!
While some people drive to Kalamazoo or Michigan City to grab the train to Chicago, we wanted to see what it was like to leave from GR.
Hang with me and I’ll guide you through each step of the experience.
Train GR to Chicago Guide
Booking Your Train Trip to Chicago
Start by downloading the Amtrak App. It’s a straightforward way to search for your travel dates, view routes, and book tickets.
You’ll receive a QR code as your ticket, which is scanned on the train – no need to show it when boarding at Grand Rapids. You can also book tickets online and print out a paper ticket.
To take the train from Grand Rapids to Chicago, you need to book tickets on the Pere Marquette line (370/371). The 371 takes you to Chicago, 370 is for your return trip.
The 371 leaves Grand Rapids once at day, at at 6 AM from Grand Rapids, reaching Chicago Union Station around 9:08 AM, factoring in the time zone change.
The return trip leaves Chicago at 6:30 PM, arriving back in Grand Rapids at 11:34 PM.
Stops along the Pere Marquette Route:
(You can book Pere Marquette tickets to Chicago from Holland, Bangor MI, St. Joseph as well as Grand Rapids.)
- Grand Rapids, MI – Vernon J. Ehlers Station (GRR)
- Holland, MI (HOM)
- Bangor, MI (BAM)
- St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI (SJM)
- Chicago, IL – Union Station (CHI)
Grand Rapids Station: Your Starting Point
Your adventure begins at the Vernon J. Ehlers Station located at 440 Century Ave SW in Grand Rapids.
It’s well-lit, adjacent to a bus station, and directly across from the Century Antiques building and next to US-131.
Parking is free and the station has an indoor waiting area with restrooms.
Aim to arrive 30 minutes before your train’s departure to start your trip stress-free. Give yourself a few extra minutes if you’ll be checking luggage.
Once it’s time to board, Amtrak employees will guide you onto the platform and direct you to the train car that corresponds to your ticket.
Once you’re aboard the Pere Marquette train, settle in. The trip will take just over four hours.
There are no assigned seats on this train, so those at the station earlier get the best seat selection. Train cars have several 4-seat tables, so you could sit and play cards with friends if you’d like.
In the summer, choose a spot right-hand side of the train for views of blueberry fields, winding hills, and Lake Michigan. In the winter, departures will be after dark.
All seats are more spacious seat than airplane seats, though they sit upright and do not recline. Each seat has a tray table, power outlet and a USB-C port. There are overhead shelves for carry-on luggage.
And bonus: there are no middle seats on the train!
If you’re looking for an upgrade, business class offers extra legroom with footrests, complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, and additional perks.
Once the train leaves the station, an Amtrak employee will come through the car and scan your ticket.
If multiple people are on one ticket, only that ticket needs to be scanned for the group (this means that each person doesn’t need to print out or show a separate ticket.)
Staying Comfortable on the Train
Each train car has a large, accessible restroom.
Dressing in layers is recommended. The temperature inside the train can fluctuate; we were very warm at times.
Also, as this is public transportation, it will be noisy at times. On our way to Chicago, one person slept the whole way there and snored very loudly for hours. On our way back, there was a group of women that were returning from a Girls Weekend Getaway and they were still having a good time on the train.
That said, if you think you might want to sleep on the train, prepare accordingly. I brought a travel pillow and noise canceling headphones, as well as a scarf (to act as a blanket) for example.
You need to use headphones to listen to any kind of audio. Staff will ask you to either use them or turn off your device.
Free Wi-Fi is provided but know it will probably stop working when you’re going through rural areas. If possible, we suggest downloading entertainment beforehand or bringing a good book.
Cafe Car & Food on the Train
The train’s cafe car offers snacks, sandwiches, beverages, and hot water. You can use the hot water to make your own hot chocolate or instant ramen, for example.
You’re welcome to bring your own snacks and meals, but you may only eat food purchased on the train in the cafe car.
Arriving at Union Station
Union Station (255 South Canal Street) is in the heart of Chicago. When your train arrives, you will be close to many well-known attractions, restaurants, and hotels.
From here, you’ll be able to easily connect to other forms of public transportation, grab an uber, or walk to your destination.
The Great Hall
Be sure to find The Great Hall while you’re inside Union Station. You can easily miss this architectural wonder if it’s not directly on your path to or from your train.
If you’re staying overnight and need a place to store your luggage before or after hotel check-in, you can do that at Union Station. For $10 per item, you can store luggage in the Parcel Check service for 24 hours. This service can be sold out at times.
- Fast food options: Chick-Fil-A, McDonalds, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Auntie Annes, etc
- Gift shops
- Restrooms, Lactation pod, ATM, mobile charging station, news stand
Return Trip: Depart Chicago’s Union Station
The return trip to Grand Rapids departs from Chicago’s Union Station at 6:30 PM.
Finding Your Train to Grand Rapids
Given its size and amount of traffic, finding your way around Union Station can be challenging. The departure boards aren’t as detailed as you might want, and physical maps of the station are hard to come by.
Arrive at least 60 minutes prior to your departure if you’re checking baggage or need ticket help or assistance. Even if you’re familiar with the station, get to the station at least 30 minutes early.
Pay attention to intercom announcements for your train and ask station agents for assistance in locating your platform if needed.
Our return train (370) departed from the South Concourse.
The train makes several stops on it’s way back to Grand Rapids. Know that train delays can and do happen, although we did not experience any on our November 2023 trip.
Places to Stay & Things to Do in Chicago
You took the train from Grand Rapids to Chicago. Great! Now, what to do in this amazing city?
There are too many options to list here, and they change by the minute. But, we’ll get you started with a few of our favorites:
- Get a Chicago CityPass. You really can’t go wrong choosing from this menu. And it’s easy. Plus, you save $$.
- If you’re visiting over the holidays, do all of the Christmas things.
- The Museum of Science and Industry
- Shedd Aquarium
- American Girl Doll Store & LEGO Store while you shop the Magnificent Mile
- Brookfield Zoo
- Maggie Daley Park
- Chicago Starbucks Reserve Roastery
- Chicago River Boat Architecture Tours are fantastic for anyone interested in the old buildings.
Where to Stay
How much does it cost to take the train from Grand Rapids to Chicago?
Ticket pricing is dynamic and increases as the departure date nears. As an example, a one-way flex ticket on The Pere Marquette route 3 months in advance is about $34 per person in coach and $76 in business class. (Flex tickets allowing changes to train reservations.)
Sign up for emails from Amtrak. They run flash sales and will offer discounts or BOGOs on tickets from time to time.
What is the difference between business and coach on this train?
Business class offers added comforts like extra legroom and footrests, along with a 100% refund policy. Both classes provide plenty of legroom and no middle seats. Business class travelers also get access to the Metropolitan Lounge and can store their bags for free at Chicago’s Union Station.
Can I bring luggage on the train?
Each ticket allows one personal item and two carry-ons, with options to bring pets or bicycles for an extra fee.
Drop Your Knowledge
Have you taken the train to Chicago? Let us know your tips and tricks!
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