There are several ways to see the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. You can drive, take a bus, or take a train. Flying over the Rockies will give you some nice views if the weather is clear, but you can’t really experience the Rockies from the air. Driving gives you access to your vehicle, so you have some mobility, and you can take side trips that may interest you; however, if you’re the driver, the challenges of driving through the mountains will limit your enjoyment of the spectacular views. We chose to take the Rocky Mountaineer on our trip out west. This train runs from Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah through some amazing mountains and valleys. For much of the trip, the tracks run alongside the Colorado river, providing additional views of white-water rapids and rafters. You can board the train in Denver or in Utah for a one-way trip between these cities, or you can book a round trip. The route is the same either way.
We greeted the staff of the Rocky Mountaineer at Denver’s historic Union Station. This is a working railroad station for Amtrak as well as a major bus terminal (it is underground, so you don’t see many buses). The area also has restaurants and some shopping. We had time for breakfast as our time for greeting was 7:30, but our time to transfer to the train wasn’t until 8:30. But, since breakfast is served on the train, we didn't need to eat before boarding. We were surprised to find that we didn’t board the train at Union Station. Boarding required a short ten-minute bus ride to another train yard. This was not uncomfortable, as the buses were very nice and not full, so we had room. You store your luggage on the bus and the Rocky Mountaineer staff takes it to your overnight destination of Glenwood Springs. Your luggage will be waiting for you when you get to your hotel room for the overnight stay, which was a pleasant surprise. The Rocky Mountaineer offers two levels of service on the Rockies to the Red Rocks train excursions; Silver Leaf Service and Silver Leaf Plus Service. We booked Silver Leaf Service. The train car for Silver Leaf service has forward facing seats. But they can be flipped around to create a 4-passenger option if you are with family or another couple. You lose the seat back tray when you do this. The seats are very comfortable and have room underneath for a small carry-on bag if you are like me, and always carry one for computers, cameras, binoculars, or other things you want to have handy. The train car is roomy, and you can walk around meeting other travelers if you like. You can also go to the front of the car to go outside on a small landing between train cars (this is closed when the train is going through some of the longer tunnels on your trip). Having been on an Amtrak trip, I was impressed by the cleanliness and comfort of the train car.
Windows on the train car are huge, so you can really see what you are passing while moving. A surprise was how slowly the train seemed to move. The company says the train goes 30 miles an hour, however, much of the route is slower than that, giving you great opportunities to view the scenery and wildlife as you move. During our two-day journey we had to pull off on a siding to wait for a train with priority (Amtrak and commercial freight) to pass us. These stops are unavoidable when you travel on an excursion train, so expect it to happen.
Meals and beverages were served to us at our seat on large pull-down trays. Service in Silver Leaf is provided by two hosts and a culinary team member. Service was friendly and the hosts pointed out interesting sites during the journey. It took about 45 minutes to serve a meal to the entire car, and the team alternated starting service at the front of the car and at the back. Your train excursion includes breakfast and lunch on the train. When meals are not being served, the bar cart is always available, so you can get a beverage at any time. The quality of the food was impressive for a collective meal. Special menu requests are honored. Every meal offers two choices for entrées, and wine is offered as well as beer, tea, coffee, soft drinks, and water. Silver Leaf Plus gets you an expanded bar cart and seats facing each other with a table between, and additional service staff. There were very few Silver Leaf Plus passengers on our train trip, so we were afforded the expanded bar cart for our journey.
The reason to book a train trip through the Rockies is for the scenery, and it does not disappoint. The train tracks naturally run through valleys, so the mountains rise on both sides of the train in majestic peaks, some above the tree line where the oxygen is so thin trees can’t grow. The Colorado River meanders along the tracks, sometimes next to the train, and at other times out of sight. The Colorado River has many white-water spots and there are often rafters on the river enjoying a trip. We were surprised that the rafters on the Colorado have a tradition of mooning trains! You will see many rafters drop their pants to give you a show. We laughed a lot on this trip!
Your overnight spot is the town of Glenwood Springs. This small town is centered around a historic hotel next to a hot spring. The hot spring pool here is the largest in the world, over a football field long. The town itself is small enough to walk through, and there are many options for dinner and a beverage. We visited a brewery and had a local brew. We were given our room key for the hotel for the night, and when we went to the room, our luggage was already there. This is the advantage of putting your bags on the bus at Union Station - the Rocky Mountaineer company takes your bags to the hotel, and all is ready upon your arrival.
In the morning you leave your bags in the room and the company collects them, puts them on a bus, and takes them to Moab. You never have to move your luggage yourself, which was a very nice surprise.
One other thing - I have tried to sleep on a moving train in my travels and was glad to have the night in a hotel; this was much more comfortable.
The Red Rocks in the title of this blog and the name of the excursion refers to the red rock mountains of this part of Utah. Moab, Utah is surrounded by red rock mountains. They are striking.
Moab is close to two amazing national parks, Arches and Canyonland. You can book tours to these parks from multiple locations in Moab. You can rent stingray three-wheelers, four-wheel drive buggies or jeeps at many different locations in Moab to tour on your own, or you can book tours from local operators. Some tour operators even offer helicopter or plane tours of the national parks. Other tour operators offer horseback riding excursions for visitors wanting to see the surrounding area in a more natural way.
We were in Moab five days after some flooding and other than dusty/muddy streets there was little evidence of the flooding. Spending a few days in Moab after your train trek is recommended. If you’re planning a rocky mountain vacation, the Rocky Mountaineer is a great way to see this part of the west. Relaxing on a train while viewing the scenery is hard to beat and Glenwood Springs and Moab are beautiful mountain destinations. Condor Tours & Travel can help you plan a vacation to the mountain west. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org