I’ve driven this route many times between Moab and Denver, I’ve seen this landscape before. But this time I’m going at a train’s pace. At this luxury train’s pace it feels like you are soaking up the landscape like a sponge. I realize there is something different and quite beautiful about going 35 mph through the Colorado Rockies; no road rage, no construction, no worries. The Rocky Mountaineer Colorado train is a new way to travel through a familiar landscape for me; and it’s just as exciting as seeing it for the first time.
I stare out the giant life-size train window. It feels exposed but powerful rolling past the big mountains. Or maybe that was the unlimited cocktails speaking to me. Regardless, the big windows made the landscape feel more vast than a car window – apparently size matters. It’s a time to slow down and really appreciate this landscape I take for granted while in my car.
Rocky Mountaineer’s new train route between Denver and the red rocks of Moab (not to be confused with Denver’s Red Rocks!) kicked off on August 15th 2021 bringing luxury train travel to the United States. It’s a pretty cool new offering in Colorado tourism and I got to be among the first to try it out.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Luxury Train Travel from Moab to Denver
Route Map and Highlights
What it’s Like to Experience a Glass Domed Train Through Colorado
What to do at Each Stop on Colorado’s Rocky Mountaineer
–Things to do in Moab
–Things to do in Glenwood Springs
–Things to do in Denver
Extend the Rocky Mountaineer Experience to Page, Zion National Park, and Las Vegas
Tips for Riding the Rocky Mountaineer Train
Who is This Trip For
Luxury Train Travel From Moab to Denver
Popcorn clouds floated in the blue sky as we pulled out of Moab in the afternoon. I was traveling from Moab to Denver with an overnight in Glenwood Springs. The train started rolling around 2PM leaving the burnt red rock formations behind as we entered the dry, flat dessert.
This route probably isn’t necessarily for people like me who live in Denver and can drive between the two places. It’s really more for people who are visiting the West and probably including these 2 days of train travel as part of a bigger itinerary maybe around the Utah parks, Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City.
And while we are at it, let’s just address the elephant in the room – you can do 60% of this route on Amtrak – but it’s a totally different experience. It runs on the same track as Amtrak for most of the way, as well as the same track as freight trains. Amtrak will not take you into Moab though.
What Makes it Luxury
This is a luxury experience including high end meals with multiple courses, unlimited drinks (including alcoholic drinks), comfortable and roomy seats, commentary about the history and geography of where you are traveling through, and all of this on train cars specifically designed for seeing the most possible. It also includes 3 hotel stays at top of the line hotels in Denver, Glenwood Springs, and Moab and luggage transfer. Amtrak doesn’t do any of this and that’s why the experiences are different, and the pricing is different.
See what it’s like to travel from Moab to Denver on the Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer Colorado Route Map and Highlights
It’s not easy to get through the Rocky Mountains at altitudes reaching to 14,000 feet, and that’s what makes this experience pretty special. It might look pretty straight forward on this 2D map, but it was certainly not easy. That’s probably why the interstate is often within view of the train tracks – there are only so many ways you can get through the mountains.
I honestly barely noticed the interstate though, I was more enthralled with the canyon walls, and the other sights along the way. Here were some of my favorite highlights of the trip.
The Colorado River
If you are fascinated with the Colorado River (like me!), then this is a great way to see it’s origins. You follow the mighty river most of the journey. It winds around like a snake carving out canyons, and helping farmers irrigate their crops.
It felt as if the Colorado River was flirting with us throughout the journey. If I listened closely, I could hear it say
“How you doin’?”
“Do you come here often?”
Then it might disappear for a bit, but shortly it would be back, offering to buy you another drink and another pick up line.
“You must be exhausted running in my mind all day long.”
Yes the Colorado River will be running in your mind, and your view, all day too.
This 12.5 mile canyon stretches from near Dotsero to just east of Glenwood Springs. Its walls climb as high as 1,300 feet above the Colorado River; the largest canyon on the Upper Colorado. The canyon was the historical route of the railroads and roads through the Rockies. This is why you’ll find the railroad tracks nestled up against the flirty Colorado River, nestled up against the interstate; this narrow canyon squeezes in all three!
As I was enjoying coffee and a bloody mary, all I could do was stare upwards watching the tall cliffs slide past my window. I also spent a good amount of time hanging out in the vestibule where I could peer out without the layer of glass between me and the canyon. I always marvel at the engineering feat of the transportation through this canyon. The interstate lanes are stacked on top of each other and that’s why it’s considered the most scenic natural feature on the entire Interstate highway system! I’m not normally one to call an interstate scenic – but in this case – it is well deserved.
There are parts of the Colorado River that are nearly impossible to see and certainly impossible to drive to. One of those areas is the Gore Canyon. The train can take you places in Colorado that are hidden to the average person and that’s what makes viewing this canyon from the train so special. There are no roads through Gore Canyon, it’s too narrow. There was only room for a set of railroad tracks… the Rocky Mountaineer is your ticket to those tracks.
The isolated stretch of river is 3 miles long and drops 300 feet in those three miles. The canyon walls tower 1000 feet above the river. This drop is the recipe for some of the best whitewater rafting in Colorado – some say the world. With Class V rapids, obviously only expert kayakers and rafters can attempt it.
I’ve rafted the Colorado River rapids in the Grand Canyon and the Cataract Canyon – but the Gore Canyon looked to me like the wildest ride that the Colorado river can give you. I literally let out gasps as we passed the rapids with giant boulders and waterfall-like drops.
How can being in the dark be a highlight you ask? If you appreciate engineering feats (like I do), then it’s a ringer for a highlight! The Moffat tunnel is 6 miles long and cuts deep through the Continental Divide. And when I say deep…I mean it. We traveled over 2500 feet below the top of the mountains we passed through. It took 5 years to build and was completed in 1928; it is considered a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark . As I traveled through this landmark tunnel, I took the time to order a final cocktail as we rolled the remaining way through the front range and into Denver.
What it’s Like to Experience a Glass Domed Train Through Colorado
Even though I live in Colorado – I felt like this Rocky Mountaineer experience was pretty unique. We don’t have many experiences like this in the US except for the Alaska Railroad .
Here’s what you can expect on this train journey.
Host and Trivia
In case you ever wanted to win a Colorado trivia game…taking this train is how you can study up! Each car has a main host that not only lets you know the plan for the day, they also fill you with history, facts, and stories about the region you pass through. Molly, our host, was from Denver and I think I enjoyed the times when she shared about her personal experiences in Colorado – things she liked or places she went – it felt more authentic and personal – because it was.
It was a nice mix of information. I especially like the strange stories of residents along the route – they were a bit quirky and surprising!
Those Big Beautiful Windows
It’s these windows…this big damn windows that make this a unique experience and so much different than driving in a car. Not only do you see the mountains, but you also see life in the mountains as you pass by farms, fishermen, paddlers, and small towns.
We had a few wildlife sightings, but not as many as I expected. Then again – you can’t really control the wildlife – so you just keep your eyes peeled and hope for the best! We mainly saw eagles and ducks. However a man across the aisle from me did see a bear in the river.
We also passed through many ghost towns that are in the middle of nowhere, buildings crumbling, rusted out cars, and dilapidated RVs. I love these types of places because it evokes so many questions in m who lives there, what happened to it, how did it come to be…and again who lives there?!!
The windows were cleaned before we got on the train for day 2 which was nice. After all, the windows are probably the most important part of the train for this journey!
Your seat is really your ‘home’ for the majority of the journey. You are served dinner and drinks in your seat, there is no dining car. Luckily the seats are very comfortable and spacious. You have a bit of ability to lean back or move them forward, but this is not necessarily a train to sleep on – you’d miss all of the scenery if you slept!
There is also a lounge car for people who purchase the Silverleaf Plus ticket. The lounge car is wood paneled with comfy chairs and tables, plus a bar where you get a more robust choice of drinks. It’s nice to be able to have a little ‘change of seat scenery’ and I found the chairs in the lounge car to be really comfortable.
Food on the Rocky Mountaineer
Food and drink is the big differentiator from Amtrak. There is an endless supply of food and drink each day on the train – and it’s good – really good. All of the food and drink is included in your ticket.
They serve you at your seat and there are multiple courses to each meal. I had a salad, main, and dessert for lunch/dinner, and breakfast even had a fruit plate and bread service, plus a main breakfast.
The food is similar to first class airplane food. There is no ‘kitchen’ with a chef whipping up the dinners. But, much like first class plane food, it’s quite good! In addition, the menu highlighted local ingredients from many towns in Colorado. I thoroughly enjoyed the Epic Brewing “Escape to Colorado” pale ale braised short ribs, with roasted San Luis Valley roasted potatoes and desserts from the Aspen Baking Company. I loved this touch to the menu and nod to the local businesses and farms.
Luggage Transfers are Seamless
Since your ticket includes your hotel in Glenwood Springs, that means that you’ll need access to your checked luggage overnight. One of my favorite features was how seamless the ‘train to hotel’ process was in Glenwood Springs.
We pulled into the Glenwood Springs train station and right across the street I could see my hotel – Hotel Denver. But before they let us out of the train, our host proceeded to pass out our room keys while we were on the train. That allowed us to walk off the train, and bypass any check-in process and go straight to our room. It was a lovely perk. And to top it off, I opened my hotel room door and there sat my checked luggage – already placed in the room!
Even when I got off the train in Denver, the luggage pickup was seamless and easy.
What to do at Each Stop on Colorado’s Rocky Mountaineer
Yes – the main draw here is the train of course – but keep in mind that most people take this train as part of a larger trip. After all, your beginning/ending destinations – Denver and Moab – are pretty awesome on their own!
If you are wondering what you can do at each stop – I have tons of ideas – most of them I’ve done myself at different times. Here’s how you put together a kick ass itinerary for extending the trip on your own.
Things to do Moab Before/After the Train Journey
Red Cliffs Lodge Horseback Riding
I stayed at Red Cliffs Lodge – a rustic-luxury, family-owned ranch about 20 minutes outside of Moab nestled among the red rocks and next to the Colorado River. Since it’s a ranch, they offer horseback rides. I went on a sunset horseback ride and had so much fun winding my way through the canyon and nearby streams. They offer morning and afternoon rides, so you could fit a ride in before you get on the train in Moab if you’d like!
NavTec Parks Experience
Of course, when you are in Moab, most people want to go visit the national parks. The problem is that EVERYONE wants to visit the parks. But what if you could get in the ‘back door’ of Canyonlands or Arches? You can with NavTec 4×4 Park Experience.
They do the driving because they know all of the park secrets. You go offroad in 4×4 vehicles that can take you to hidden arches few people ever see when visiting the park, plus you can see the popular spots too. I did a full day tour with them that took me through Arches and Canyonlands and had an incredible time. I didn’t have to drive, and I felt like I was having a totally unique experience through the dirt backroads of the parks.
They also offer half day morning tours so if you are leaving Moab on the train at 2PM, you can still fit in a half day tour through one of the parks with NavTec!
There are also a number of rafting trips or jetboating trips you can do that last a half day. I went on a bigger overnight rafting trip through Canyonlands which is also an incredible way to see the park!
If you are into photography like me, then you might want to splurge on a sunset or sunrise photography tour with local photographer Tom Till. These tours will take you to the best spots at the best times for landscape photography and teach you techniques for capturing the landscapes. He will also teach you drone or astro photography if that is more your style!
Tom has a gallery along Main Street if you want to stop in and see his work for some inspiration. However, you should plan on booking ahead if you want to do a tour.
I haven’t done this particular tour yet, but I have my eye on it for next time, and I did stop in and see his work in his gallery.
Of course, if you just want to relax and shop – that’s a great option too. I spent my morning before I got on the train checking out the shops along Main Street. Make sure you stop into Moab Made – a shop that features local artists and creators. You won’t find the typical tourist t-shirts and post cards here – you’ll only find one-of-a-kind creations!
Also stop by the bookstore and pick up a book on the area that you can read on the train.
Things to do in Glenwood Springs on Your Overnight Stay
This historical little town is split in two by the railroad, the Colorado River, and the interstate. However a lovely pedestrian bridge spans across all three and allows you to explore this fascinating town.
How much time you have in Glenwood Springs depends on which direction you are going AND other things like rail traffic and repair crews that are completely out of your control. Patience and understanding is necessary in travel – and it especially is in train travel.
A soak in the largest hot springs pool in the world is just what you need after sitting on a train all day! The therapeutic spring waters—called Yampah, or literally Big Medicine, by Ute Native Americans are not to be missed. The hot spring pool dates back to 1888, and people have been coming from all over the world to experience the healing waters.
However, I will say that the pricing structure does make it a little hard to swallow for the guests on the train schedule. An entry ticket is $35 to get in for a soak – whether you enter first thing in the morning – or only with 30 minutes of time before they close. Since our train coming from Moab got in at 8 – I basically only had 30 minutes to soak in the pool before they closed at 9.
As things move forward for the train I hope that they can work out a more favorable schedule or discount with the hot springs for the future!
As another alternative – you can also try out the Yampah Vapor Cave. They also currently close at 9PM.
Explore the History
There’s a great deal of history in Glenwood Springs that is fascinating. At the Hotel Denver and Hotel Colorado (the two hotels that guests on my train stayed at) there is so much cool history of prohibition, gangsters, and ghosts! Just stop in the hotels and ask for a brochure – and you’ll learn so much about these historic hotels of the rich, famous, and notorious.
Things to do in Denver Before/After Your Train Journey
I live in Denver – so I have all kinds of suggestions on unique things to do in Denver. However I tried to think about the types of tours/experiences that would be interesting to the train passenger.
Street Art Tour RINO
This fascinating walking tour is one of my favorites in Denver. Not only will you learn about the evolution of street art around the world and in Denver, but you’ll also learn about the evolution of the RINO neighborhood into an art district. Old warehouses are now home to breweries, cool bars, start-ups, galleries, and markets – and the whole neighborhood is covered in street art.
Denver Art Museum
Visit the premier Denver Art Museum affectionately called DAM. This impressive building houses a permanent collection and rotating collections that are worth visiting. It’s one of the largest art museums between the West Coast and Chicago.
Plus the renovated Martin Building will be reopening in October 2021. It has been fully restored and renovated throughout, including expanded galleries, restaurants, and rooftop and outdoor spaces offering visitor access to stunning city and mountain views.
Rent a Bike and Head out on Cherry Creek Trail
Since the train ride is a lot of sitting, why not get active while you are in Denver. The Cherry Creek Trail runs from downtown, through the heart of the city, through suburbs and out to Cherry Creek Reservoir – approximately 26 miles one way!
This entirely paved path is only for bikers, runners, and walkers. Once you get out of the main part of the city – you also have spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains! It’s a great way to see different parts of the city and get exercise at the same time!
Check out bike rental from Mile High Bike Tours.
Carboy Wine Bar
If you are a foodie – there are tons of places to have a delicious meal in Denver. However, why not try Carboy winery and Logan Street Restaurant to try some of that Colorado wine that you roll past in Palisade on the train!
Extend the Rocky Mountaineer Experience to Page, Zion National Park, and Las Vegas
If you like the idea of extending beyond just Moab, then take a look at the 12 day package Enchanting Travels has put together with the train journey as a portion of the trip. You can stay and play at the beautiful Red Cliffs Lodge outside of Moab to start with. Then they will add on the slot canyons of Page Arizona, the larger-than-life mountains of Zion National Park, and the glitz of Las Vegas on a self-drive extension.
Plus to extend the luxury factor, you will have your own personal Trip Coordinator who supports you during your trip 24/7 as well as carbon emissions offsetting. I actually had access to this on my short trip to try it out and it was great! I made some changes last minute for my arrival in Moab and they were able to accommodate me by the time I stepped off the plane, messaged me with the new plan, and then followed up to make sure that everything went ok. It’s a wonderful perk when you are used to trying to do all of the logistics yourself as I normally do!
Tips to Have Your Best Experience on Colorado’s Rocky Mountaineer Route
Which Direction is Best?
Of course – it depends…are you a morning person, or do you like to sleep in? Do you want to for sure have more time in Glenwood Springs to soak or have dinner there? Here are the train schedules to help make that decision:
Westbound: Depart Denver for Glenwood Springs at 9am and arrives 5-6pm. It then leaves from Glenwood Springs at 7am and arrives Moab 12-1pm.
Eastbound: Departs Moab for Glenwood Springs at 2pm and arrives 7-8pm. It then leaves from Glenwood Springs at 9am and arrives Denver 5-6pm.
What Should You Wear?
Just like in the rest of Colorado, bring layers! I know that sounds weird because you are in a train all day – why would you need layers? The train temperature can be hard to regulate and I found myself sometimes hot if I were sitting in the sunny window, and sometimes freezing because the AC was on.
I wore pants and a tank top and brought a sweater.
Silverleaf or Silverleaf Plus?
There are different levels of service to decide from. The main difference from what I could tell is the Plus gives you access to the lounge car and a wider range of drinks.
Mask up…It’s Required
At the time I rode in August, masks were required while on the train when you weren’t eating or drinking. This is a federal mandate, so be sure to bring a mask and be prepared to wear it.
Bring a Book
Make sure you bring a little entertainment with you. There are power outlets in each seat, however there is no wifi, which I was actually pretty happy about. And because for much of the way you are going through remote canyons and mountains, you often don’t have cell service either.
Bring a Few Snacks
Even though there is lots of food available, you don’t always have control over when that food is served. I wish I would’ve had a little snack before boarding the train in Glenwood to Denver as it took a while to get the breakfast service started and by the time I got my delicious waffle at 10AM, I was starving!
You Don’t Take the Train into Denver Union Station
Denver is a big city with a lot of rail traffic, therefore at times it feels like you could get out and walk faster than the train. Just be patient getting in and out of Denver…have a drink and relax…you aren’t in a hurry.
In addition, know that at this time the Rocky Mountaineer train does not drop you off at Union Station. You are actually dropped off in RINO just a few miles from the station and then are put on a coach bus and taken to the station.
When I asked Rocky Mountaineer about this – they did say that dropping at the station was the desire, but they were still working through the red tape on that.
On that same note – you will get dropped off about 7 miles outside of Moab. There is no train station there, just a dirt field right now. Once again coach buses then take you into Moab to your hotel.
When is the Best Time to Ride The Rocky Mountaineer in Colorado and Utah?
They are doing an abbreviated season to for 2021 from August to November since they have just launched. But the good news is that they have some discounts for people who want to be the first to take the train. In 2022 they will run from approximately April to November.
I think the best time to do this trip is the fall for the autumn colors. In the mountains that means late September to early October.
Who is this Train Trip For?
Anyone really, yet I think it might be hard to entertain young kids on the train…but that’s me, I think it’s hard to entertain kids anywhere! I do think this trip is great for multi-generational travelers. I know my parents would love this trip and it would be fun to do with them. It also needs to be for people who are not in a hurry, and like the slow speed of a train.
I also think it will be a super offering for International visitors where they can do something really unique and see other parts of America besides just the NYC or California.
Rocky Mountaineer Colorado Prices
The two-day rail journeys, including a one-night hotel accommodation in Glenwood Springs, will start from $1,250 USD plus tax per person for the Silverleaf Service.
If you are looking for a unique way to travel through America’s majestic mountains where you can just sit back and enjoy the view, this is the trip for you. Even if you are a Colorado resident like me!