All Aboard! I felt the familiar jolt of forward momentum as the train slowly started to roll. A whistle blew, and the train ever so slowed started to rock back and forth creaking on the tracks as the metal-on-metal friction began. I looked out my big window thinking about my upcoming journey and took in the last squinting look at the red rocks of Moab and Arches National Park as we pulled away and started our journey towards Denver.
The Rocky Mountaineer train service between Denver and Moab is the newest way to get through the scenic Rocky Mountains. Sure – there are faster ways, but this is definitely the most scenic way to make the journey, and probably the must comfortable!
As someone who started my career working at a railroad, I love trains and have often wished that America had more train routes through our gorgeous landscape. You can find scenic short lines that only take an hour or two, but this new Denver to the Red Rocks route promised a real journey, with two equally exciting destinations at either end.
The two-day Rocky Mountaineer trip promises endless food and drink, commentary on the region, comfort, and larger-than-life panoramic windows. There is an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs so you’ll always have daylight to enjoy the views – a luxurious opportunity only afforded to Rocky Mountaineer passengers.
As part of a longer journey – it could serve as the perfect ending or beginning to a longer trip in the West.
Things to do in Moab
I arrived in Moab for a few days prior to my train ticket so I could enjoy the parks and soak up the atmosphere of this unique part of the country. Whether you are starting in Moab like me, or arriving in Moab – you’ll want to plan some extra time around this charming town. Of course, the two national parks are the draw to this region, but it also has many other adventures for all interests. And don‘t forget the delicious restaurants, and shopping.
Arches National Park
The main highlight of Arches is driving the 18-mile scenic park road to see some of the 2,000 arches in the park. You might be wondering what makes something an arch:
- You have to be able to see through it.
- It has to be at least 3 feet in height or width
- It is a continuous slab of rock with no running water going through it (that is called a bridge!)
Delicate Arch is by far the most well-known, but why? It’s not only used as the symbol of Moab and often the state of Utah, but it’s the only free-standing arch in the world.
I didn’t do the hike to Delicate Arch due to time constraints and instead viewed it from a distance. I love to get off the beaten path whenever I can so I chose to self-drive to some lesser-known arches. You’ll need a 4WD rental to go on the dirt roads around Arches National Park, but it’s definitely worth it because a 4WD vehicle will take you away from the crowds and into more remote areas of the park.
1.4 million people visit Arches National Park each year and only 1% of them venture onto the back roads of the park. It was these back roads where I had the best views of Balancing Rock and was able to enjoy some short hikes to hidden arches like Whales Eye Arch.
Canyonlands National Park
I also recommend taking a 4WD car into Canyonlands National Park because Potash Road and driving Shafer Trail were a highlight for me to experience this rugged landscape. It’s there where you’ll first come in contact with the Colorado River as it snakes around carving tall canyon walls. Make sure you stop at the Thelma and Louis cliff to peer over the edge if you dare. And only drive the Shafer Trail if you are comfortable with narrow mountain roads, hairpin turns, and no guard rails!
If you would rather let someone else do the leading, visit the red rock landscape by horseback. I took a sunset tour at Red Cliffs Lodge just 20 minutes outside of Moab along the Colorado River. The ranch has some great riding horses, gentle, yet you weren’t on complete autopilot. The trails wound back around the valley between two large buttes and provided lots of twists, turns, ups and downs and even a stream.
This family-owned lodge provides the perfect mix of rustic luxury to complement your train ride. My private patio had an incredible view of the river and the cliffs. Honestly, there was no poor view on the entire property! The swimming pool, rooms, cabins, and even the stables had incredible views. I recommend making the evening even more memorable with dinner on the deck while the sun goes down throwing shadows across the fin rocks in the distance. It was sort of like watching puffy clouds and using your imagination yelling out shapes you see.
Strolling Main Street
The Rocky Mountaineer doesn’t depart Moab until 2 PM, so this is the perfect morning to have a slow breakfast at Love Muffin Café, and walk around the shops. My favorite stop was at Moab Made, a store full of creative products from local artists. From art to jewelry to pottery, you’ll find unique gifts here you won’t find in any other store. Each local artist basically sells on consignment, all beautifully curated by Moab Made. There’s also plenty of Native American art stores, gear stores, clothing, and cafés along Main Street.
I stopped in the quirky Moab Food Truck Park in search of a quick lite bite for lunch and some shade. Luckily, they had both. It was nice to stroll around all morning since I knew my afternoon would be spent sitting on the train. I also made sure not to overindulge in the many food choices because I knew there would be plenty to eat on our journey.
What to Expect on the Rocky Mountaineer Luxury Train
This is the beauty of this journey – the views. I watched as the Red Rocks of Moab gave way to the desert, then to the lush farmland of Colorado’s western slope, we climbed up into the mountains, through canyons, next to cliff walls, through ski towns, underneath the continental divide, and then drop into the flat prairie beyond Denver.
Thanks to the way the cars are designed, there is no bad seat on the train! The windows practically go from floor to ceiling, giving you an expansive view to enjoy. I also noticed when we left Glenwood Springs that they cleaned the windows overnight which was a great touch.
Seating and Cars
You have one main assigned seat where you eat and can drink. There is no dining car, you are served at your seat, similar to an airplane. The leather seats are comfortable and can be adjusted forward or backward. There’s a power plug in each seat so you can keep your phone charged for taking plenty of photos and videos. There’s also ample leg space to put your carry-on bag and have plenty of room to move around.
There is a lounge car available to only Silverleaf Plus passengers. The lounge car has plush seats, small tables and a bartender at your disposal at any time. It’s nice to be able to have a little change of internal scenery once in a while!
Food and Drink
This is one of the things Rocky Mountaineer excels at. Not only do they serve multiple courses, but they also have a menu that includes local producers from the region you are traveling through. This is a lovely touch supporting those small businesses along the route.
There is no dining car or kitchen, so the food is prepared in each car, and is similar to first-class airplane food and service. I thoroughly enjoyed the Epic Brewing “Escape to Colorado” pale ale braised short ribs, with roasted San Luis Valley roasted potatoes and a glass of Malbec. Expect linen napkins, a charcuterie platter, bottomless wine, a well-rounded main dish and dessert from the Aspen bakery.
Cocktails are also available for the entire journey. Bloody Mary with my breakfast? Yes, thank you!
Another sign of luxury was the smooth transfers of luggage each day. When we pulled up to the century-old train station in Glenwood Springs, I could see my hotel for the night right outside my window across from the train station. It doesn’t get much easier than that. However, it did get even easier – they passed out our room keys on the train and we didn’t even have to go through the process of checking in.
When I opened the door to my room at historic Hotel Denver, my checked bag was already inside waiting for me. And in the morning when I left, I just left that bigger bag in my room and they took care of getting it on the train. This allowed me to have more time exploring the town in the morning.
Highlights of the Rail Journey
If you want to get a visual idea of the journey, watch the daily stories I created on Instagram.
This 6-mile tunnel underneath the Continental Divide is one of those great engineering feats. Who knew that darkness could be so cool? It really does feel like a whole different world when you emerge into the light again!
One of my favorite things about the journey through Colorado was when we went through the areas where it was impossible to build roads. This meant I was able to see parts of Colorado, like Gore Canyon, that only people taking the train could see.
I never knew that such a deep rapid-filled canyon existed along the Colorado River until our train tracks squeezed into the narrow canyon right next to the river with towering walls on both sides of us.
It was also surprising to me to learn there were rapids designated as Class V+! These famous Gore Canyon rapids run for nine miles and are meant only for experts.
3Glenwood Canyon and I70
The 16 mile Glenwood Canyon is another engineering feat of mass proportions. This canyon somehow has fit railroad tracks, the Colorado River, and a four-lane interstate through a narrow canyon. It’s so narrow that the interstate lanes are stacked on top of each other which is stacked over the river! The steep canyon walls are also the sign of frequent mud slides, so be prepared to go slow through this section, which is the exact way you want to experience Glenwood Canyon – slowly.
The town was made famous by their healing hot springs. Created in 1885 with the goal of becoming a world-class wellness resort, the Glenwood Hot Spring Pools are a central part of the town. If you have time, a soak in the mineral rich hot spring pools is just what you need after a long day on the train drinking, eating, and relaxing!
5Grand Mesa and Palisades
This is the bread basket of Colorado, and it’s great to see all the green fields from the train. In addition, this is where you also get a great look at the Grand Mesa, the largest flat topped mountain in the world. Grand Mesa boasts more than 300 stream-fed alpine lakes at elevations over 11,000 feet. It drops off abruptly into Palisade and suddenly the farming takes over.
For the majority of the journey, you’ll follow the mighty Colorado River. I loved seeing the various sides of the river – some powerful and some gentle. Fishermen and rafters waved to us as we passed by reminding me that this landscape is important for so many groups. I’ve always felt like the Colorado River was such an important part of Colorado; and from the train windows you could see the many ways it was utilized by Coloradans.
Denver to Las Vegas an Epic Western US Trip
Even though I only experienced a few days of the Rockies to the Red Rocks with Rocky Mountaineer trip offered by Enchanting Travels I was able to get a great feel for their service level. In fact, my Enchanting Travels Trip Coordinator contacted me multiple times during my trip to ensure that everything was ok, and to confirm last minute changes I made to my itinerary. It’s not often that you can make last minute changes as you are boarding the plane, but I texted my coordinator as I got on the plane and by the time I disembarked the plane I already had a message back confirming the change. Now that is service.
My 5 Top Tips for Riding the Rocky Mountaineer Denver to the Red Rocks
- Bring a swimsuit and take a dip in the Glenwood Hot Springs – the largest hot spring pool in the world. Traveling westward, you arrive in Glenwood Springs around 5 or 6pm and have time for a dinner and soak.
- Bring layers for the train. Sometimes it was really chilly, and sometimes it was hot thanks to the big windows. It’s best to have a sweater/fleece in your carry-on bag to layer up when the AC is on.
- Take pictures where you can avoid the window glare. The best images will be from the open-air vestibule that you are allowed to occupy in between cars. It’s loud, but the pictures will be worth it!
- Bring your patience – you aren’t in a hurry. The average speed of the train is 35 mph. In addition, it has to stop occasionally for other freight trains or workers on the tracks. Just sit back, relax, and order another cocktail.
- There is no WiFi – and you won’t miss it at all! There are so many other things to enjoy and views to oooh and aaahhh about.
I felt lucky to be one of the first people to do this epic train route. Even though I had driven from Denver to Moab many times, this was different. It was a chance to slow down and really appreciate the unique landscape. I felt it sink into my vision like never before thanks to those big windows and our pleasant pace of travel. Slow travel allows us to take in our surroundings and really appreciate them.
The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t about getting from Denver to Moab, it’s about a journey through the Colorado Rockies and its ever-changing landscapes.
View the full itinerary here.