Rail experiences don’t get much more epic than North America’s Rocky Mountaineer. And now the legendary train is veering off its Canadian rails to link Colorado and Utah, writes Brian Thacker.
“Booooom!” Our dapper carriage host Michael bellows into the microphone. He is telling us about how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed this train – well, a predecessor, 125 years ago – and blew up the safe.
I am aboard the new Rocky Mountaineer ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ route, travelling from Denver, Colorado, to the red canyon country of Moab, Utah. And for two days, our Rocky Mountaineer jovial host will extol us with historical tales, railway lore and local wildlife sightings.
Rockies to the Red Rocks – Day 1: Denver to Glenwood Springs
Day one begins with an early start. Feeling well-rested after a night at The Crawford Hotel – located directly above the iconic Denver Union Station – there’s just enough time for something to eat before our 8am departure. Handily, we don’t have to travel far for breakfast. Downstairs in the station, Snooze, an AM Eatery, has a signature flight of pancakes which provides an ideal pre-boarding refuel.
Soon, we’re leaving Denver behind and rising through pine-draped slopes and in and out of 29 train tunnels carved into the Rockies. Inside, it’s all about comfort on the Rocky Mountaineer. The carriages are spacious, and the domed windows offer unobstructed views of the surrounding scenery like a big-screen TV. Our ever-changing views go from orange and yellow fall colours to expansive green valleys, before fading to jagged walls of steep canyons.
There’s no dining car, which means passengers dine in their seats. Although that might not sound like a luxurious experience trust me, it is. Dinner is served on linen tablecloths and accompanied by signature cocktails, with an impressive gourmet menu to choose from. But don’t worry about feeling confined to your seat. There’s also a plush lounge with a bar and a vestibule between the carriages. The latter is the perfect place for a breath of fresh air and photo-taking. As you can imagine, this is one of the Rocky Mountaineer’s most popular spots.
Before we pause for the night at a hotel in Glenwood Springs – home to the world’s largest hot springs pool – Michael tells us to look out for bears on the riverbank. While sipping an Aperol spritz in the lounge, I don’t see any animals, but I do see lots of bare bums. Local rafters on the river greet the passing train by dropping their strides. A memorable, albeit unusual, welcome to the town.
Rocky Mountaineer by day, local hotels by night
Alongside the Rocky Mountaineer’s onboard hospitality, the Rockies to Red Rocks two-day package includes this overnight stay in Glenwood Springs. Though they might not be as luxurious as some of the larger hotels guests can stay at along the Rocky Mountaineer’s other routes, the range of accommodation in Glenwood Springs is quaint and comfortable. The big highlight of this little town is visiting the world’s largest hot spring pool. The mineral-rich pool is open until 9pm giving you plenty of time to soak your muscles while taking in the fresh mountain air.
Partner hotels in the area include the likes of Hotel Denver, Hotel Colorado and Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge. The town is scenic and relaxing but, before you know it, it’s time to get back on the train.
Rockies to the Red Rocks – Day 2: Glenwood Springs to Moab
We’re on a dawn call departing Glenwood Springs, but very quickly you’ll realise it was worth the early start. We’re greeted with a fiery sunrise as the Rocky Mountaineer rolls alongside the Colorado River. At breakfast, the beverage cart is busy with passengers indulging in mimosas and bloody Marys alongside their scrambled eggs. After all, why would you not take advantage of the unlimited drinks included in the package?
Before we cross the state border into Utah, I see Colorado bison, elk and deer. Well, I see them all on my plate, at least. Our last meal is a charcuterie plate of local cheeses and slices of the aforementioned local wildlife – a true taste of the state.
At noon we grumble to a halt in the middle of the desert, where a bus is waiting to take us on a guided tour of Moab’s dramatic red sandstone canyons and arches. I am, of course, looking forward to seeing Canyonlands National Park. But it’s also bittersweet to be leaving the Rocky Mountaineer behind. It’ll soon be cocktail hour, after all.
Extend your Rocky Mountaineer Adventure
Those with a little longer to spare might want to consider extending their Rocky Mountaineer adventure. Choose from a four-day trip beginning in either Denver or Moab or indulge in an immersive eight-day return journey from Denver.
The Rockies to the Red Rocks Classic includes two days on the train as well as three nights’ accommodation at hotels in Denver, Glenwood Springs and Moab. Before you depart Denver, consider a morning walking tour to take in some of the city’s best historic sights. Or explore Denver’s distinct neighbourhoods – from the tourist attractions of Capitol Hill to eating and drinking your way around the Highlands and checking out the museums and galleries of LoDo.
You can also explore further in Colorado with a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver – or for rail enthusiasts – less than a 2-hour drive south of Denver you can reach Colorado Springs. Explore Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, and ride the recently reopened Pikes Peak Cog Railway – the highest cog railway in the world, and check in for a night at The Broadmoor to kickstart your journey with a luxury mountain stay.
Rockies to the Red Rocks Excursion eight-day journey
Looking to spend more time exploring the American Southwest? Hop onboard the Rockies to the Red Rocks Excursion eight-day journey. Guests can enjoy four-days onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, taking in incredible deserts, canyons, hoodoos and archways. Breathtaking landscapes aside, more days on one of the world’s most legendary trains means more exceptional hospitality.
Find out more about the Rockies to the Red Rocks Rocky Mountaineer packages by visiting rockymountaineer.com
This article was produced in partnership with Colorado Tourism Office. colorado.com
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