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AAA Traveler Worldwise | Central States | Western States
Reimagining Train Travel in the US

RENOWNED FOR ITS CANADIAN TOURS, ROCKY MOUNTAINEER NOW OFFERS LUXURY TOURS CONNECTING POPULAR DESTINATIONS IN THE WESTERN US

  
If you’ve ever driven the stretch of I-70 west of Denver through the Rocky Mountains, you know how tightly you must grip the steering wheel. The steep hills, sharp curves and heavy traffic make enjoying the glistening snowcapped mountain peaks and rippled rock canyons nearly impossible from the driver’s seat. And unless you have a panoramic sunroof, forget about seeing where the mountains meet the crystal-clear blue sky.

Enter Rocky Mountaineer. The rail line has been synonymous with luxury train travel in Canada for more than 30 years. Known for its comprehensive onboard service, locally curated meals and impressive accommodations for guests, Rocky Mountaineer has now expanded its service to Colorado and Utah, bringing a luxurious new way to experience the American West.
 
Glenwood Springs Train ExteriorGlenwood Springs serves as a midway stop for guests on the Rockies to the Red Rocks route, with plenty of scenery and history to enjoy. Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

ROCKIES TO THE RED ROCKS
With travelers changing their plans throughout 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, many were looking for a domestic option that would still allow them to check off an experience on their bucket list. AAA member Linda Speakman says the Rocky Mountaineer’s Rockies to the Red Rocks route allowed her to do just that.

“As I get older, I’m thinking about my bucket list,” says Speakman. “This was at the top. I love my country, and I wanted to see more. I wanted to see Arches National Park.”

Speakman’s AAA travel agent suggested the Rocky Mountaineer route for her. “I told [my agent] I had six ladies of a certain age and what we wanted to do,” says Speakman. “Within 15 minutes, I had a confirmation email from her.”

Heading westbound (there is also an eastbound route from Moab, Utah, to Denver), the trains board at the Union Pacific yard in Denver’s River North Art District. As the train heads west toward the Front Range just west of Denver, it begins climbing the foothills along Big Ten Curve, named for the 10-degree radius on each of its curves. It’s a great spot to capture a photo of the train snaking its way uphill or of the western suburbs of Denver from above.

The dramatic climb also features views through the trees of the 8,344-foot Eldorado Mountain and picturesque Gross Reservoir paralleling South Boulder Creek. The journey uphill crescendos with passage through the Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile-long single-track railroad tunnel that takes the train through the Continental Divide.

Emerging from the tunnel’s western end, the train passes the ski resort of Winter Park, following Elk Creek and the Fraser River toward the confluence of the Colorado River west of Granby, Colorado. This section of the route offers passengers the potential to spot bears, deer and bald eagles as the train snakes its way through stunning Colorado River valleys and the picturesque 12-mile Glenwood Canyon—one of the hallmarks of the route.
  
Onboard SilverLeaf Service Interior
SilverLeaf train cars provide panoramic windows for photography enthusiasts. Courtesy Of Rocky Mountaineer
 

Passengers disembark for an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, with time to explore historic Glenwood Hot Springs. Two mineral water pools—one cooled to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and the other cooled further to 93 degrees—provide a highly relaxing experience. The rest of the historic downtown, located within walking distance of both the hot springs and train station, features a wide variety of local restaurants, breweries, saloons and shops.

According to Director of Onboard Operations Sean Richard, the town has been eager to welcome guests from the Rocky Mountaineer since day one.

“When we arrived, the mayor estimated 1,500 residents came out to cheer us,” he says. “Although we have a great experience in Canada, what makes this special is just how quickly the local community has embraced us and welcomed us into their town.”

In the morning, the train heads west out of the historic rail station for day two of the journey, continuing its path through the shorter cliffs surrounding the Colorado River and passing through the small Colorado towns of Rifle, Parachute and De Beque. The curves along this part of the route allow for some fantastic photos of the train set against the Book Cliffs.

“I always call out the numerous canyons we go through because we see so many that are really, really stunning,” says Train Manager Wendy McMichael. “You go from the very majestic Rocky Mountains—you’ve got those mountain landscapes—and then you go into the stark, vast desert. [Our route has] these big, broad vistas, and [they’re] so uniquely different from one another.”

Making its way through the Utah desert, the train skirts the La Sal Mountains and passes through the ghost town of Cisco before turning south and heading into its final destination, a station just north of Moab, near the entrance to Arches National Park.
  
Glenwood Springs Train Exterior
The Rocky Mountaineer steers through numerous canyons along the route. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountaineer
  

AN EXCEPTIONAL ONBOARD EXPERIENCE
Rocky Mountaineer strives to maintain the service and luxury the brand is known for but has provided a differentiated experience for guests who may be familiar with the railroad’s Canadian routes.

“Our objective here is to make this a route based in the United States so that when Americans come to visit, or international visitors, they get a flavor of what’s happening in the area—not replicate what we do [in Canada],” says Richard.

The route offers two levels of service: SilverLeaf and new-to-market SilverLeaf Plus, a replacement for the Canadian GoldLeaf service’s bi-level coaches that can’t be used on this route due to Moffat Tunnel height restrictions.

Both SilverLeaf and SilverLeaf Plus offer comfortable 56-seat cars outfitted with power outlets near each seat and tall windows that wrap into the car’s ceiling to provide panoramic views. Guests in SilverLeaf Plus also have access to recently remodeled lounge cars featuring oversize black leather chairs and high-top tables. The layout is perfect for conversation, and with a dedicated bar and attendant, it allows guests to spread out away from the traditional train seating.

Meals aboard the Rocky Mountaineer focus on local flavors, with appetizers such as a charcuterie and cheese plate with Colorado-raised bison, elk and venison; a short rib dinner braised with a local brewery’s Escape to Colorado pale ale; and desserts from Aspen Baking Company. The line plans to increase its commitment to local food and beverage offerings, too.

“We want to make sure that what we’re providing contains locally inspired ingredients,” says McMichael. Other menu items currently served include breakfast dishes like Colorado pepper, onion and cheese frittatas and golden waffles served with local berries. Lunch and dinner options include coriander-crusted coho salmon; roasted pork loin flavored with rosemary and honey sourced from Durango, Colorado; and thyme-and-black-pepper roasted chicken breast.

AAA Members receive exclusive discounts on travel arrangements, including car rentals and hotel reservations. Learn More

Glenwood Springs Train Exterior
The Rocky Mountaineer steers through numerous canyons along the route. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountaineer  

GETTING TO AND FROM MOAB
The Rockies to the Red Rocks trip package is four days and three nights, featuring overnight stays in Moab, Glenwood Springs and Denver. While Moab and Denver lodgings may vary, guests can expect to stay at historic properties in Glenwood Springs. A shorter travel option, with one overnight stay in Glenwood Springs, is also available.

Due to limited commercial flights in and out of Canyonlands Field Airport in Moab, longer packages may make sense to most travelers. A five-night option includes time in Salt Lake City, or a six-night option allows for time in Las Vegas—both with a motorcoach transfer to or from Moab.

Additional package options that include guided tours of the national parks near Moab or city packages in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are also available—and a huge draw to travelers like Speakman.

“We flew into Salt Lake City [and] got to do a Salt Lake City tour,” says Speakman. “We have been hosted in wonderful hotels. We got a tour lined up for Arches National Park, and that was one of the major points of this trip in addition to the train.”

Through Rocky Mountaineer partner Southwest Adventure Tours, guests can explore the stunning views of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
   
MountainsArches National Park is a popular spot to visit while meeting the train in Moab. Photo by Ben Young

LUXURY TRAIN TRAVEL IS BACK
A trip on the Rocky Mountaineer turns a vacation into an adventure, reviving the luxury and romance of traveling by rail and providing the opportunity to see beautiful regions of the country while relaxing in comfort.

If you’re still not persuaded, McMichael has some convincing parting words.

“One of the things that’s hardest for me to explain to someone who is new to the whole concept of Rocky Mountaineer and luxury train travel is the energy, the socializing, the bringing the outdoors in that you will get to experience,” she says.

“As Train Manager, it just warms my heart watching guests connect with one another and become friends. We have guests who have traveled and met on the Rocky Mountaineer and then became lifetime travelers every year. They go on a trip now together because they met on the train. It’s hard to put into words, but it is just so beautiful to watch and be a part of.”