The American West is legendary for its untamed rugged beauty, with the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies rivaling the red pinnacles of Arches National Park. But driving through the breathtaking gorges is not for the faint of heart. With many narrow roads snaking along the precipitous edges of steep cliffs, the scenic rides often turn into tense, white-knuckle drives where the anxious motorists can’t take their eyes off the unpredictable path that lies ahead, let alone enjoy the views. If only someone else would do the driving.
Now, someone else is offering to do it. Rocky Mountaineer, a Canadian luxury train company known for its domestic scenic journeys, has launched a route in the US, bringing the Rocky Mountaineer to Colorado and Utah. Chugging along between Moab, the gateway town to several iconic national parks, and Denver, the capital of Colorado, the train offers a relaxing journey through some of the most beautiful canyons, while serving gourmet food and wines. Rocky Mountaineer’s two-day basic package includes a ride between Moab and Denver, with a night stopover in Glenwood Springs for a starting price of $1550 per person. A notch up from that, their Rockies to the Red Rocks Classic journey adds overnight stays in Moab and Denver starts at $2015 — and is well worth it. Although it may seem pricey, the overall experience is akin to a luxury cruise. And because that quick two-day ride is bound to only whet a traveler’s appetite, the company offers a total of 12 packages, plus you can always add a night or two on your own. With so many choices, here’s one easy itinerary, along with a few potential extras.
Wander in Moab
Your Rockies to the Red Rocks Classic adventure begins in Moab, a mountain town hugged by towering red cliffs with gorgeous views in nearly every direction. Take your time to browse its downtown shops for souvenirs and hiking gear. For a small town, Moab has a surprisingly epicurean food scene — for dinner, relish seafood ceviche and perfectly sizzled steaks at Josie Wyatt’s Grille. As you overnight at the spacious Hyatt Place, go stargazing from its rooftop pool and jacuzzi. There’s an option to tour some of the parks — choose the Salt Lake City Excursion package that includes a half-day trip to Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.
All Aboard the Rocky Mountaineer to Colorado
On your departure date, a bus delivers you to your glass-dome coach car. The massive windows allow a 360-degree view throughout the journey. Wide and comfortable, the seats offer plenty of legroom. Open platforms between cars let you take loads of photos while meals and libations are delivered to your seat. By the way, there’s no need to lug your luggage to the train. Leave your bags in your room and they will be seamlessly delivered to your next hotel.
As your train departs, it takes you on a spectacular ride along the chiseled red rocks of the Arches National Park and the La Sal Mountains. As you marvel at the otherworldly formations, let your imagination run wild — some of them may look like bastions of an ancient fort, some like the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and others like Egyptian sphinxes. Your onboard hosts will tell stories about the places you’re passing. As the train crosses the state line from Utah to Colorado, you’ll travel through the beautiful Ruby Canyon. After a while, you pass by the town of Grand Junction, once the state’s first vineyard planted in 1890. It will be followed by Palisade, Colorado’s wine country and an agricultural region with bucolic views of green fields and peach orchards.
When dinner time comes, ale-braised short ribs and foraged mushrooms are not to miss. What’s more, your meals come with an ever-changing view. You may savor your entree as you glide by the ancient stone formations and dig into dessert while watching rafters braving the rapids on the Colorado River.
Soak in Glenwood Springs
Shortly after dinner, you arrive at Glenwood Spring, a Wild West mountain town steeped in history. Touted as a wellness destination for its mineral hot springs, it was favored by many famous visitors including gangster Al Capone, legendary Wild West performer Buffalo Bill and dentist-turned-gunfighter Doc Holiday. The legendary figures are long gone, but the hot springs are still there, so once you check into Glenwood Hot Springs Resort where your bag is already waiting, unpack your swimsuit and dive in. The town’s central bathing house has massive hot and warm pools, along with a diving board, and the relaxing soak will assure a good night’s rest. Be sure to set your alarm so you don’t oversleep in the morning.
Down to Denver
Your journey will resume early next morning as you indulge in waffles and berries while passing through the forest-covered Glenwood Canyon. Shortly after on your left, you might spot Roundup River Ranch, which belongs to actor Paul Newman. The breathtaking vistas of Gore Canyon and Byers Canyon will follow as the train chugs along the weaving Colorado River.
Stay tuned to your onboard hosts’ announcements, and keep your eyes peeled to the lush forests for wildlife viewing. Although not guaranteed, deer, elk, moose, and even bears have been spotted along the train tracks. And you may see some humans, too — these parts of the Colorado River are popular with rafters and kayakers. Savor coriander-crusted salmon for lunch, wash it down with a glass of Prosecco and be sure to take plenty of pictures.
Arrive to Denver just in time for dinner at Mercantile Dining and Provision, a European-inspired eatery at the city’s downtown Union Station train depot. It’s easy to stay at the Crawford Hotel, located within the station’s wings. But if you’re willing to go the extra mile or two, consider the Catbird hotel in River North or RiNo district, a trendy neighborhood lined with brewpubs and food halls. Catbird is a happy marriage of an art gallery and a sophisticated modern home where rooms are decked with a loft bed, breakfast to order, and a myriad of stylish shared spaces filled with cozy chairs. A home-away-from-home, Catbird beckons for a couple of extra Denver days, which you can pack with plenty to do.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Denver has dozens of art galleries and hundreds of murals that street artists paint on the city’s walls using them as living canvases. For a fun city excursion, choose the eTuk tour, an electric version of a tuk-tuk that quickly brings you up to speed on all Denver attractions—bustling markets, booming pubs, and historic buildings. Be sure to visit the Denver Art Museum, which offers a priceless collection of French impressionists and a gift shop full of affordable artistic creations you can take home with you.
Known for its artisanal brewery scene, Denver also has many high-end restaurants. Swing by its latest posh Mexican spot Bellota, only minutes from Catbird. For your farewell night, opt for outdoor dining at Rioja, which serves Mediterranean food with a twist (think artichoke-goat cheese tortelloni and lamb loin) in the city’s historic Larimer Square where street musicians play. If time permits, stay for a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, the unique open-air performance venue built within the giant natural sandstone outcroppings. It would be an unforgettable grand finale to your epic rail journey in the Rocky Mountaineer from the Rockies to the Red Rocks.