(NewsMadura) — The United States’ rail system is getting a boost from its northern neighbor.
Rocky Moutaineer’s Rockies to the Red Rocks trail stretches between Denver, Colorado and Moab, Utah.
Salvador Lopez/Emotion Cinema
The US, while not known for its train travel, already has a handful of special scenic trains in the West. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail, for example, or Amtrak’s Coast Starlight between Washington and California.
None, however, quite matched the style of the Rocky Mountaineer, whose unique operations, food and beverage program, and luxury-focused service have made it a model for the industry.
Since the exception in 1990, it has been honored eight times by the World Travel Awards as the ‘World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train’, and in 2020 it won a Globe Travel Award for ‘Best Rail Company’.
A night train without sleeping cars
Depending on your perspective, the most distinctive about the Rocky Mountaineer’s operations is either the best competitive advantage or the worst Achilles’ heel: Although it’s a multi-day trip, you don’t actually sleep on the train.
In fact, there are no sleeping cars at all on the Rocky Mountaineer routes. Instead, guests get off the train every night and spend the night at a local hotel.
The train has large windows and only runs during the day to maximize the scenery.
The purpose of this setup is twofold: to give guests a better night’s sleep (no rocking and rolling) and to ensure that darkness does not obscure the landscape.
“Our itineraries showcase some of the most spectacular scenery North America has to offer,” said Nicole Ford, Rocky Mountaineer communications director. “Our trains only run during the day and have oversized windows so guests don’t miss a moment of the ever-changing landscape.”
Another differentiator for this Rocky Mountaineer itinerary is the food and drink program, which forgoes a classic dining car for an eat-in-your-seat approach with individual tray tables. Each row is treated like a table in a restaurant, with personalized service, scheduled meals and drinks on demand.
Passengers on the two-day journey will stay overnight in various hotels. The overnight stay is included in the price.
Salvador Lopez/Emotion Cinema
The menu features local ingredients, many from areas the train passes through, such as short ribs braised with beer from Epic Brewing, charcuterie boards made with Colorado bison, elk, and venison, seasonal vegetables from Colorado growers, and desserts from Aspen Baking Company.
The launch drink menu won’t show regional wine (it’s from California and Oregon instead), but it will offer Colorado beers (Denver Beer Company). Rocky Mountaineer said the drink selection could continue to change during the first season as it looks set to engage in more local partnerships.
There are two classes of service on the Rockies to the Red Rocks route: SilverLeaf ($1,250 per person) and SilverLeaf Plus ($1,645). Both include all meals and drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – seating next to oversized glass domed windows and a hotel stay in Glenwood Springs at the Glenwood Hotel Colorado, the Hotel Denver or the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort.
The SilverLeaf Plus adds an extra course at meal times and exclusive access to a separate lounge with a mixologist creating craft cocktails using premium spirits.
While you can eat at your seat, there’s reason to get up and walk around — every car, regardless of class, has a small outdoor viewing platform where you can blow a breath of fresh air from the mountains.
The train travels through Eagle County, Colorado.
Salvador Lopez/Emotion Cinema
The Journey — Mountains, Hot Springs, and Canyons
The Rocky Mountaineer can be ridden either way, but here we’re focusing on the east-west route.
The journey begins in Denver, where passengers board the Rocky Mountaineer at the Union Pacific Railyard at 9:00 AM. From there, the train departs for an 8-hour, 175-mile ride to Glenwood Springs.
As you slowly roll out of downtown Denver (5,280 feet above sea level), wave goodbye to the skyscrapers and bustling city life. You won’t see either of them again.
The train breaks free from the metropolitan area and begins to climb the “Big 10 Curve” into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It was built in the early 1900s as a hairpin bend to help trains climb the steep terrain. About the middle of the bend, two dozen railcars filled with cement are parked permanently next to the track as a windblock. Visiting any of the outdoor viewing platforms at this time will allow you to experience the region’s infamous winds for yourself.
After the climb to the Rockies you come to the Moffatt Tunnel. It’s been open for nearly a hundred years (since 1928) and it cuts through the Continental Divide at 9,239 feet above sea level to the base of Winter Park Ski Area.
A little further, in Granby, grab the mighty Colorado River and more or less follow it for the rest of your trip to Moab. Watch the green and yellow ranch lands and sweeping valleys give way to a series of canyons, the first day of which concludes with a drive through Glenwood Canyon.
Passengers will stay overnight at their choice of three hotels in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Courtesy Emotion Cinema
The next day’s route between Glenwood Springs and Moab is 194 miles, longer than the previous day. But because this ride follows a drop in altitude, the journey takes only five hours.
Yesterday you watched the city of Denver and the Front Range merge into the high elevation of the Rocky Mountains. Now you will discover how Colorado’s western slope transitions from high alpine forests to red rock cliffs and canyons.
The convergence takes place west of Glenwood in the Grand Valley, where the 11,000-foot-high Grand Mesa and its thick, green forests alternate with the beige, sandstone cliffs of the Book Cliffs Mountain Range.
From there, it’s 25 miles through Ruby Canyon and its red sandstone cliffs, an area only accessible by train, foot, or raft. The train then enters Utah and the Rocky Mountains give way to the vast desert that leads to Moab.
Using the train as a starting point
Traditional train travel wisdom says it’s the journey and not the destination that matters. Thankfully, Rocky Mountaineer’s approach is a bit more modern and a bit more inclusive.
Of course, the two-day train experience is the main course, but Rocky Mountaineer encourages its guests to spend more time at its destinations with pre- and post-trip planning services.
When booking, it helps guests make it a bigger trip by arranging longer stays at the origin and destination. It also partners with tour companies to facilitate adventures in the surrounding areas.
The train passes close to attractions such as Arches National Park in Utah. The railway offers additional tours to the park and other spots at both ends of the journey.
Thanks to Rocky Mountaineer
The first season for Rockies to the Red Rocks now runs through November 19. The 2022 season will be extended to seven months and will begin next spring.
Will McGough is a travel writer, author and guide.