The Rocky Mountains plummet and soar over 3,000 miles of the U.S. and Canada, running through provinces like British Columbia and Alberta downward through U.S. mountain states like Montana, Colorado and Utah on into New Mexico. Train trips and tours through the Rockies provide the opportunity to enjoy the purple-hued, snow-encrusted peaks of one of America's most prominent, celebrated mountain ranges from the safety and comfort of a train cabin.
In the U.S., two Amtrak lines run directly through the Rocky Mountains. The Empire Builder connects Seattle and Portland to Chicago, and the California Zephyr runs from Emeryville, California to Chicago. The Empire Builder runs through the northern Rockies, making such stops as eastern Glacier National Park; Whitefish, Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho. The California Zephyr runs right through the heart of the Colorado Rockies, including stops in Glenwood Springs and Fraser/Winter Park. It also includes stops along the Wasatch Range in Utah like Provo and Salt Lake City.
Rails and Trails
Amtrak's trains may be more utilitarian commuters than leisurely, sightseeing vessels, but they still cut through some of the most beautiful terrains in the Rockies. And the Trails and Rails program provides a closer look at local parks and natural resources. Run during the spring and summer in cooperation with the National Park Service, the program offers an educational component to train rides. Both the Empire Builder and the California Zephyr lines participate in this program in the heart of their mountain regions. On the former, the program is run in conjunction with Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and operates between Shelby, Montana and Seattle, and on the latter, the program is run between Grand Junction, Colorado and Denver. Park rangers provide educational programs about the national park system for passengers.
Scenic Train Rides
Colorado has several well-known scenic train routes through the Rockies, including the Royal Gorge Railroad and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The primary season for these scenic trains runs from May through October. Other scenic train rides in the Rockies include the Pike's Peak Cog Railway in Colorado and the Heber Valley Railroad in Utah.
The American and Canadian Rockies are geographically distinct. The Canadian Rockies feature sedimentary rock, whereas the American Rockies are made of igneous and metamorphic rock. The Canadian Rockies were also subjected to more glaciation than the American mountains. What this means for sightseers is that the Canadian mountains appear even more massive and impressive than their American counterparts, even though they are actually lower in elevation. The Canadian Rockies run through the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and down into northern Idaho and Montana.
The Canadian Rockies region is serviced by two VIA Rail lines: the Vancouver-Toronto line and the Prince Rupert-Jasper line. Both lines include a stop in Jasper, a town that is located in Jasper National Park, which is one of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks.
Scenic tourist trains like the Rocky Mountaineer offer multi-day rail tours of the Rocky Mountain region during the spring, summer and fall months. The Rocky Mountaineer runs several different routes, including one that connects Vancouver to Banff, Canada's most popular national park, set in the heart of the Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer has received such honors as National Geographic’s "Journeys of a Lifetime," and Society of American Travel Writers' "Best Train Experience in the World."