courtesy Anderson Vacations
Published November 14, 2018
In an age of suburbia and artificial intelligence, the wild, untamed American West looms large in travelers’ minds. The landscapes in the West seem to stretch on forever, often without a trace of human life.
What better way to contemplate these vast expanses than by train? Choose one of these train-themed Travel Alliance Partners tours for a relaxing way to experience the Wild West.
You Are the Railroad Engineer
Instead of sitting idly while the scenery goes by, passengers take charge of the train themselves on the You Are the Railroad Engineer tour with Leisure West Tours and Cruises. According to previous participants, operating a steam locomotive is a big thrill and the highlight of this four-day tour.
Based in Brighton, Colorado, Leisure West Tours and Cruises offers this interactive tour on the Nevada Northern Railway in mid-October and other dates as requested. The company designed the tour for small groups and has scheduled previous tours for as few as two and as many as eight. The Nevada Northern Railway is the country’s only railroad engineer program that lets guests operate a locomotive.
Group members take turns standing at the controls of a steam locomotive and a diesel locomotive on each train’s main lines. Guides walk them through blowing the whistle at road crossings, controlling the throttle, ringing the bell and other train operations.
After donning the engineers’ caps, participants feel the heat of the coal-banked fire and watch the steam fill the sky from behind the throttle of a 19th-century steam locomotive. They also explore the rail yards and historic Nevada mining towns of Ely, McGill and the surrounding area.
Colorado Train Adventure
Though 19th-century train passengers eyed the passing Colorado mountains wistfully imagining gold, today’s groups can ride across the state simply to appreciate the breathtaking mountains, clear lakes and untouched scenery.
The Colorado Train Adventure tour from Western Leisure allows guests to ride three scenic train routes as they circle the Centennial State. Western Leisure, based in Midvale, Utah, reports that the eight-day itinerary works well for fall foliage tours and for all levels of mobility.
Past tours rode up the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, but that attraction is now shut down for repairs; the company is researching replacement activities.
At the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, guests ride a vintage train along the Arkansas River for stunning views. After a visit to the rail town Salida and Great Sand Dunes National Park, guests board a train on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. Western Leisure clients often say this route delightfully surprised them with its open vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The next stop, at mysterious and intriguing Mesa Verde National Park, also ranks as a customer favorite.
But the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad remains the biggest draw of the tour for the Wild West fun of Durango, and the famous train ride’s rugged peaks and alpine meadows.
Red Cliffs Utah Adventure by Rail
One type of traveler might leap at the chance to relax at a resort with jaw-dropping red cliffs in full view, but another might opt to insert some adrenaline into the experience with a Slick Rock Hummer Safari ride. Both types of travelers leave happy on Joy Tour and Travel’s Red Cliffs Utah Adventure by Rail.
The eight-day tour from the Cincinnati-based tour operator begins onboard a train traveling from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado. After seeing lovely mountain scenery from the Amtrak train, guests settle into the Red Cliffs Adventure Lodge in Moab, Utah, for four nights. The lodge’s cliffs and optional excursions of Hummer and horseback rides allow visitors to choose their own adventure during built-in free time.
From the lodge, groups embark on a scenic raft trip on the Colorado River and explore Canyonlands National Park. At Arches National Park, travelers hike past some of the famed arches and learn about the formations’ geological history at the 18,000-square-foot visitors center.
Other highlights of the tour include time at Capital Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park and a whole day at Zion National Park. Joy Tour and Travel’s clients consistently rave over the tour, with many reporting that they would consider booking the Utah trip again.
Alaska and the Yukon Explorer
One of the most popular tours in Anderson Vacations’ 25-year history is Alaska and the Yukon Explorer. The tour ventures into the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness for awe-inspiring scenery and abounding wildlife. The Calgary, Alberta, company credits some of the tour’s popularity to the fact that it offers both a driver and an experienced tour manager instead of a driver who also serves as a guide.
The customizable 12-day tour limits seating to 28 participants on a 56-passenger motorcoach for window seats and plenty of personal space. The tour winds its way to the Klondike gold rush town of Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon province for a demonstration of the enormous Gold Mining Dredge, one of the largest wood-hulled dredges in North America.
Clients rank the full-day excursion into Denali National Park as a top highlight for its spectacular mountain scenery and frequent wildlife encounters. Another highly rated excursion sends visitors on a cruise of Prince William Sound to witness massive chunks of glacial ice crashing into the water. Puffins, otters, sea lions and whales make frequent appearances.
To ride on one of Yukon’s famous railways, groups can add an excursion aboard the White Pass and Yukon Railway in Skagway. The railroad follows a mountain route along the original Klondike trail.
When in search of Arizona’s red rock canyons, richly hued fall foliage and riparian ravines, why not travel in style? First-class passengers aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad not only admire magnificent panoramas but also sip on champagne and snack on Southwestern-style appetizers from a shaded open-air viewing car.
This fully restored vintage train ranks as a high point on Alki Tours’ Arizona’s Trains trip. The six-day itinerary with the Seattle-based tour operator offers two scenic railroad rides that bookend experiences in some of Arizona’s most dramatic landscapes.
The Grand Canyon Railway, operational since 1901, still enchants visitors with larger-than-life vistas and authentic characters and musicians eager to bring the Old West to life. At the end of the ride, guests immerse themselves in the overwhelming beauty and history of Grand Canyon National Park. Participants can venture out to view a sunrise over the canyon before a naturalist shares the history and geology of one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
Groups also especially love their private tour of the galaxy at the Lowell Observatory and the abundant art galleries and natural scenery in Sedona. The tour ends with an upscale train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad.
Though travelers might initially associate Nevada with the high-rolling casino experience, the Surprising Nevada tour from Shebby Lee Tours reveals another side of the state. The Silver State’s rich railroad heritage and natural wonders fill the seven-day custom tour. Shebby Lee Tours is based in Rapid City, South Dakota.
The tour introduces guests to the state with a half-day raft tour through the Black Canyon. The water excursion begins below the immense Hoover Dam, where the canyon walls rise 2,000 feet from the river’s edge. The raft glides past waterfalls, hot springs, bighorn sheep and other natural wonders.
The next day, groups try ancient activities such as corn grinding, fiber-making, petroglyph painting and atlatl throwing at the Lost City Museum. The tour’s next stop, Valley of Fire State Park, showcases displays of real petroglyphs.
From there, the itinerary focuses on Nevada’s railroad heritage at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely. Guests ride a historic steam train and visit Ely’s Renaissance Village, a museum consisting of homes restored to represent the various ethnic backgrounds.
Groups see more natural wonders at Great Basin National Park before ending their trips with a hop-on tour of the Las Vegas Strip.