Also on the itinerary is a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
National parks, historic cities, and a spectacular hot air balloon festival, all on one great American train trip — that's what makes Vacation By Rail’s Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta itinerary one of the most iconic ways to experience the southwest in the fall.
“This well-planned tour checks a lot of items off the bucket list: overnight train travel, visits to two national parks, and, of course, visiting Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta — twice," Todd Powell, Vacations By Rail co-founder, told Travel + Leisure. “Our itinerary includes two visits to this annual event: once in the morning to experience the mass ascension as well as in the evening to see illuminated balloons during the night glow.”
Boarding in Chicago or San Francisco — or any spot along Amtrak’s California Zephyr route — travelers will start by experiencing what Powell calls “a classic overnight rail experience” with a highlight being the “dramatic vistas as the train courses through the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Grand Junction.”
Next on the agenda are a pair of national parks, Arches and Mesa Verde, followed by a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad “highlighted by a ride through the Animas River Gorge en route to Silverton,” he said. Then it’s on to explore Santa Fe, where travelers will be led on a historic walking tour, before concluding in Albuquerque at the festival, self-described as the ”largest gathering of balloons and balloonists in the world.”
The mix of so many of the nation’s highlights is what makes this itinerary so unique, especially this time of year. "The southwest in autumn is a wonderful time of year," Powell noted. "Summer heat makes way for milder temperatures, there are fewer visitors in the National Parks, and the changing colors of aspen, cottonwood, and willow trees make a colorful backdrop for hundreds of hot air balloons rising to the sky.”
What takes this itinerary one step beyond is the mix of experiences. “There is a lot of history and culture woven into the itinerary from an historic walking tour of Santa Fe to viewing the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park,” he said. “Travelers are delighted to learn that Mesa Verde National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and our hotel is situated inside the park making for a great opportunity to stargaze.”
But the highlight, of course, is experiencing it all by train. “The rail journeys are part of the adventure on our Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta tour,” he said. “One of the best parts of any rail journey is the opportunity to see parts of the country inaccessible by other modes of transportation, and travelers can do just that on two unique train rides.”
While this year’s itinerary has already sold out, bookings are now available for 2024 starting at $3,095 per person, with more information available at vacationsbyrail.com.
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