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Riding the Amtrak train through the Colorado Rocky Mountains has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. Seeing the tracks flow through Glenwood Canyon and then into the mysterious unknown along the Colorado has always captivated my imagination.
Well, 2021 was the year that we made it happen, and we literally can’t wait to take another Amtrak trip.
After getting a great deal on some flights out of Denver, we were looking for a one-way trip to get us from our home near Salt Lake City to Denver. So we booked tickets on the California Zephyr and anxiously awaited our trip to explore Denver with kids on Amtrak.
Amtrak Comfort in Coach For Sleeping
We traveled in coach class, mostly because that was the most affordable way to travel, and as a family of 7, costs can add up quickly. With a 15-hour train ride ahead of us that left at 3:30 am, we knew that was a bit of a gamble since everyone would be VERY TIRED (we left home at 1:30am in a snowstorm to catch our train).
Once we arrived on board, we were pleasantly surprised with how comfortable Amtraks coach seating was. Each row had 2 seats that were wider than most airlines business class seats. Not only did they recline pretty far back, they also had a leg and foot rest. Basically, think of your Amtrak seat as a Lazy Boy Recliner (just not as fluffy). This made it so much easier for everyone to get some sleep during the trip and to rest throughout the day.
For reference, I’m 5’10” and my husband is 6’2″ and we both had plenty of leg room.
Do you really need a sleeper car to sleep well on Amtrak?
Since we’ve never slept on an Amtrak in a sleeper car, we can’t give much background there, but what we can tell you is that on the California Zephyr train we were on, there was PLENTY of room in coach to just sleep in our seats. While it’s not like sleeping in a bed, it’s pretty close to the comfort of sleeping in a reclining chair. For our family to reserve sleeper cars for our trip, it would have cost us 4x’s as much. For a much longer trip of several days, we would consider getting a sleeper car, but for a shorter amtrak train trip, coach was just fine.
Getting Around And Moving On Amtrak
On the California Zephyr, there were plenty of options to get around and MOVE which made the travel so much easier with kids. By far it was more comfortable than traveling by plane or car. The isles were wide, and best of all the observation car has plenty of room for you to leave your seat and hang out there for a while as a change of pace.
Observation Car on The California Zephyr Train Trip Through Colorado
The Observation Car was the highlight of our train trip through Colorado. The car is on the upper level of the train and has extra high windows so you can get great views of the mountains. There are options for booth dinettes so you can play games there or enjoy your food, or chairs facing out the windows so you can enjoy the view. While our train started out fairly empty in Salt Lake, it was FULL by the time we reached Denver and there were still always open seats in the observation car. If you are traveling in coach, plan on splitting your trip between your regular seat and the observation car!
The scenery on the Colorado Amtrak Train
The scenery on the California Zephyr route through Colorado was absolutely stunning. While we did pick up the train in Salt Lake City, it wasn’t until we hit the Colorado border and started to go up the Colorado river that things got interesting.
The route starts getting beautiful right along HorseTheif canyon, which absolutely captivated our kids. We’ve floated that section of the river MANY TIMES, so it was exciting to see it all by train. From there, the train basically follows the Colorado River. It goes into Grand Junction, into Rifle and Glenwood Springs, up Glenwood Canyon, and then heads north away from I-70.
Honestly, pictures don’t do the scenery justice (it was also snowing for a good portion of the trip so most of the photos are out of wet windows). IT. WAS. AMAZING.
Even better was that our conductor basically gave us a guided tour from Glenwood Springs until Denver so that we know important facts, cool history, and all about the local geology and animals in the area. Honestly, I’d take this train over and over again just to learn all about the cool facts.
While we loved the winter scenery, having lived in Colorado for most of my life, I know that this trip would be just as beautiful in any season, so we’re planning on going again at different times of year (I can’t even imagine how pretty it would be in the fall.
Skiing in Colorado with Amtrak
Amtrak provides easy and affordable access to many mountain areas, so it’s perfect to take on your next Colorado ski trip. We recommend skiing at Winter Park since the train access is hard to beat. Even if you’re not skiing, bring a warm ski coat in the winter since temperatures along this route can drop quickly!
Colorado Amtrak With Kids
Like I mentioned before, taking the Amtrak through Colorado was so much more comfortable with kids than a car or plane, but it does take longer. That being said, if you’re not in a rush, I’d recommend Amtrak in a heartbeat!
Advantages of train travel with kids:
- Plenty of room to spread out. If my kids were younger, they could have been playing cars on the floor between the seats because the seating is so well spaced out.
- Reclining chairs. While I wasn’t at the peak of comfort in the recliners, my kids had no problems sleeping for long stretches. As a bonus, the white noise from the train on the tracks helped to drown out sounds that would normally startle them.
- You can get up and walk around. Need a change of pace? Head to the observation car.
- 2 FREE Checked bags per person. This can save you SO MUCH MONEY when traveling with a family!
- SNACK BAR. While I wouldn’t choose to eat the onboard food for days on end (at least what they have available to coach passengers), it was all such a treat for a day! As a bonus, several of the stops we made had concessions inside the train stations, so the kids thought it was so fun to get off in a new town and go get a snack before getting back on the train.
- Connection. Typically, we road trip with our kids, which means they’re in the back and one of the adults is driving while the other is navigating (or passing out snacks). Essentially, we mostly just get to our destination, but the journey isn’t anything special. When we took the Amtrak train with kids we spent time together reading books, playing card games, watching movies, and talking about all the cool things we were seeing out the windows. It was such a great chance to connect!
Food On Board Amtrak in Coach
If you are traveling on an Amtrak car where you purchased a sleeper bunk, you’ll get access to the dining room for dining. If you’re traveling by coach, you get access to the snack cafe.
The snack cafe had very basic food options, similar to what you’d find in a small convenience store. There was fruit, microwaveable breakfast sandwiches, cup of noodles, prepackaged muffins, microwavable burritos, sandwiches, and soups. Of course, there was also some pure junk food like soda, candy, chips, and granola bars.
Many of the families that were traveling coach brought a small cooler full of snacks and meals with them, which was brilliant! In the future, we’ll do a combination of bringing our own food, and let the kids buy a few things along the way.
What To Know Before You Ride Amtrak in Colorado with Kids:
There are several things that you can do to make your family Amtrak trip go smoother.
- Download the Amtrak app. This will let you know in advance if your train is running late and when it’s expected to arrive at the station. This was super helpful for us as our train was delayed by an hour so we got to sleep a little longer.
- Kids ages 2-12 ride Amtrak for 50% off the adult price
- You can (and should) bring your own food! It’s a great way to save money and give you more food options.
- Each passenger can check 2 bags for FREE
- There are plugs at the seats to keep your electronics charged, but not all trains have wifi (the California Zephyr did not). Download lots of movies on your device in advance for some downtime on the trip.
- Pack a small blanket and pillow for everyone if you’re traveling through the night. We used these inflatable camping pillows and they were perfect.
- Pack some travel games to play. We think that this card game for the whole family is great, and even our younger kids can play this card game and have a blast. This is a great travel game as well if you’re looking for a more in-depth game.
Details for Amtrak in Salt Lake City
There is not a lot of information online about the Amtrak Station in Salt Lake City, but we thought it was set up well. The Salt Lake Amtrak Station is at 340 South 600 West in Salt Lake.
When you arrive at the station, go inside and check your bags in. They recommend getting to the station 1 hour in advance if you’re checking bags, though that’s a fairly generous estimate.
Parking for Salt Lake City Amtrak
There is free parking across the street from the Amtrak station. You can park there for the duration of your trip (yes, there is overnight parking at Amtrak in Salt Lake), and there is NO CHARGE. Yes, parking is FREE at Amtrak in Salt Lake (as of Jan 2022). I will be honest and let you know that it is a very basic parking lot and I’m not sure if it’s monitored by security, but we had no problems with it.
If you don’t want to use Amtrak Free parking, you can park at an overnight airport parking lot (off-site)and take an Uber into town for about $15 each way.