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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta by Rail

4.0 stars(29 reviews)

Join visitors from around the world at the annual International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of brightly colored hot air balloons are launched into the Albuquerque sky and the whole town is abuzz with excitement and festivities. You’ll also visit the incredible Arches and Mesa Verde National Parks, ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and tour historic Santa Fe.

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9 days From $2,895 per person
Travel among a group of like-minded travelers led by a professional tour manager

2023 Tour code: RM-ABFA-23

About the tour

This 9-day tour takes you through the southwest in autumn, one of the most beautiful times of year to see the splendid colors and formations of Arches and Mesa Verde National Park, and of course, to gaze in awe at the hundreds of colorful balloons contrasting Albuquerque's blue skies during the International Balloon Fiesta. Your journey begins in Chicago, San Francisco, or wherever along the California Zephyr route is most convenient for you. After a night aboard the train to Grand Junction, you'll continue by motorcoach to the breathtaking red rock landscapes of Moab, Utah. The geography here is like nothing else in the country. Visit Arches National Park, featuring more than 2,000 natural stone arches. Continue to Mesa Verde National Park, where you'll explore the more than 600 ancient cliff dwellings dating back to A.D. 600. Next, aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, you'll journey along the Animas River and through the stunning Rocky Mountains, bursting with fall colors this time of year. In Santa Fe, you'll learn about the Spanish colonists that formed the city and saw the oldest building in the United States. Finally, you'll head to Albuquerque where you'll join visitors and locals alike to watch as hundreds of hot air balloons are launched into the sky, floating into the sunrise in the perfect photo moment. Tour Albuquerque and enjoy ongoing festivities around the city before gathering again to watch the balloons at sunset, complete with a fireworks show. A spectacular southwest adventure you'll remember for years to come!


Activity level Natural Explorer

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You don’t mind spending the day on your feet. You enjoy sightseeing that includes walking, standing or stair climbing. You’re okay with longer days that are more active, such as multiple sightseeing stops, longer motorcoach journeys and getting on and off ships and trains.

What’s included


Day 1 – Depart Chicago aboard the California Zephyr

Arrive at Chicago Union Station and board the California Zephyr. Settle into your onboard accommodations and prepare for your overnight rail journey. Travelers may elect to travel from San Francisco or points in-between and meet your tour manager in Grand Junction. Overnight train.

Day 2 – Grand Junction

Spend your time aboard the train admiring the passing scenery en route to Grand Junction, situated on the Western Slope of Colorado. Check into your hotel with the evening free to rest and enjoy dinner at your leisure tonight. Overnight Grand Junction, CO.

Day 3 - Arches National Park

After breakfast, we depart Grand Junction and follow the Colorado River to Moab, Utah. Our morning stop will be at Arches National Park. On our tour you will discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This Utah wonderland will amaze you with its unusual red rock formations.

Next, we head into downtown Moab for lunch on your own and free time to explore. After, we will climb to the top of the Mesa Verde where we will be spending the night. Enjoy dinner tonight while you look out over the Four Corners area. Overnight Mesa Verde National Park, CO.

  • Breakfast, Dinner
Day 4 – Mesa Verde National Park

After breakfast this morning, we tour Mesa Verde National Park and see some of the cliff dwellings and surface ruins of the ancient Anasazi people. Mesa Verde offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. We will begin our tour at the Far View Museum for a look at the artifacts that have been found at this site. We will continue what is called the "ruins" road to view some of the other sites in the park. After lunch on your own at the Far View cafeteria, we head east to Durango, Colorado where we spend the next two nights. Your evening is free to enjoy downtown, Durango. Overnight Durango, CO.

  • Breakfast
Day 5 – Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

This morning it is all aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The scenery is on a grand scale this morning as we follow the Animas River into the Rocky Mountains. There are no roads that follow these rails, so we are in true wilderness most of the way to the mining town of Silverton. Be sure to bring your camera to capture this breathtaking scenery. The train arrives in Silverton where you will have time for lunch and to shop and browse the town before we board our motorcoach and return to Durango where the remainder of the evening will be at leisure. Overnight Durango, CO.

  • Breakfast
Day 6 – En Route to Santa Fe

We depart Colorado this morning and turn south into the state of New Mexico. The scenery of northern New Mexico is lovely as we head through quaint Spanish towns that were founded in the 1700's and earlier. Our first stop will be at the Rancho de Chimayo Restaurant for lunch. The adobe walls of this 18th-century hacienda are thick and cool, and the ambiance of this restaurant will take you back to the days of the Spanish settlers in northern New Mexico. After lunch, we will stop at Ortega's Weaving Shop to see the hand-woven textiles that this area is famous for. We will also stop at the Santuario de Chimayo, an 18th-century church that is known for its "curative soil." Many people take a bit of this healing dirt home for whatever "ails" them. Our final stop will be in New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe. We will spend the night just steps away from the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail and within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Overnight Santa Fe, NM.

  • Breakfast, Lunch
Day 7 – Santa Fe Sightseeing / Albuquerque

This morning we enjoy an informative historical walking tour of Santa Fe. On our walk, we will hear about the history of the Spanish colonists that helped found this town in 1610 and see the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the United States. Visit the famed Loretto Chapel, stop at San Miguel, the oldest church, and more. You are free after our walk to enjoy the museums and galleries around the Plaza and have lunch in one of Santa Fe's local restaurants.

After lunch, we will head to Albuquerque. Upon arrival at our hotel, there is time to rest and freshen up before we enjoy an early dinner. You will want to get a good night's rest tonight. Tomorrow we are up with the birds to enjoy the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Overnight Albuquerque, NM.

  • Dinner
Day 8 – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Set your alarm for 0'Dark Thirty this morning. We are off to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. On arrival at the Balloon Field, we will begin looking into the morning sky to see if the Dawn Patrol is up in the air. These 5-6 hot air balloons ascend into the early dawn sky to check the weather conditions. As they light up in the dark, they look like twinkling rainbow lights above your head. We will have time once we are on the field to enjoy the many arts and crafts booths before the ceremonies begin. Breakfast is included on the field this morning in the exclusive Chaser's Club lounge area. You can eat breakfast and watch the Balloons at the same time, but remember, this is a participatory event. You do not want just to stand on the sidelines and look. You can walk onto the field, talk to the balloonists, take pictures of the balloons as they are filled with cold air, then propane and then as they slowly inflate until the referees in the striped shirts (zebras we call them) tell each balloonist that they can lift off. There could be as many as 600 balloons in the air this morning! It is an event of a lifetime. 

After the balloons leave the field, we depart for a tour of Albuquerque. We stop at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Museum for a tour and the ceremonial dances that are performed during the Fiesta time. Then, it is off to Old Town for festivities and lunch on your own. We return to our hotel to rest before returning to the Balloon Fiesta for the Night Glow, when the balloons stay on the ground and inflate and illuminate on the field. Dinner is on your own at one of the food booths. We return to our hotel after the fireworks show. Overnight Albuquerque, NM.

  • Breakfast
Day 9 – Tour Conclusion

This morning is at leisure to pack and get ready for your flight or train home. We also reserve this day as a reserve Balloon day if needed. A group transfer to Albuquerque Amtrak Station will accommodate trains departing after 11:00 a.m. and a transfer to Albuquerque Airport will accommodate planes departing after 12:00 p.m.

  • Breakfast

Additional information

Departure times

Departure times vary based on selected rail vacation. This information will be provided in your final documents. For more information please speak with your rail specialist.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular vacation with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.


Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn, Durango

Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn, Durango

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DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Junction

DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Junction

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Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park

Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park

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4.0 stars4.0 / 5 · 29 reviews

  1. 5 stars
  2. 4 stars
  3. 3 stars
  4. 2 stars
  5. 1 star


4 stars

Submitted 15 Nov 2022

I enjoyed it very much. We learned that even if a roomette on the train is extra we would have slept better and would be worth the money. Enjoyed all the stops and Sheryl was very informative. Wish we could have stayed at the stops a bit longer but we did have a lot of ground to cover. Albuquerque was WONDERFUL! Wish we would have had more time there. But one thing we learned. Getting in the festival by bus is the only way to go. Thank you.

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5 stars

Submitted 26 Oct 2022

We had the most fun filled memorable trip! Everything was perfect and even when it rained, our wonderful and creative tour director, Ed went with us on the walking tour. He put his heart and soul into our trip, always ensuring that he gave the best information and stories about each stop. Our bus driver was the best. He kept us safe while always making sure the elderly were assisted on and off the bus. Some of the roads we were on were quite winding and scary, and Ron handled it all with confidence and care. We will book another tour, but only with Ron and Ed.

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3 stars

Submitted 22 Oct 2022

In reviewing our recent Travel by Rail trip we did have a good time and will recommend similar trips to others. However there were three items that caused frustration, doubt and discomfort. The first was the extreme difficulty in obtaining our travel tickets. We were notified by my brother-in-law in Buffalo, with whom we were traveling, that he had received tickets. We had received nothing. He forwarded copies of his to us. They included our passage from Chicago to Grand Junction but none of our tickets from Milwaukee to Chicago and our return trip from Albuquerque. It took over three calls and a week to secure our tickets. Each time a different representative assured us that they had been sent. We received nothing until it was suggested that we try another email address. I dusted off an old unused address and sure enough it got through. The difficulty was that address worked only on my phone and could not be printed. I eventually forwarded the message from my phone to my regular email address to print it. I was told that my computer was blocking it as spam. I doubt that explanation because all planning, billing, and current requests for evaluation come to my regular email address with no difficulty. The second was that the roomette on the Amtrack was far too cramped for our mobility restricted bodies. I doubt if we will ever travel by Amtrack again if this is the required accommodations. All of the Vacation by Rail people we dealt with on our trip were extremely com-petent and caring for our comfort and enjoyment and deserve an A+ rating. But there was one exception. The sleeping car attendant on our return trip was sub-par, and she was missing for all but the first 40 min of our trip. Pinky came into our roomette about 20 min into the trip and crossly asked “How did you get in here?” I replied that this is where she told us to go when we were on the plat-form while loading. She then asked “Do you have your lunch time assignment?” I replied that yes, she had given it to us on the platform before loading. She stormed off. Pinky returned about 20 min later giving us two bottles of water. I inquired about all the sheets scattered around the roomette. She took the dirty sheets left by the last occupant and left the clean ones. That is the last time we saw her until the next afternoon as we approached Chicago. We then saw her in the upstairs sleeper car. We did attempt to call for her help Friday evening to make up the beds for sleeping. We pushed the call button about 8:30 pm. The call button remained on for the remainder of the trip, never answered. After over an hour I attempted to make the beds. I found sheets but no blankets. In the morning again I looked for help setting up the seats and found none! We did find a dirty blanket on the floor of the closet area as we collected our belongings to leave the train in Chicago. Again all others we encountered on the trip were excellent. Our tour coordinator Ed, our driver Ron, and all other Amtrack staff both on the train and in the station were excellent.

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Louise Bock

5 stars

Submitted 19 Oct 2022

Excellent tour manager and bus driver. Loved the history and details that our tour manager and other tour guides imparted to us. We were able to see and learn about people and places that we would never have known existed if we had gone on our own. Thank you for all the people that made this trip so special!

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3 stars

Submitted 18 Oct 2022

The trip was really great except for the rails part. The tracks were not in good condition and the ride to Grand Junction was horrible once we got to Missouri. Track were uneven and rough, and the overnight was absolutely unbearable. The tracks back on the Southwest were much nicer but still not good. It's a shame Amtrack does such a lousy maintenance job. The bus tour segment was marvelous with a great host and driver. Stops and activities were well planned and interesting. Accommodations were excellent for the entire trip.

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3 stars

Submitted 17 Oct 2022

The trip itself was good if you exclude the train ride during the night time hours. It was so rough we thought we were going to be thrown out of our beds! The scenery on the way out was fantastic but not enough time was planned for all of the stops and especially at the Balloon Fiesta, a total of 5.5 hours was not enough time to really enjoy it. An extra day should be planned for the Fiesta in case of rain, which is what happened to us, we were rained out.

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