Join visitors from around the world at the 48th 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.
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!
- 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.
- Rail travel on Amtrak (1 night on the train)
- Scenic rail excursion on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
- Hotel accommodations for 7 nights, including 1 night in Mesa Verde National Park
- 8 meals, including breakfast in the Chaser's Club Lounge
- Meals on the train included when upgrading to private sleeping accommodations
- Admission to Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta, including Dawn Patrol, Mass Ascension or Special Shapes and Night Glow
- Arches National Park touring
- Mesa Verde National Park touring
- Santa Fe walking tour
- Albuquerque city tour
- National park entrance fees
- Transportation by deluxe motorcoach
- Services of a professional tour manager
Activity Level View Details
Day 1 - Depart Chicago aboard the California ZephyrArrive at Chicago Union Station to meet your tour manager and fellow travelers. 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 JunctionSpend 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 ParkAfter breakfast on your own, 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. (D)
Day 4 - Mesa Verde National ParkAfter 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 located on Main Street and an easy walk to all the shops and galleries in town. Your evening is free to enjoy downtown, Durango. Overnight Durango, CO. (B)
Day 5 - Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RailroadThis 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 head north up the Million Dollar Highway and through Red Mountain Pass. This is the heart of fall color in Colorado. We return to Durango where the remainder of the evening will be at leisure. Overnight Durango, CO. (B)
Day 6 - En Route to Santa FeWe 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. (B, L)
Day 7 - Santa Fe Sightseeing / AlbuquerqueThis 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. (D)
Day 8 - Albuquerque International Balloon FiestaSet 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. Overnight Albuquerque, NM. (B)
Day 9 - Tour ConclusionThis 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, so be sure to plan for flights or transportation home after 11:00 am. A group transfer to Albuquerque Amtrak Station or Albuquerque Airport will accommodate trains and planes departing after 11:00 a.m. (B)
Hotels include the DoubleTree by Hilton (Grand Junction), Far View Lodge (Mesa Verde National Park), Strater Hotel (Durango), Inn and Spa at Loretto (Santa Fe) and Marriott Uptown Hotel (Albuquerque).
Amtrak accommodations are available in Coach class, Roomette, and Bedroom. Coach accommodations include a reclining seat with leg rest. Roomette accommodations include a private cabin featuring two comfortable seats beside a picture window during the day, converting to an upper and lower berth at night. Bedroom accommodations feature a sofa and chair by day and upper and lower berth by night. Bedroom accommodations also include a sink and self-enclosed toilet and shower. All travelers have access to the Sightseer Lounge. Roomette and bedroom accommodations include all meals aboard the train.
Hotel accommodations are based on availability; substitutes will be similar in quality and amenities.
+Vacations By Rail can supply connecting rail from your closest Amtrak Station.