Rail – California Zephyr will detour via Wyoming

A number of people have written me since I wrote the post about the Feather River Canyon detour of Amtrak’s California Zephyr last year, asking me to let them know when I hear about the next such detour.

I’m sorry not to be able yet to report a repeat of that detour but Amtrak announced today that the California Zephyr (trains 5 and 6) between Denver and Salt Lake City will detour via southern Wyoming on numerous occasions in July, August, and September.

While I’ve never traveled this route, it is widely considered to not be as dramatically scenic as the normal route of the train along the Colorado River via the cities of Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, Colo.

However some may enjoy this chance to see what was a portion of the route of Amtrak’s Pioneer (Portland-Denver) and also the route of Amtrak’s California Zephyr in the days before the Denver & Rio Grande Western opted to give up its passenger service to Amtrak.

The train will not make any scheduled stops between Denver and Salt Lake City.

If you are interested in riding on the detour, or if you are concerned that a previously planned trip to enjoy the regular route will be affected, here is the schedule as reported to travel agents by Amtrak.

Eastbound (train 6) leaving Emeryville/Sacramento/Reno/etc on:

30 June – 8 July
15-23 July
31 July – 8 August
15-23 August
31 August – 8 September
15-23 September

The same dates apply westbound (train 5) leaving Chicago. If you are westbound boarding in Denver then add one day to the dates above. (Example: instead of train 5 between 15-23 July it would be between 16-24 July.)

Note that if you have already booked and paid for travel on the California Zephyr expecting to experience the train’s normal route, but discover that your train is detouring, you should call Amtrak right away. Explain that you wanted to experience the regular California Zephyr journey through Colorado. I can’t promise you anything but my hunch is that you stand a good chance of being reaccommodated without additional charge on a non-detour date or eligible for a refund.

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10 Responses to Rail – California Zephyr will detour via Wyoming

  1. Naomi says:

    We are taking Amtrak from Sac to D.C. in July. Will the detour impact our connection from the CZ to CL? The original schedule had a Chicago layover of over 4 hours. What happens if the detour causes us to miss the CL?

    Naomi, check the dates of your trip and compare them to the ones I listed in my post to see if they overlap. In answer to your question, the bulletin I read said that arrival/departure times from Salt Lake City and Denver would not be impacted so therefore your connection in Chicago should be OK.

    However if you have any questions you should call Amtrak reservations for clarification. These detour dates can change if the Union Pacific Railroad so wishes.

    — Greg

  2. Don Reinke says:

    Where did you find this notice??

    We are traveling during two of those dates … (from/to Denver) … didn’t find anything on the AMTRAK site … but not surprised.

    Curious about the new schedule and route from SLC to Denver.


    Don, I read the bulletin 22 May in APOLLO, one of the systems used by travel agents. The bulletins there are mostly excerpted from bulletins in ARROW (Amtrak’s own reservations system) that are presumed to be of interest to travel agents.

    Amtrak seems to be inconsistent about making news like this public, even when (as in the case of the Feather River detour) the detour is likely to attract some business that might not normally come its way.

    The bulletin states that departure times from Denver and Salt Lake will not be affected, just the route of travel. As with the other commenter, I suggest you contact Amtrak reservations directly (and soon) if you have any questions or wish to make changes to your itinerary.

  3. Don Reinke says:

    I called AMTRAK and they verified that our route on 1 Sep is changed (it took about 15 minutes for the person I contacted to find out that the route was affected for my dates). The westbound time into Denver is the same … but the route is SLC direct DEN with no stops). They indicated that they would give a refund for that last leg of our trip, but will charge a 10% fee even though the route has changed. I will stick with the change, as we’ve done the normal Zephyr route often and I’d love to take that old Pioneer route through Wyoming … but do appreciate the the heads up. (While the person had me on hold I tried making a reservation from Grand Junction to Denver on Sep 1st and it came up as a “bus” leg … so the scheduled detours are in their system and should show up when someone tries to make a reservation for one of the detour dates).

    There is a link to the old Pioneer route guide at:


    With the former stops between SLC and Denver … quite an historic route that some might enjoy taking.


  4. Greg Fischer says:

    Don, thanks for providing the follow-up to your “negotiations” with Amtrak and for the link to the route of the Pioneer.

    Are you in a sleeper or coach?

    For what it’s worth, Amtrak is doing a study of bringing back the Pioneer (Seattle-Portland-Denver) at the behest of the states. (It may have been a condition of the recent boost in Amtrak funding but I don’t know for sure.) Considering Amtrak’s shortage of equipment to operate the routes it has now, I’m not holding my breath on this one.

  5. Don Reinke says:

    We are taking a longer trip this time that will start in Denver, taking the Zephyr to Chicago, then the Empire Builder to Seattle. After a ferry ride to Victoria for a couple days visit we’ll ferry back to Seattle, take the Cascades route to Salem to visit our daughter and grandkids, then the Coastal Starlight Route from Salem to Sacramento and the Zephyr from there back to Denver.

    I grew up in a RR family … my father and grandfather worked for the railroad and I grew up in a company house next to a large roundhouse back in WI … so this is a dream trip for us (my wife is a big train fan as well). We save up and do sleeper units for the overnight trips now … always a good experience if you set your expectations properly (we plan for each trip as “camping” on wheels).

    We’ve been actively following the pitch for bringing the Pioneer back … it would run past our house in Fort Collins CO (we look down the hill to the BNSF track) … that would be an incredible boost for train travel in this area.

  6. Don Reinke says:

    P.S. the Pioneer study is driven by a condition attached to the stimulus bill that required AMTRAK to look at reinstating the route.
    see local article at: http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20090516/UPDATES01/90516010/-1/NEWSFRONT2

  7. Don Reinke says:

    P.P.S. More detailed Pioneer info at: http://www.pioneertrain.com/index.htm

  8. Greg Fischer says:

    Have a great trip, Don!

    I’m going to take a look at the websites with info about the Pioneer. Thanks for passing them on.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the Pioneer study brings positive results.

  9. A bit of serendipity here! You and I went to high school together, and after our mutual friend put me in touch with you, I decided to check out your blog. My daughter and I have plans to take the train from CO to CA to visit family later in the summer–probably on one of the days the train will be rerouted. Thanks so much for the heads-up! Good to be able to make our own decision which route we take, instead of having Amtrak make it for us! (I didn’t see anything about this on Amtrak’s site, a few weeks ago anyway.)

    Does seem like it would be fun to take the historic route. We took the regular route last winter, but the train was 9 hours late, so we saw different scenery from the usual. (A lot of Nevada, quite beautiful all covered in snow.)

    All my best!

  10. karl says:

    I know its a late comment, this was linked by an Amtrak forum.

    In the last several years when Amtrak has used this detour the trains end up in Salt Lake City or Denver several hours early, as the running time is about 4 hours less on the UP (original transcontinental) double track main line.

    Historically, two of UP’s named trains were the Challenger and City of Portland streamliners.

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