Ten ways to join the train gang in Colorado this summer
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
All aboard! Colorado has a strong railroading heritage, and with Denver's Union Station reopening this month, now is the time to get out and ride the rails. Train fans marvel at the tourism lines running in this state, which wind through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Whether you're looking for a weekend excursion or just a quick trip out of town, Colorado's train gang has something for you. Here are our ten favorites.
1) Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
All aboard! You know mud season has come to the mountains when the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad makes its first run of the year, leaving Durango early on the first Saturday in May and pulling into Silverton three gorgeous hours later, when the townspeople come out to greet the train as well as the arrival of tourism season. But throughout the rest of the season, you'll find just as warm a welcome on and off this top-of-the-line train. "It's the hotbed of steam, and its popularity reflects that," says one rail man who's ridden trains around the world. "It's got scenery, it's got history, it's got the equipment."
2) Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is a fairly new tourist route -- but the train follows a track full of history and stunning scenery, and a fine steam locomotive adds to the draw. The standard route takes you from Alamosa (bonus points for the renovated depot) to the charming, art-heavy town of La Veta and back. The line also offers special concert trips that stop at a natural mountaintop amphitheater.
3) Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad won a National Historic Landmark Designation in 2013, and it deserves it. The line was built in 1880 as part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, and the rugged railroad engineering is a marvel -- as is the scenery. Today the Cumbres & Toltec operates much as it would have a century ago, with narrow-gauge steam trains leaving daily from Antonito and Chama, New Mexico, and meeting at Osier, Colorado, for lunch. There are several ways to package your travels, as well as special excursion trips.
4) Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Fires decimated the area around the Royal Gorge last summer, but the Royal Gorge Route Railroad quickly got back on track. The trip is fairly short, but the scenery and engineering are both spectacular, particularly along the hanging roadway on one point of the ride. The company prides itself on offering not just lovely vistas, but first-class meals along the way, too. And watch for special events, including wine trips and kids' activities.
5) Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
A trip on the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad is short -- just 45 minutes -- but it's long on history, as the century-old steam locomotive transports you back to the gold-mining days of Cripple Creek and Victor, passing by the ghost town of Anaconda. Trips leave every forty minutes from the 1894 Cripple Creek depot -- which happens to feature all of the modern gift-shop amenities.
Keep reading for the rest of Colorado's train gang.
6) Georgetown Loop Railroad
The Georgetown Loop Railroad was one of Colorado's first visitor attractions. Completed in 1884, the spectacular stretch of three-foot narrow-gauge railroad with its amazing loop was considered an engineering marvel for its time. In 1973, what was then the Colorado Historical Society began restoring the railroad as part of its 978-acre Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park. Today the train -- which features enclosed and open cars -- takes you high in the air on the short trip to the restored Silver Plume depot and back.
7) Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad
This could be Colorado's most relaxing train trip, a pastoral journey through terrain 10,000 feet high. The open-air cars remind you of what travel was like before it became so hermetically sealed, taking you through aspen groves high above alpine meadows. The locomotives are diesel and the trip lasts two and a half hours, which gives you time to explore the historic town of Leadville.
8) Pikes Peak Cog Railway
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is the highest railroad in the United States, very well-maintained, and one of just two funiculars in this country. The scenery along the way is spectacular -- but you may find yourself wanting more time at the top to enjoy the view. Unfortunately, the return trip leaves Pikes Peak after half an hour -- supposedly because that's when visitors begin to feel the effects of the altitude.
9) Tiny Town Railroad
It's a tiny town, but it's big fun for train buffs. Two years ago, Tiny Town commissioned a new locomotive, and you can see the evolution from drawings on paper to steel -- then ride the train pulled by a brand-new engine, #12! Some of the ten-minute trips around the pint-sized park feature real steam engines, and since they leave every half-hour, you can wait for the engine of your choice. (And in the meantime, there's a gift store to browse.)
10) California Zephyr
Yes, that's Amtrak's California Zephyr. "The stretch from Denver to Glenwood Springs is the most spectacular route of Amtrak in the country," says our train fan, and since the run is in daylight, you don't miss a second of scenery (the dome car has the best viewing). "While a lot of people pooh-pooh Amtrak, they do a pretty fair job," our fan continues. "The dining-car experience is definitely improved." Glenwood Springs is a charming destination, and when the renovated Union Station reopens in Denver this month, you might want to make a night of it here, too. Thanks to the soon-to-open Crawford Hotel, you'll be able to.
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