A relaxing and fascinating way to see Colorado’s spectacular scenery and learn some history is to indulge in a scenic train ride. All of Colorado's scenic trains were established during the gold and silver mining boom era in the late 1800s. The trains moved ore out of various hard-to-get-to mountainous regions and consequentially moved people in. The trains used to facilitate the mines were narrow gauge railways. These narrow rails and, subsequently, smaller rail cars could navigate the curvy mountain routes and high-trestled bridges easier than traditional wider tracks and larger rail cars. During this time, the automobile had not been invented, and there were few established roadways. The best way in and through the mountains was by horse or stagecoach. The narrow gauge trains opened up the Rocky Mountains to habitation and commerce. Today these trains have been preserved for all to enjoy the amazing mountainous scenery they travel through and to learn about a time gone by.
In the historic mining town of Leadville, you can ride the Colorado & Southern Railroad. This scenic train travels along the old Denver, South Park & Pacific, and Colorado & Southern lines to the Continental Divide, heading north along the Arkansas Valley River Valley and rising up some 1,000 feet from the valley floor. You’ll see Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, two of the state’s tallest peaks. Some truly spectacular scenery!
Daily trips include a 2.5-hour round trip to and from the Leadville station. Special trips are offered throughout the year, like the summer Wildflower Special Train, which includes a guided hike through some of Colorado's most beautiful and colorful parts. There’s also the Devil’s Tail BBQ ride, which has not just a train ride and scenery but also some great food and drinks and a couple of amazing adventure packages that combine the train ride with activities like zip lining or white water rafting.
Treat yourself to some real history aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum scenic train. The city of Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879, and two years later, the railroad arrived in town. That same year construction began on the line to Silverton, and in 1882 the tracks were laid, and movement of passengers and freight began. Railroad employees of the day recall eerie tales of this famous railroad, Ghost Tracks!
With 45 miles of track between the towns of Durango and Silverton that travel through the beautiful San Juan National Forest, along the stunning Cascade Canyon, on the sides of steep mountain slopes, from Durango to Silverton and back again. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a lot of really great special tours and events, like Brew Trains that feature a different local brewery every week, Wine and Rails, which includes a great lunch and plenty of wine samples, and the Cowboy Poetry Train, which is held every year during October. Other seasonal events include The Great Pumpkin Patch Express during the fall, where kids can trick-or-treat and ride the train to the pumpkin patch to pick out the best jack-o-lantern material, or The Polar Express Train Ride, which takes families on an exciting trip to the North Pole. Regular tours run from May to October, including the Skyway Tour along the San Juan Skyway, the Cascade Canyon Express, and the Silverton Silverlight Express. The Durango train offers 4 classes of service and a variety of nostalgic private cars and group seating options.
Another good scenic train choice is the Georgetown Loop Railroad, 45 minutes west of Denver off I-70. It connects the towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume, once rollicking mining towns that are two miles apart by way of a narrow and steep canyon. The route gains more than 600 feet in elevation along the way and includes four high trestle bridges. The spectacular train ride is 1.25 hours long and really provides an authentic step back into living in the mining era. The "Loop" train goes all out during the holidays with a wonderous lighted forest and Santaland experience.
The Georgetown Railroad operates May through mid-October and most days through early January. They have a variety of festive trains and event celebrations throughout their season.
Considered the most luxurious train in Colorado, the Royal Gorge Route is a leisurely two-hour ride through the spectacular Royal Gorge. Several classes of service are available, including special lunch and dinner trains. Along the way, riders often see big horn sheep, bald eagles, and the occasional gold miner who’s working the Arkansas waters. Fishermen, rafters, kayakers, and other water enthusiasts also take advantage of the river’s flow.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSRR) is a heritage narrow-gauge railroad that operates a stretch of track between Antonito, CO., and Chama, New Mexico. There are two notable geographical features along the route: Cumbres Pass (10,015') and the Toltec Gorge. Originally, this scenic train was once part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad's narrow gauge network and is today one of only two remaining parts of the former Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (CC&VNGRR) is a heritage narrow gauge railroad that operates as a seasonal scenic train between Cripple Creek and the city's outskirts to the south.