Scenic Colorado Train Rides: Discover the Beauty and History

A young passenger enjoys a scenic train ride through Colorado. Photo courtesy of Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The whistle of a train echoes through a narrow canyon as the locomotive skirts a tumultuous river on a historic road once used to transport gold.

In an open-top touring car, the cool mountain air blows your hair back, allowing you to spot large-horned sheep eating small tufts of grass growing along a steep rock face.

As you enjoy the ride, you can’t help but wonder how Colorado’s early settlers felt as they journeyed through the vast, rugged and wild country.

Trains in Colorado History

When settlers found gold in Colorado Territory in the late 1800s, the rush was on and gold hunters and their suppliers needed a way to transport the gold and goods.

old Colorado rain ad promoting scenic Colorado train rides.
An advertisement from the mid-1900s promoted scenic train rides in Colorado. Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The invention of the narrow gauge helped rail spread into the Rocky Mountains by allowing trains to climb steep terrain and make tight turns. Some of these narrow gauge tracks still carry passengers today.

By 1880, railroad construction in Colorado was in full swing. The ability to transport goods and people more than doubled Colorado’s population over the next decade.

Colorado’s railways still carry a lot of cargo, but for Coloradians and their visitors, scenic train rides on Amtrak highways and historic railroads provide a unique view of the state’s incredible landscape and glimpse. of its history that no other mode of transport offers.

Scenic Train Rides in Colorado

Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad – Leadville, Colorado

Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America and has a rich mining history.

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad offers great views of the Arkansas River Valley. Rising 1,000 feet from the valley floor, passengers have a view of Fremont Pass and Colorado’s two highest peaks, Mt. Massif and Mt. Elbert.

Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad is one of Colorado's great scenic train rides.
Photo courtesy of Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad.

Learn about Colorado history and listen to the conductor tell ghost stories. Visit from November to January to board the ‘Holiday Express’ for a magical journey through snow-capped mountains in a light-decorated train.

The resort is open year round, but the hottest months are July and August. Be prepared for possible snow from September until June. Most round trips take 2.5 hours.

Georgetown Loop Railroad – Georgetown, Colorado

The Georgetown Loop Railroad has two “iron horse” steam locomotives, which have been retained and now operate on the track between Georgetown and Silver Plume.

The 1923 locomotive 9 was a three-truck Shay-type locomotive and one of the three largest narrow-gauge Shays ever built. It arrived in Colorado in 2011 and went through 15 months of construction to get it operational for the loop.

Steam Engine No. 111 was built in 1926. It remained on display at Breckenridge until it was transferred to Silver Plume Station and began taking passengers in 2016.

Rides take about an hour and depart from Georgetown Devil’s Gate or Silver Plume.

The train rides in the fall are spectacular as the train passes through beautiful bright yellow and orange aspen forests.

Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railway– Durango, Colorado

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of Colorado's scenic train rides.
Photo courtesy of Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

This 45-mile steam tour, which has been taking place since 1882 through the magnificent San Juan Mountains between Durango and Silverton, offers a unique experience.

There are several options for cyclists on its 3.5-hour trips between Durango and Silverton, including a stopover in the historic mining town of Silverton. Hikers and backpackers can take the Silverton Diesel Train to access gorgeous trailheads and some of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks in this region.

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak cog railway – Manitou Springs, Colorado

In April 2021, the new Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway experience officially opened in Manitou Springs. You can enjoy a round trip on the Cog or go one way if you decide to hike the 13 mile Barr Trail up or down Pikes Peak. You can also cycle up the Cog and descend the breathtaking Pikes Peak Highway.

Photo courtesy of Broadmoor Manitou and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

Royal Gorge Route Railroad – Canyon City, Colorado

West of Canon City, the Arkansas River flows through igneous rock to create a gorge more than 300 meters deep. The history of the railroad that runs through it is one of conflict and war between the Santa Fe Railways and D&RG, which began in the late 1800s when silver was discovered in the Colorado. In addition to enjoying the region’s rich history, train passengers experience this Colorado canyon up close. This is one of the few places where you will see Rocky Mountain buffalo as well as American antelopes and mule deer.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad – Cripple Creek, Colorado

This railway once carried miners when the valley was home to around 50,000 residents. Today, this historic steam engine – with its pillar smoke, sounds of steam and working steel – takes visitors back to the days of the Cripple Creek and Victor gold mines. Using a 15-ton iron horse, passengers travel to the old Midland Terminal Wye and pass historic mines near the deserted Anaconda mining camp on this 4-mile journey.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad is a great scenic train ride in Colorado.
Photo courtesy of Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Directions Amtrak Colorado

Amtrak’s California Zephyr travels between Chicago and San Francisco, passing through Denver and the rugged mountains of Colorado. Passengers enjoy a scenic ride through the Rocky Mountains with excellent views of the Colorado River.

Denver Union Station.
Denver Union Station. Photo courtesy of Amtrak.

The route takes you out of Denver’s newly remodeled Union Station, ascends the foothills, and passes through several mountain tunnels before stopping at Winter Park. From there you head to Gore Canyon and follow the Colorado River for several hours. This stretch is a popular day and night rafting trip for locals. In addition to the wildlife and great views, you will also be able to experience an “unofficial tradition” of boaters and train drivers.

The train stops in historic Glenwood Springs, then heads to Grand Junction before continuing west to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Keep in mind that the Zephyr can be late, although part of the fun of train travel is that it’s relaxing. So, don’t worry too much about delays. An app lets you track the train’s progress, so you’ll know when it’s really coming and going.

About Jun Quentin

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