K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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It seems the Rockies were made for trains, with Colorado offering some of the most scenic rides in the country. Next time, instead of climbing that mountain, how about a relaxing adventure by train instead? It’s a great way to experience a relic from the past, with railroads once used as the main form of transport. Today they offer a good time while gazing out at everything from craggy peaks and rushing rivers to red rock country.
One of the top train journeys in the United States, located in the Four Corners area of the state, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers the chance to travel back in time with a ride on a circa 1882 steam train. It travels 45 miles to the tiny town of Silverton that’s sandwiched between the Red Mountain and Molas passes and surrounded by soaring peaks. While you’re there, you can explore the National Historic District, which includes the old county jail, now home to the San Juan County Historical Society, the Mayflower Gold Mill National Historic Site, the Old Hundred Gold Mine, and many period buildings. During the winter, you can travel through a snowy wonderland on the Cascade Canyon Winter Train.
An easy day trip from Denver, about an hour’s drive west, Georgetown is a picturesque town nestled in a mountain valley with some 200 restored buildings dating from the 1870s. It’s also home to the Georgetown Loop Railroad, which offers a ride on an old-time steam locomotive that chugs its way up the canyon to another historic mining town, Silver Plume, crossing four bridges and passing the remains of multiple silver and gold mines while showcasing unobstructed views of the Rockies from the open cars. There are a variety of special trains, including the Haunted Mine Adventure, Pumpkin Fest, and Santa’s Lighted Forest. If you enjoy a ride at Christmas, you can immerse yourself in Georgetown’s old-fashioned holiday scene, complete with horse-drawn wagons, roasted chestnuts, and Santa himself.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is the longest steam railroad, traveling 64 miles of track between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico. You can ride it in either direction, with the entire trip taking approximately six hours and 30 minutes each way. Enjoy spectacular views of the Chama Valley with the train hugging sheer rock face and edging narrow gorge ledges where with views 800 feet down. At the summit, you’ll see colorful alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. Passengers can choose to ride in the coach cars, open-air gondolas, or the historic parlor car. If it looks familiar, the train has appeared in more than 20 Hollywood films, including “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.” Special trips include the “Geology Train,” focused on the region’s rock formations, and the “4th of July Fireworks” train leaving from Chama, which includes a BBQ-style dinner and a fireworks display after the conclusion of the ride.
One of the most popular train rides in the state, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway provides a breathtaking view from Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rockies at 14,115 feet. It’s the world’s highest and longest cog railway, chugging nine miles with panoramic views the entire way. It’s even more impressive during the winter under a blanket of snow, a time when the skies are the brightest and clearest of the year. Autumn is rather awe-inspiring with the aspens showing off brilliant golds. Departing from Manitou Springs, you’ll find plenty to do here as well, including a walk around the Historic District with its beautifully restored buildings now serving as art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad offers a scenic train ride departing from Cañon City. The two-hour adventure allows for customized experiences with seating available in open-air cars, coach, and club classes. The glass-encased Vista Dome offers an extra-special, luxurious ride, and there’s a lunch train that includes delicious dishes made with locally sourced ingredients paired with tasty wine. Either way, you’ll be able to gaze out at the stunning 1,000-foot canyon walls carved by the mighty Arkansas River as well as the Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the tallest suspension bridges in the world.
Head to Leadville, nestled in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 10,152 feet as the highest incorporated city in the U.S., for an unforgettable ride aboard the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad. The two-and-a-half-hour train ride takes passengers up another 1,000 feet through the unspoiled wilderness of San Isabel National Forest, providing jaw-dropping views of the dramatic peaks, Fremont Pass, Mt. Elbert, Mt. Massive, and the Arkansas River Valley. In the spring, you’ll be gazing at snow-capped mountains while summer brings colorful wildflowers and fall features stunning hues of autumn. There’s a Holiday Express train with Santa and hot cocoa, as well as a Winter Express train for immersing yourself in a white wonderland.
The Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a trip into the state’s gold mining past, with a conductor narrating the ride while pointing out the old mines along the way. While it’s a short journey, there are plenty of photo-ops to take advantage of along the way. One of the top attractions in Cripple Creek, it runs along a two-foot heritage track that’s a revitalized section of the original Midland Terminal Railway and the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad, operating between mid-May and mid-October.
If you’re looking for more of an extended journey, you can ride the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer between Moab, Utah, and Denver, Colorado aboard a glass-domed coach. It makes it easy to marvel at the passing scenery, which includes remarkable red rock arches, enchanting hoodoos, vast desert landscapes, deep canyons, soaring mountains, and the Continental Divide, where you’ll enjoy a sparkling wine toast. An overnight in Glenwood Springs, famous for its hot springs pools, is included. When it’s all said and done, you might stick around to enjoy the delights of the Mile High City.