If driving up a long, winding mountain road gives you severe anxiety but you still want to enjoy Colorado’s rugged Rocky Mountain terrain at its core — have you ever thought about taking a scenic train ride instead? In the early 1900s, it was the railroads that transformed the tiny western town of Denver into the largest city between San Francisco and Chicago following the Gold Rush. The Mile High City is home to Union Station and many commuter train lines, but the Denver area is also home to historic locomotives, steam trains and cog trains that are still in operation today. Don’t miss out on the scenic train rides of Colorado. For just the price of one ticket, you’ll experience the journey of a lifetime you might not find on the highway. Here are seven train rides you should definitely check out.
1. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Trip: Durango, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado
Duration: 3.5 hours one way
For more info: Visit durangotrain.com or call 970-247-2733.
The Lowdown: Year-round, this coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive travels the same distance once journeyed by miners and settlers of the Wild West. The railroad winds through breathtaking canyons along the Animas River in the San Juan National Forest and during the ride passengers can be dropped off at points to fish and hike that are inaccessible otherwise by car and foot.
2. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Trip: Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico
Duration: 4.5 – 8 hours round trip
For more info: Visit cumbrestoltec.com or call 1-888-286-2737.
The Lowdown: Want to take a train Indiana Jones style? This historic locomotive was actually featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As America’s longest and highest narrow gauge railroad, this scenic train ride offers spectacular views of Cumbres Pass, the San Juan mountains, Conejos Valley and Toltec Gorge, and chugs from the charming western town of Antonito, Colorado all the way to Chama, New Mexico.
3. Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
Trip: Round-trip journey from Cripple Creek, Colorado
Duration: 45 minutes
For more info: Visit cripplecreekrailroad.com or call 719-689-2640.
The Lowdown: Don’t let its size fool you. This century-old steam locomotive might be small, but the train takes a short journey through Colorado’s old gold-mining district including the Anaconda mining camp and the old Midland Terminal. Taking a trip on the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad is a 45-minute journey rich in history and beautiful scenery.
4. Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Trip: Up Pikes Peak and back leaving from Manitou Springs, Colorado
Duration: 3 hours and 10 minutes round trip
For more info: Visit cograilway.com or call 719-685-5401.
The Lowdown: As the highest cog train in the world, the Pikes Peak Cog Train is an absolute must ride to experience real mountain views. Climb to 14,115 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak without having to hike and witness majestic views of the Rockies and sights of neighboring states in all directions. It doesn’t get much better than this Swiss-style red train chugging to the top of a 14er. History says that Katherine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful” after visiting Pikes Peak, and we’re not really shocked as to why.
5. Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Trip: Alamosa, Colorado to La Veta, Colorado
Duration: 8 hours round trip
For more info: Visit coloradotrain.com or call 877-726-7245.
The Lowdown: Leaving the town of Alamosa not far from Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad promises rugged mountain vistas of the southern Rockies and wildlife sightings on a journey to the art town of La Veta, Colorado. Hear tales of railroad and mining history as you travel over La Veta Pass in this air-conditioned train that even offers special event train rides such as a sunset dinner train and a “Festival Flyer” train that leads to a mountaintop bluegrass and country music concert.
6. Georgetown Loop Railroad
Trip: Georgetown, Colorado to Silver Plume, Colorado
Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
For more info: Visit georgetownlooprr.com or call 1-888-456-6777.
The Lowdown: When it was completed in 1884, the Georgetown Loop Train was considered an engineering marvel for its time, and it’s still popular even today. Located only 45 miles from Denver, the Georgetown Loop Railroad is situated high in the Rocky Mountains and travels through forests and across cliffs for the true Colorado train experience. Throughout the year, there are many themed train rides including a wintery Christmas light show display in Santa’s Lighted Forest, a fall colors train to see foliage, and much more.
7. Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Trip: Cañon City, Colorado to Parkdale, Colorado
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours round trip
For more info: Visit royalgorgeroute.com or call 719-276-4000
The Lowdown: Royal Gorge is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River where you can experience zip lining, white rafting and other activities, but it’s also home to a family-fun railroad. The Royal Gorge Route follows the river within one of the deepest canyons in Colorado with cliffs up to 1,000 feet tall and offers travelers a one-of-a-kind ride. The train even offers three-course dinners, five-course wine dinners and special event trains such as a Santa Express Train and a murder mystery dinner train.