Rio Grande (Dreamstime)
List Words : Insider Secrets | 22 March

Letting off steam: Colorado’s most breathtaking rail journeys

From the highest train in the US to steam trains built for Colorado’s pioneering gold miners, Colorado has an abundance of scenic rail journeys. All aboard for a Rocky Mountain railway high.

1: Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The Rio Grande in Colorado (Rio Grande)

The Rio Grande in Colorado (Rio Grande)

Often referred to as the most scenic line of the world, the Rio Grande Railroad encompasses three routes which run along the San Isabel National Forest and Colorado mountain ranges, departing from La Veta, Alamosa and Fort Garland.

Completed in 1878, the railroad put the town of Alamosa on the map with its new found supply of ore, lumber and cattle and export of agricultural and mining products, with passenger and freight services continuing until 1950. Now home to heavyweight open-window passenger cars, these routes provide visitors with the chance to feel the fresh mountain air and discover historical locations which are usually inaccessible over the Southern Rockies.

2: Cumbres and Toltec Railroad

Passengers taking photos from the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad (Denise Chambers & Miles)

Passengers taking photos from the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad (Denise Chambers & Miles)

Visitors can experience a 64-mile day-trip across the Rockies powered by a coal-fired steam engine which travels through diverse scenery, including mountain canyons, the narrow Toltec Gorge and Aspen forests. The Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, which dates back to the 1880s, is perhaps best known for its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as it passes through the south of Colorado and over the New Mexico border.

The family-friendly trains depart daily from late May through to October from Chama, New Mexico and Antonio, Colorado. The Cumbres and Toltec line also offers special services, including Sunset Dinner Trains between May and October, and a Geology Train on 17th June 2018, where the local mountains and landscapes are explained as the train passes the Rio Grande Rift, eruptive evidence of the San Juan Volcanic field and snapshots of the Jurassic era.

3: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Steam engine on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway (Matt Inden & Miles)

Steam engine on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway (Matt Inden & Miles)

This coal-fired, steam powered train passes through the scenic Animas Gorge and San Juan National Forest, with views of wildflowers, mountain goats and 14,000 foot peaks, following the journey of miners, cowboys and settlers of the Old West.

From 1880s-era passenger rail cars, visitors experience remote canyons and wilderness over the course of this 52-mile journey.                       

4: Pikes Peak Cog Railway

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway at the peak (Dreamstime)

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway at the peak (Dreamstime)

The highest train in the US takes guests to the summit of Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs. The incline starts at 6,600 feet and climbs over 2,000 feet in less than a mile. The journey takes place over three hours and spans 8.9 miles of railroad as the track heads across creeks, canyons and dense stands of spruce and pine trees into the clouds.

Once at the top of Pikes Peak, visitors can challenge the high altitude to enjoy the views across the old mining towns and if the weather is clear, the skyscrapers of downtown Denver. Passengers can also expect to catch a glimpse of one of the largest Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep herds in Colorado.

5: Amtrak California Zephyr

Train travelling through Colorado (Dreamstime)

Train travelling through Colorado (Dreamstime)

A journey on the Amtrak California Zephyr through Colorado will climb through Glenwood Springs; pass by Fort Morgan where Glen Miller lived before going onto revolutionise Big Band music in the 1940’s; and after leaving Granby passengers will parallel the Colorado River for the next 235 miles, which is said to be the most scenic track in America.

Another popular sight is Gore Canyon which is only accessible by rail or kayak. For spectacular sights which look even better at night, passing through Plainview showcases the Great Plains beneath a starlight sky, as well as the bright lights of Denver. As the train commences in Chicago and ends in California, the central location of Colorado makes for a welcome stop off for passengers to experience the Rockies.

For more information on these rail journeys, visit Colorado.com