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Activities / Colorado Livin' / Family Travel

All aboard for mountain scenery: 8 Colorado rails that take riders back in time

Back before cars were commonplace, trains transported people across the Rocky Mountain West.

Today, these historic locomotives are among the favorite tourist attractions in Colorado — a state that has more scenic railroads than most others in the country, according to Royal Gorge Route Railroad owner Mark Greksa.

Why are scenic railroads so popular here? Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad manager Kristen Olsen says the trains give tourists a chance to connect with the past. “Taking a scenic train ride is the best way for people to interact with history directly,” she says.

Colorado’s trains enable railroad enthusiasts — from the experienced European traveler to the child going through a “Thomas the Tank Engine” phase — to relive a moment in American history. And while the Colorado Railroad Museum is a must-see stop for such history buffs, it really doesn’t get any better than a quick trip on one of the state’s scenic railroads.

1. Georgetown Loop Railroad

Completed in 1884, this 3-foot, narrow- gauge railroad is one of the few active railroads in the world that loops over the top of itself without a tunnel or trestles. The 4 1/2-mile route runs 640 feet above the ground from Georgetown to Silver Plume.

Special events include a “Moonlight in the Mountains” dinner train, “Santa’s Polar Adventure” train during the holidays, daily tours of the Lebanon Silver Mine, and the new “Around the World Wine Tour,” which includes tastings and appetizers. Tickets are $16.50-$37.50. Open daily from May to October. 100 Mountain St., Silver Plume. 888-456-6777 or

2. Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad

This pet-friendly train travels above the Arkansas River valley and through the San Isabel National Forest. At an elevation of 1,000 feet, passengers get a great view of Freemont Pass and the two highest peaks in Colorado, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.

The ride includes a stop at a water tower and a chance to meet the engineer and see the caboose and engine. Manager Kristin Olsen says this summer the train also is offering three wildflower tours and a night ride that features a barbecue dinner. Tickets are $19.50-$35. Open daily from May 29 to Oct. 3. 326 E. Seventh St., Leadville. 866-386-3936 or

3. Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Where else can you climb to 14,115 feet above sea level without ever taking a step? Since 1891, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been taking passengers along its 14.9-mile route from the base of Pikes Peak to its summit. Up there, passengers can see bighorn sheep and yellow-bellied marmots, four states, and the historic gold camps of Cripple Creek and Victor, according to David Donatto, the railway’s traffic manager.Tickets are $18-$33. Open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs. 800-745-3773 or cograilway .com.

4. Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

Hop aboard a century-old steam locomotive as it takes a 45-minute journey through Colorado’s historic gold-mining district. The 4-mile track runs past the old Midland Terminal, over a reconstructed trestle, past old mines and terminates near the deserted Anaconda mining camp before returning to Cripple Creek. Tickets are $7.75-$12.25. Open daily from May 29 to Oct. 3. 520 East Carr Ave., Cripple Creek. 719-689-2640 or cripplecreek

5. Royal Gorge Route Railroad

This 24-mile trip takes passengers through Royal Gorge canyon along the Arkansas River.

According to the Colorado Railroad Museum, it is the only company in Colorado with streamline trains and murder mystery dinner trains. The family-run railroad, which was established in 1880, also offers three-course dinners, five-course wine dinners and a Santa Express train during the holidays. Prices are $22-$47. With the exception of sporadic recent closures because of wildfire concerns, this train is open daily May 29 to Oct. 10 and on weekends from Oct. 16 through Dec. 31. Santa Fe Depot, 401 Water St., Cañon City. 888-724-5748 or

6. Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Established in 1878, this railroad offers five separate routes with one- to seven-hour rides including the trip from Alamosa to La Veta, which runs along the highest standard-gauge track in the country at 9,242 feet. Visitors can unleash their inner cowboy by hopping aboard the Festival Flyer, which includes the Roots and Boots bluegrass and country music summer concert series.

But kids love the Potato Valley Explorer because they each receive a Mr. Potato Head. Tickets are $10-$58. Open daily from Memorial Day to mid-October and on weekends from Nov. 1 to the following Memorial Day. 610 State Ave., Alamosa. 877-726-7245 or

7. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Colorado shares what is known as America’s longest and highest narrow-gauge scenic railroad with New Mexico. These historic locomotives chug over Cumbres Pass, which has an elevation of 10,015 feet, and through the Toltec Gorge. This railroad is no stranger to the limelight. Legendary cowboy entertainer Gene Autry owned Locomotive 463, which is on display at the depot in Antonito, and in 1989, it was featured in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The company also offers such special trains as Cinder Bear Express, Wild West Train, Moonlight Dinner Train and the Sunset Train.

The weekend of Aug. 27-30, the railroad is celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the dual-state partnership with commemorative trains, tours and lectures. Because of recent fire damage, regular operations have been disrupted, so call for details. Tickets are $38-$87.50. Open daily from May 22 to Oct. 17. 5234 B U.S. 285, Antonito. 888-286-2737 or

8. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

This railroad takes passengers on a two-and-a-half hour journey along the Animas River. The 3-foot, narrow-gauge track allows the train to make sharper curves alongside the 400-foot cliffs.

During the ride, passengers “can be dropped off at certain points to hike and fish at places they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to,” says Andrea Seid, the marketing manager. Tickets are $49-$169. Open daily from May 8 to Oct. 30. 479 Main Ave., Durango. 877-872-4607 or

-Lynette Zilio

Where do you like to ride the rails?

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  1. I didn’t even know some of these rails existed. My kids LOVE Georgetown & Durango-Silverton is a personal favorite.

  2. Royal Gorge….an all time favorite!

  3. It’s on the list. I saw a billboard for it just yesterday.

  4. Been twice and each time it was a hit with the kids. We went on the Santa Express 2 yrs ago and the kids loved it! Went again this Easter and had a great time!

  5. Durango-Silverton. A drive but worth it

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