It may be tough to imagine these days with modern highways that crisscross the state and let us drive over mountain passes at 65 miles per hour, but there was a time when the fastest way to get around Colorado was by train. From remote mining camps to the Front Range cities to the Eastern Plains, the railroad was a community’s lifeline. When the tracks were laid to a town, it meant success and progress. And when the mines were played out and the glory days gone, that last holdout residents sometimes took the final train out of town.
Fortunately, the tracks aren’t all gone, and today you can experience the thrill of seeing Colorado by train at one of several tourist-oriented scenic train operators. So kick back, enjoy the view, and let someone else do the driving on these five train rides.
1. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The San Juan Mountains, wild and rugged, were home to Colorado’s greatest mining boom. No surprise that in this mountain range you’ll find the most amazing train ride in Colorado. This route, completed in 1882, links Durango with Silverton. Along the way, it passes through some of the prettiest terrain Colorado has to offer, far from any highway. As the train rolls into Silverton, passengers disembark and spend some time roaming this unique mountain town. The more adventurous can buy a hiker’s ticket and get dropped off at the edge of the spectacular Weminuche Wilderness for a multi-day adventure. Click here for more info!
2. Pikes Peak Cog Railway (Closed, possible re-opening)
There are several ways to reach the top of Pikes Peak – including hiking, biking and driving – but the most relaxing way is via the Cog, which has been carrying passengers up ridiculously steep grades to 14,115 feet since 1891. The ride starts in Manitou Springs and passes through every ecological zone of the Rockies, with knowledgeable guides to tell you all about each one. You’ll have a short time to spend on the summit before the long descent back to civilization. Hikers can buy one-way tickets and get dropped off halfway up or at the top. Click here for more info!
Editor’s Note: The Cog Railway has been closed, though it may be temporary. The ownership group is working with the local community to make major investments in re-opening.
3. Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Ever taken a train to a concert or festival on a high mountain pass? This train runs from the San Luis Valley floor in Alamosa to a beautiful meadow on La Veta Pass, where a solar-powered concert venue hosts numerous events and festivals. The most popular is Rails and Ales, a beer festival held up here each June. The route was Alamosa’s primary link to the outside world between 1890 and 1950, and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the San Luis Valley. Click here for more info!
4. Georgetown Loop Railroad
This rail route to the mines of Clear Creek County was completed in 1884, bringing tourists and miners from Denver high into the Rockies. Restored in recent decades, it is a popular getaway for families and history buffs that can tour mines, pan for gold, or just enjoy the views. The route runs between Georgetown and Silver Plume. Click here for more info!
5. Winter Park Express
Do you find yourself fighting ski traffic on Interstate 70? You won’t have to on this historic train route linking Denver and Winter Park Resort. The ride starts at Union Station in the heart of Denver and arrives at the resort around 9 a.m., just as the lifts start. The train ran from 1940 until 2009 and it was revived in the winter of 2015 to immense popularity, selling out in hours. On winter weekends (it runs in summer sometimes too) there’s no easier way to get from Denver to the slopes. Click here for more info!