Colorado’s scenic train rides are some of the best in the country. From utility to tourist attraction, the state’s railroad system has seen its share of twists and turns and ups and downs since its inception. Today you can tour the same historic routes and remote mountainsides that helped fuel the state’s growth.
Since the first tracks were laid in the 1860s, railroads that were once used as the main form of transportation are now relics of the past. Hop aboard and discover these train rides all around the Centennial State. Experience a bit of Colorado’s railroad history and how it’s transformed to fit the needs of today’s society.
Here are the best train rides in Colorado, in no particular order:
1. Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mining Park
Originally completed in 1884, the Georgetown Loop Railroad was used to transport people from one mountain mining town to the next. Passengers can now ride the route between Georgetown and Silver Plume to experience the entire scenic area. Enjoy the train in coach class or go fancy in their parlor car.
Alternatively, ride in the ultimate VIP section known as the Presidential/Waldorf Car. Passengers will have a dedicated attendant and their choice of special holiday drinks and snacks (only available during November and December months). Choose from special events during this timeframe such as Santa’s Lighted Forest, Haunted Mine Adventure, Pumpkin Fest, and more.
2. Royal Gorge Route Railroad
The two-hour ride aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad offers beautiful views and delicious food. Choose your level of class and comfort ranging from their Coach Class up to the Vista Dome Class, which offers the most breathtaking views of the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River. They also offer several themed rides such as Oktoberfest and Santa Express experiences.
There are 3 daily departure times throughout the week: 9:15 am, 12:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. On the weekends there is also a 6:30 pm departure option if you want to eat dinner and catch the golden hour sun in the gorge. No matter the time you embark on your adventure, you’ll find classy dining options and even an afternoon tea.
Start and endpoint: Cañon City
3. Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad
Travel to the Continental Divide aboard the 2.5-hour ride on the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad. Meander through the San Isabel National Forest that’s filled with stunning Colorado scenery. The most popular times to visit are in the summer and fall to view wildflowers and fall leaves.
Take your train adventure to the next level and book their Top of the Rockies Zip-line and Train Ride special, where you can enjoy a scenic train ride through the forest and then zip line back to base camp. Throughout the year, the train also hosts a variety of themed rides if you’re looking for a switch-up from the classic ride.
4. Durango and Silverton Train and Railroad
The Durango and Silverton train is a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive that rides 200 feet above the Animas River through the San Juan National Forest. The views from this ride fall nothing short of beautiful, with majestic peaks and a babbling river. It was voted as the #1 train for two years in a row by USA Today.
With popular events including The Polar Express train ride, D&SNGRR Brew trains, and Wine and Rails, there is something for all ages to choose from throughout the year. For those who wish to add to their adventure, backpackers and hikers can get on and off the train mid-route to access the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness.
5. Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
Without a large time commitment, step aboard the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad for a fun 4-mile, 45-minute ride on a historic steam locomotive. Discover old mines and beautiful scenery, all while listening to fully narrated stories from the conductor about the history of the Cripple Creek area.
The train departs from its historic depot every 70 minutes during its season, which runs from late May to early October. It is a great option for history buffs, families with kids, and everyone in between. Plan for plenty of photo op stops along the way.
Start and endpoint: Cripple Creek
6. Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Best known for its cameo in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is a vintage locomotive that is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Discover 64 miles of Rocky Mountain territory, cliffs, and daunting heights over the Cumbres Pass.
After departing Antonito, the train makes a stop in Osier for a lunch break featuring an authentically historic menu. Hop back on to wind through Toltec Gorge with its narrow passageway and steep rockfaces.
Board one of the special evening trains that include live entertainment or try one of the themed rides like the Santa train which runs every winter. Ride how you choose from their open-air gondola that is free to all ticketed passengers to the classic coach car on up to the premium parlor car.
Start and endpoints: Antonito, CO, and Chama, NM
7. Tiny Town and Railroad
Tiny Town and Railroad is a unique park filled with children-sized replica buildings for the entire family to explore. It might not be the typical train ride you are thinking of, but Tiny Town offers a miniature 10 minute train ride that takes passengers around the park. Depending on when you are there, visitors can ride behind one of the two real steam engines or the Rio Grande F7 diesel replica.
The park is open seasonally from May through October. There is a gift shop that serves cold ice cream for those warm summer days. Tiny Town also encourages visitors to pack a picnic to enjoy in one of the many shaded areas in the park.
Start and endpoint: 6249 S. Turkey Creek Rd, Morrison, CO
8. Colorado Amtrak
While the Colorado Amtrak lines are not necessarily historic or strictly for tourism, they are both scenic and fun ways to get from point A to B. They offer less stress than bustling airports and more comfort than taking a road trip in the car. There are 2 main lines that make their way through the state:
California Zephyr – for a high-speed tour through the Rockies, the California Zephyr offers six different stops in Colorado on its route between Chicago and San Francisco. The most popular place to board the train is in Downtown Denver at Union Station. Other Colorado stops include:
Southwest Chief – traveling through Colorado’s southwest region, the Southwest Chief provides riders with access to area attractions including Bent’s Old Fort and other historical sites. With Colorado stops in La Junta, Lamar, and Trinidad, the train starts and ends in Chicago and Los Angeles.
9. Rockies to The Red Rocks
Board the Rocky Mountaineer for a luxury train experience from Denver to Moab, UT. The stunning scenery will start with alpine forests and towering canyons before transforming into the unique red rocks of the Moab desert in Utah.
Starting in Denver, you’ll travel along the Colorado River while you enjoy a fresh breakfast and then a three-course lunch. There will be plenty of chances to spot wildlife as you move through different canyons on your way to an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs.
Continue on the train after a good night of rest through Ruby Canyon, which is only accessible by train or river. You’ll then cross the state line into Utah, where you can catch a glimpse of the beautiful Arches National Park. Depart in Moab and explore as you please! This is a great way to slowly explore two breathtaking regions.
Start and endpoints: Denver, CO, and Moab, UT
10. Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Recently reopened after extensive renovations, the mile-high Pikes Peak Cog Railway chugs 9 miles up the ever-famous Pikes Peak to a summit of 14,115 feet. Experience panoramic views from the newly updated visitors center at the top, grab a famous high-altitude donut, and then board the train back to Manitou.
Start and endpoint: Manitou Springs
CLOSED | Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
As of 2019, this railroad has been closed while it searches for new ownership. Updates will be posted if they reopen in the future, but for now, you’ll have to check out a different rail line.
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad chugs along some of Colorado’s most beautiful scenery in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountain ranges. First completed in 1878, this railroad was a major supplier of ore, lumber, cattle, and sheep to the developing area. Today its passengers can choose from themed rides like the Fall Colors Explorer Train, Wine Train Colorado, or even the Paint ‘N’ Sip Wine Train.
Perhaps one of the more unique aspects of the Rio Grande railroad is the accessibility to Mountain Rails Live. Join world-class musicians and ride together to Fir Summit – a concert venue only accessible by train.
Each of these rides’ schedules varies by season, so it is always best to check their websites for the most current schedule. Safe travels!