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7 Epic Colorado Trains That Will Take You to Beautiful Mountains, Sparkling Rivers, and Golden Groves

·4 min read
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in the fall in Colorado
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in the fall in Colorado

Nick Kogos/Visit Durango

Next time you think about climbing a mountain, why not relax and let a train do all the work? Scenic railways up and down Colorado whisk travelers over craggy peaks, past sparkling rivers, and through golden aspen groves. From chugging steam trains to modern luxury carriages, these rail lines offer short jaunts and multiday adventures through the Rockies and beyond.

You never know what surprises you might find in the high-altitude wilderness, so keep an eye out for wildlife and pack a sweater in case the snow begins to fly.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado

Anthony D'Marto

Rail transport was essential to Colorado's early mining industry, and in 1882, this line connected the mines of Silverton with the smelters of Durango. Today's train rolls along that same 45-mile stretch of gorgeous scenery beside the Animas River, with vintage steam and diesel locomotives leading a variety of excursions throughout the year. Adventure packages — including zip lining, rafting, and Jeep tours — are available, along with special stops to access the Weminuche Wilderness and San Juan National Forest.

Royal Gorge Route Railroad

Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Colorado
Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Colorado

Starcevic/Getty Images

Built in 1880 and relaunched in 1998, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad travels between 1,000-foot rock walls while the Arkansas River rapids churn below. At its narrowest, Royal Gorge pinches down to 30 feet, so a suspended iron railway bridge hugs the north wall. The train runs all year, with historic locomotives and passenger carriages offering a range of 22-mile round-trip excursions from Cañon City's Santa Fe Depot. On board, the 403 Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner made from Colorado-sourced ingredients.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Colorado
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Colorado

Courtesy of Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

This historic rail line was established in 1880 to serve silver mines in the San Juan Mountains, and it follows a jagged route that crosses the Colorado-New Mexico border 11 times. Pulled by a steam locomotive, the train runs 64-mile excursions between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico, climbing over 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass, through Toltec Gorge, and along the 137-foot-high Cascade Trestle. Express, half-day, and full-day trips (with lunch) are available, as are special Fourth of July, wildflower, geology, brunch, and dinner trains.

Leadville Railroad

Leadville Railroad in the fall in Colorado
Leadville Railroad in the fall in Colorado

Courtesy of Leadville Railroad

Perched at 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville is a former mining boom town in a spectacular natural setting. Passengers (and their well-behaved dogs) can board the Leadville Railroad for a 2.5-hour round-trip journey on a rail line dating to 1884. The train chugs toward the Continental Divide, through the San Isabel National Forest and Arkansas River Valley, offering views of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, Colorado's two tallest mountains, along the way. Wildflower and fall foliage trains are dazzling, and other excursions include barbecue, zip line, and rafting packages.

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Pikes Peak Cog Railway in Colorado
Pikes Peak Cog Railway in Colorado

Courtesy of The Broadmoor

Fresh from a three-year, $100 million renovation, the world's highest cog railroad (and the country's highest railroad) welcomes travelers on a nine-mile climb from Manitou Springs to the top of Pikes Peak. The cog railway has been running since 1891, and the scenery is still awe-inspiring. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, elk, and yellow-bellied marmots on your way to the new, LEED Silver-certified Summit Visitor Center, situated at 14,115 feet above sea level. This is the place to taste Pikes Peak's famously fluffy high-altitude donuts.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Georgetown Loop Railroad in Colorado
Georgetown Loop Railroad in Colorado

Courtesy of Georgetown Loop Railroad

Completed in 1884 and rebuilt in time for its 1984 centenary, the Georgetown Loop Railroad takes travelers on a 4.5-mile round-trip ride between the historic mountain towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. Pulled by vintage steam and diesel electric locomotives, the trains rumble over four bridges, around hairpin turns, and through the forest, with Clear Creek splashing below. Excursions can also be combined with a tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine, where you can try your luck at gold panning.

Rocky Mountaineer

Aerial view of Rocky Mountaineer in Colorado
Aerial view of Rocky Mountaineer in Colorado

Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Named the World's Leading Luxury Train at the 2021 World Travel Awards, the Rocky Mountaineer built its stellar reputation in Canada. Now, it's come stateside, with a two-day Rockies to the Red Rocks itinerary linking Denver and Moab, including an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs. The train's glass-dome coaches offer a smooth ride — through the Moffat Tunnel, past Winter Park's ski lifts, and along the banks of the Colorado River as it flows through ranchland, wine country, and into the red canyon wilderness.