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Colorado’s Historic And Scenic Railroads

Gunnison, Colorado

October 20, 2020

Here’s a list of Colorado’s scenic and historic railroads, some of which traverse still-wild terrain that can’t be easily experienced by any other form of transit. I have done two; seven to go. Maybe I can use all my Amtrak miles on the Zephyr and the Southwest Chief.

1. Royal Gorge Route Railroad

Comfy panoramic-view cars open to the spectacular walls of the Royal Gorge beside the fast-flowing Arkansas River on this historic railroad’s tracks. The trip can be complemented with a view of the gorge from one of the world’s highest suspension bridges. 

Start and End Point: Cañon City

2. Georgetown Loop Railroad

To connect the mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume — only 2 miles apart through a steep, narrow canyon — the railroad’s 1880s builders constructed tracks that corkscrewed up more than 600 feet in elevation on four bridges. 

Start and End Points: Silver Plume and Georgetown

3. Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

This 1880 vintage line is best known for its appearance in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” A National Historic Landmark on wheels, the Cumbres & Toltec steams 64 miles over the Rocky Mountains along cliffs, through narrow Toltec Gorge, over 10,000-foot Cumbres Pass and through miles of evergreen and aspen forest with 100-mile views in every direction. 

Start and End Points: Antonito, CO, and Chama, NM

"The Railroader" is a new short in National Geographic Short Film Showcase that follows the Cumbres & Toltec's very own John Bush, his story of falling in love with railroading, and why the C&TS means so much to America. Watch it here.

4. Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad

This ideal route for seeing Colorado in its autumn-color glory reaches up into the Continental Divide through hairpin turns along the upper Arkansas River Valley. Keep an eye out for Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the state’s two tallest peaks. 

Start and End Points: Leadville and Climax

5. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

This coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive runs 200 feet above the Animas River, featuring views of majestic peaks as it passes through the remote canyons and wilderness of the Animas Gorge and San Juan National Forest. 

Start and End Points: Durango and Silverton

6. Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

Several stops along the route of this family-owned railroad provide views and photo ops of Pikes Peak and old mining camps, as well as the opportunity to hear the train whistle ricochet off the walls of Echo Valley.

Start and End Points: Cripple Creek and Victor

7. California Zephyr

This daily Amtrak train is not antique, but it certainly is scenic. For unsurpassed comfort and convenience, this is the choice for a spectacular high-speed tour through the Rocky Mountains.

Start and End Points: Chicago and San Francisco, with six stops in Colorado between Fort Morgan, Denver, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction

8. Southwest Chief

A second Amtrak line travels through the southeast corner of Colorado, providing access to classic American Southwest landscapes and attractions such as Bent’s Old Fort and Koshare Indian Kiva and Museum

Start and End Points: Chicago and Los Angeles, with stops in Colorado at Trinidad, La Junta and Lamar

9. The Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Reopening in May 2021 after a swanky upgrade, the world’s highest cog railway takes you to its dynamic new visitor center on the summit of Pikes Peak — that’s 14,115 feet! Along the 9-mile journey, you’ll be treated to spectacular 360-degree views of the Pikes Peak region, from the sweeping plains to the Continental Divide and snow-capped Rockies. Keep an eye out: You may very well spot foxes, bighorn sheep and whistling yellow-bellied marmots or — on the clearest of days — the historic mining camp of Cripple Creek.

Start and End Points: Manitou Springs

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