Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited.
Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the Rails. You will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.
Today we will start with the most popular trains in Colorado:
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
One of the most popular trains in the Rockies, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad winds its way from the wild west town of Durango, Colorado through rugged mountainous scenery to the historic mining community of Silverton. Built in 1882, the railroad began hauling precious metals from the Red Mountain mining district, along with passengers intent on getting in and out of the high country.
By 1954, freight was no longer moved by railroad, and the D&SNGRR was designated a scenic tourist train. Today over 200,000 riders a year enjoy a trip along the Animas River through the San Juan Mountains on the Durango & Silverton rails.
Railway and Locomotive Types
The Durango & Silverton is a narrow gauge railroad, with tracks laid three feet apart, giving it the ability to handle tighter mountain curves. Its steam engine is powered by coal—in fact, the train goes through six tons of coal and 10,000 gallons of water in one 90-mile round trip!
Listed as one of the world’s top ten train rides, the D&SNGRR has four classes of service from which to enjoy a steam rail adventure. All seating is assigned.
- Presidential Class is limited to those over the age of 21 and offers two elegantly appointed seating areas inside this private Victorian rail car. There is also an exclusive outside viewing deck.
- First Class seating is available in five different enclosed car environments, with comfortable tables and chairs, a private attendant and complimentary beverages.
- Deluxe Class seating offers open-air cars with plush seating and narrated coaches.
- Standard Class seats are in open air gondolas and enclosed coaches.
The Durango & Silverton Railroad offers a wide variety of riding options for their customers.
- Passengers on the daily trip to Silverton can choose a round trip ticket, returning to Durango at the end of the day.
- Many passengers opt for a one-way train ticket to Silverton and ride Skyway Tours busses back over the high mountain passes of the Million Dollar Highway to Durango.
- Those wishing to stay a little longer in Silverton can take advantage of the Extended Silverton Adventure Express, enjoying the entire afternoon in the mountain town, before returning to Durango via chartered vans.
For even more options, purchase a seat in the locomotive with the engineer or in the caboose with the train’s brakeman. These are one-way tickets, and children must be accompanied by an adult.
- Brew Trains – Taking place on special dates throughout the summer and fall, adults over the age of 21 can enjoy a light sampling of craft beers while learning about the process of creating them. A diesel engine train takes participants from Rockwood Station to Cascade Canyon, where they will disembark to enjoy lunch and more beer along with live entertainment. On the train ride back to Rockwood Station dessert and coffee will be served.
- Wine & Rails – Two dates in September offer a wine tasting train that runs from Durango to Cascade Canyon, where wineries offer two hours of tasting sessions, a Mediterranean lunch, a dance band, yard games and opportunities to photograph the Autumn scenery. The train back to Durango will have desserts and coffee available.
- Cowboy Poetry Train – Ride the rails with other cowboys and cowgirls as cowboy poetry entertainers recite their wildest yarns. The train pulls into Cascade Canyon, where a BBQ lunch awaits, along with more poetry, music, and stories.
- Polar Express – Kids of all ages will enjoy a train ride to the North Pole with all the characters from the Polar Express book. Sing along with the Christmas carols, enjoy hot chocolate and a special gift from Santa as he visits each car. These special rides run from mid-November to the first of January.
Length of Season
The train to Silverton runs from May 4 through October 27, with specialty trains running sporadically (check their schedule) from January 1 through December 9.
Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad
Originally one of five train lines that came through the nearby mining districts, today’s Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad rides on the rails of the old Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, which hauled silver to smelters and passengers to Denver in the late 1800s. Eventually, the mines began to close as silver was demonetized, and train transportation dwindled.
A local couple renovated train cars, a Victorian-era depot, and roundhouse in the 1980s. They reopened the line for tourists to discover the beauty and history of the Upper Arkansas Valley. Today a two and one-half hour trip from Leadville now stops at an overlook of the enormous Climax Molybdenum Mine on Fremont Pass, following a path along the Highline, to present a stunning view of the valley below.
Railway and Locomotive Types
The Leadville, Colorado & Southern tracks were originally narrow gauge and were changed to standard gauge because of all the traffic the rails saw during World War II. Steam engines dominated the railroad until 1962 when today’s diesel engines took over the load. The old 641 steamer sits as a testament to the line’s history in the depot parking lot.
This excursion train offers general seating for all with no assigned seats. Passengers are free to roam the train as it sets course into the mountains, with enclosed cars, covered and open cars available. Restrooms and a snack car are also on board.
The conductor will give narration along the route, presenting the history of the train and Leadville’s mining days, and pointing out many of the sights viewed, along with a few juicy tidbits from the area’s imaginative characters.
All rides are roundtrip, covering 28 miles total in two and one-half hours. The train does stop at the French Gulch Water Tower, where passengers can disembark for approximately 15 minutes to explore the mountainside or walk through the caboose.
For those looking for a special experience, purchase a seat in the locomotive with the engineer or in the caboose with the train’s brakeman. These are one-way tickets, and children must be accompanied by an adult. The other half of the journey will be in the general seating areas.
- Wildflower Special – Three dates in late summer are set aside for an exploration of Colorado’s stunning selection of wildflowers. Ride the train to the water tower, where passengers will disembark for a hike with guides, looking for lupine, columbine, Indian paintbrush, and wild strawberries, among other plants. Once you’ve identified these local treasures, finish your train trip in style with a tour of the Healy House Museum and a boxed lunch on the lawn.
- Devil’s Tail BBQ Train – Enjoy an evening train ride with tasty BBQ on board, viewing the Upper Arkansas Valley as the sun sets behind Colorado’s highest mountain peak. There are only three dinner trains scheduled for the season, so don’t miss your meal ticket!
- Train Ride & Zip Line Package – Combine a morning train ride through the mountainous wilderness around Leadville, then enjoy a fast-paced view of the valley in the afternoon, zipping through the trees and over gulches on a zip line tour. Packages are available throughout the summer season.
Length of Season
The Leadville, Colorado & Southern starts its season on Memorial Day weekend and finishes their tours the first weekend in October, weather permitting. Early and late season trains depart once a day, with two departures daily from mid-June to mid-August. Here is a link to their schedule.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Built in 1880 to haul ore from the silver mines of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad only had a 13-year boom, before the mining industry was stymied with the demonetization of silver in 1893.
For many years the rails were abandoned, but in 1970 the states of Colorado and New Mexico purchased the section of track used today, and the railroad began its new life as a tourist train the next year. Visitors ride through wilderness not accessible by car to see 800 foot deep Toltec Gorge, cross high trestles, delve into the darkness of two tunnels and top out on Cumbres Pass.
Railway and Locomotive Types
Starting out as a narrow gauge railroad in 1880, the Cumbres & Toltec began to switch over to standard gauge within 10 years to make interchanging cars with other railroads possible. However, the rail section that today’s train runs on never got upgraded.
So five operating steam engines run by coal ride the narrow gauge tracks each day between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado.
Cumbres & Toltec has three levels of seating, reflected in ticket prices, which fluctuate with Summer and Fall seasons.
- The Premium Parlor Car is reserved for those over 21 and provides attendants who serve continental breakfasts and afternoon snacks, all included in the ticket price. This enclosed car is decorated in Victorian elegance with single seats and windows that can be closed against the weather.
- The Deluxe Tourist Car welcomes all ages to an enclosed car with tables and chairs. Concessions are available.
- The Classic Coach Car has padded bench seating in an enclosed car with closable windows. Passengers can move about this car and into the open air gondola cars.
- The Gondola Car is available for all ticketed passengers as they move throughout the train. There are no seats in the open air car, but it offers great views, and docents are available to answer questions.
The 64-mile long trip from Antonito to Chama (or Chama to Antonito) offers several choices for travel:
- Take the train from Antonito to Osier (the halfway point), where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then return to Antonito by train.
- Take the train from Antonito to Osier, where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then take a motor coach back to Antonito.
- Take the train from Chama to Osier, where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then return to Chama by train.
- Take the train from Chama to Osier, where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then take a motor coach back to Chama.
- Take the train from Antonito to Osier, where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then take the train on to Chama. Return to your vehicle in Antonito by motor coach.
- Take the train from Chama to Osier, where a buffet lunch is included with all ticket prices. Then take the train on to Antonito. Return to your vehicle in Chama by motor coach.
- Geology Train – Travel with an award-winning geologist to study the particular rock make-up of the region, stopping along the way to interpret geologic points of interest.
- Wildflower Botany Train – Join the New Mexico District Forester to study the variety of plants in seven different life zones, identifying wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
- Sunset Trains – Several trains during the summer season offer entertainment as the locomotive follows dusk across the state line.
- 4th of July Dinner Train – Join passengers in a patriot attire contest, enjoy dinner entertainment as the train pulls away from the depot, then take in the spectacular fireworks display with front row seats on the Cumbres & Toltec.
Length of Season
The Cumbres & Toltec begins its season on Memorial Day weekend, ending on October 20, weather permitting. From Labor Day through the end of the season is their peak traveling period, with passengers vying to see the stunning Fall colors. Check out their schedule here.
Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip. We’ll have more RVing the Rails articles coming in the future so check in again soon to read and learn more!