Colorado has a rich history of railroads and trains. Today, you can take a passenger train ride across the state via Amtrak, or a historic tour on a narrow gauge track. Most trains offer passenger service during most of the year.
Amtrak and RTD Passenger Trains in Colorado
Today, you can take a railroad trip across the state via Amtrak, or a tour on a narrow gauge track. Sometimes you need to get from A to B and a train is a perfect way to accomplish this. Amtrak runs two train routes through Colorado. Denver’s RTD Light Rail transports passengers across the metro area and to Denver International Airport.
Historic Train Rides in Colorado
From narrow gauge to cog railways, you can find a number of track types in the Rockies. Most of the narrow gauge tracks were chosen became space was limited high in the mountains. Several of the historic routes still operate.
Additional Railroad Museums
Learn about Colorado’s locomotive past at railroad museums. Several historic railroads provide small museums, featuring train artifacts and exhibits. Both Golden and Pueblo have large museums dedicated to the region’s railroad history.
Today, Colorado’s old railroad tracks and passenger cars might look like nothing more than curious relics…
Guide to Railroads and Train Rides in Colorado
Colorado operates a number of popular train rides, though most of its railroads are used for freight. There are a few passenger train options that will advance someone from A to B, though most of them are scenic loops that are more for sightseeing than transportation.
Amtrak has two lines that pass through Colorado. One in the southeast, passing through Trinidad. And the other passes completely from east to west, making its grand stop at Denver Union Station along the way.
Whether you’re traveling across the country by train or checking out historical railroads that played an important role in modernizing the United States, Colorado railroads are one of the most popular attractions to visit. During the 19th century, U.S. Presidents pushed for the completion of an intricate network of trains to carry people, cargo, and even livestock, from coast to coast.
Fueled by the mining boom, Colorado’s railroad history is fascinating, beginning in the 1860s.
Many of the Colorado railroads that are still being used are being used for their original purposes (usually freight). There are many train lines that grace the local railroads that are still in use. Amtrak is the only passenger train system that runs on Colorado railroads, other than a few scenic train routes.
However, over seven different lines are still being used for freight and cargo. Some of these include the Utah Railway, Kyle Railroad, BNSF, the Union Pacific Rail, and the Colorado and Wyoming Railway.
Out of all of these, the Union Pacific Railroad is one of the oldest railroad systems that runs on the Colorado railroads. Established in 1862, this ancient train company has been bringing freight to almost every corner of the country.
Modern freight trains might be fascinating for train enthusiasts, but not for the average tourist. No, tourists generally fall in love with the mystique of historical trains. Most of the railroads that tourists care to learn about our now-defunct railroads that once carried settlers, cowboys, and travelers to different towns.
Colorado’s Historic and Scenic Train Rides
Another fun member of the group of defunct trains that once rode the Colorado railroads is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This section began in the early 1880s and was created to carry cargo, supplies, mining goods, and even people from local mines to major cities.
Though it was once an extensive network of tracks, it has been reduced to a single line. You can still ride this narrow gauge railroad as a tourist. Combine a train ride with zip lining, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, ATVing, Jeeping, rock climbing, or mountain biking.
There’s no doubt that trains fueled America’s expansion out west. Colorado’s mining history accelerated the tracks laid to remote mountain towns, many of which still run trains today. Some trains run year round, while others operate during the summer and fall.
Parents who have small children who adore trains will love a train ride. Quaint, fun, and chock-full of history, it’s very hard to go wrong with taking a stop at one of the local historic railroad museums in Colorado. You can rest assured that people traveling with you will be all-aboard with your decision to visit them.
Many of the tourist trains offer unique events, like dinner trains and Oktoberfests. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad has a fun murder mystery ride, which runs from late May through October.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad connects the former mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. You can take this scenic two-mile loop and combine it with a tour of the Lebanon Mine. Two more historic mining towns, Cripple Creek and Victor is connected via the Cripple Creek & Victor NGRR
America’s highest train is the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. It summits Pikes Peak, a 14,114-foot peak in El Paso County. Trips depart daily from charming Manitou Springs. Another year-round train is the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad in southern Colorado. Departing Alamosa, it’s the highest and longest route on standard gauge rail.
The highest and longest coal-fired, steam-operated narrow gauge railroad in the U.S. is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. It runs 64 miles along the Colorado and New Mexico border. Chugging along from late May through early October, the Leadville Colorado Southern Railroad is a unique trip that allows your dog on the train. Guests can meet the engineer and tour the caboose and engine.
The Front Range cities of Denver and Fort Collins feature trolleys. Take a ride on the Fort Collins Municipal Railway, a 30-minute trek from City Park to Old Town Fort Collins. Take in Downtown Denver via the Platte Valley Trolley, a 1986 replica of a 1903 Brill open street car.
Visitors can stop by the Denver Rail Heritage Society, learn about this cute trolley’s history, and also experience the history by actually taking a ride on the centuries-old streetcar. Rides are very inexpensive, and all proceeds go to local historical sites.
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Other Colorado Transportation Methods
Another way to see the sights is by car. Combine a scenic drive with other fun activities.