Colorado’s scenic railroads have more to offer than majestic views | VailDaily.com

Colorado’s scenic railroads have more to offer than majestic views

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

The tracks snake around the mountainside, running parallel to the highway until they disappear into the rock, only to emerge from the darkness into the sunshine once more. These tracks may seem invisible for eyes on the highway, until the train arrives.

As it chugs along the tracks, the train invites speculation: Where is it going? What can you see? What does it feel like to be onboard? Though most of the world moves at a breakneck speed, it seems as though trains not only carry passengers to a destination, but also through time.

"I think there's a lot of nostalgia about going back to a simpler time," said Tom Hill, vice president of facilities and marketing at the Georgetown Loop Railroad. "Think about your life … that's the way our lives are now: go, see, do; boom, boom, boom. (Trains) are from a time that's slower, calmer."

In Colorado, scenic railways are a favorite way to experience the state, but these trains are offering more than just spectacular views. From live music to wildflower hikes to bourbon, here are three trains worth the ride.

Eat, drink and be merry

The Georgetown Loop Railroad, which originally linked Denver to Silver Plume, is one of Colorado's first visitor attractions. Completed in 1884, this stretch of narrow-gauge railroad was considered an engineering marvel for its time. It ran continuously until 1938, when the price of silver plummeted and cars became more ubiquitous. The restoration of the railroad started in 1973 and, in 1984, the Loop was completely reassembled; it's been running ever since.

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However, the Georgetown Loop Railroad offers more than just train rides these days.

"We constantly change it," Hill said. "We try and add new rides or new activities, so it's not the same railroad."

Take, for example, the wide variety of opportunities to sip and sample while onboard. There's a Wine & Cheese Train and a Beer & Brat Train serving up delicious offerings. The Georgetown Loop Railroad started offering wine and craft beer tastings about five years ago, letting guests imbibe while they enjoy the 1½-hour ride.

New this year is the Speakeasy Series, which focuses on specific spirits: tequila, bourbon and Scotch. Four different styles of the spirit are sampled (the Scotch train offered tastes from four different areas of Scotland), with hors d'oeuvres paired. The bourbon tasting departs July 23 and Sept. 24, and the tequila train takes off Aug. 13.

In addition to the regular train rides, the Georgetown Loop also offers special event trains such as Buffalo Bill Daze (ride with Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley), Oktoberfest trains and Santa's Lighted Forest Train; mine tours are also available.

Ride to a beat

Trains have a soundtrack: the toot-toot of the whistle, the chug-a-lug of the tracks and the whoosh of the air passing by. But for two weekends in the summer, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad has a whole different sound. On Aug. 12 and 13, the train turns into the Durango Blues Train, featuring performances by Hazel Miller Band, Reverend Dead Eye, John Long and more.

"In the vein of a music cruise, a blues cruise or a jam cruise, it's an attraction within an attraction," said Steve Gumble, director of SPG Productions, which produces the Durango Blues Train. "It's a little bit of a shorter ride than if you take the train to Silverton, but you're entertained the entire time you're there."

During the 3½-hour ride that starts and ends in Durango, passengers get to her music from two bands and four solo or duo artists performing live. The bands are in the open-air gondola cars, while the smaller acts are in coaches with seats for relaxing, as well as plenty of room for dancing. The artists are the same for both days, but the experience is always unique.

"Our return rate is through the roof because it's such a fun experience," Gumble said. "It's not a big commitment — it's not a three-day festival. But once they come, they're hooked."

Stop and smell the wildflowers

Trains are a wonderful way to take in the scenery, especially the views from the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. Originating in Leadvillle, the train takes passengers along the old Denver, South Park & Pacific and Colorado & Southern lines to the Continental Divide, affording sweeping views across the Arkansas River.

For wildflower enthusiasts, the railroad offers a special opportunity to stretch their legs and view the state's wildflowers with the Wild Flower Special train on July 30 and Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. Longer than the normal 2½-hour ride, the wildflower train stops and allows passengers to disembark for a small hike to view Indian paintbrush, lupine and wild strawberries, to name a few.

"We do get some folks who are very good at identifying all of the wildflowers and know the scientific terms," said Lynette Booth, a conductor on the Leadville Southern & Colorado. "Some are just like us and just want to get out and hike and see a pretty meadow and see the flowers."

The Leadville Colorado & Southern also offers the opportunity to book a spot in the caboose or engine room, something that's not available on most trains. It's an additional fare, but for those in the family who are crazy about trains, it's a special opportunity. It's also one of the only trains that allows pets, so you can bring your (well-behaved) furry friends along for the ride.

Train travel may not be as prevalent as it was in the past, but it has so much more to offer than simply a scenic ride. So the next time you see a train cruising along the mountain, don't simply wonder where it's going — jump on and experience it for yourself.

(Come on) ride that train

Looking for just the right train experience? Here are the scenic railroads in Colorado.

• Leadville, Co & Southern Railroad, 326 E. 7th St., Leadville, CO 80461; http://www.leadville-train.com

• Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Junction 17 and 285, Antonito, CO 81120; cumbrestoltec.com

• Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, 610 State Street, Alamosa, CO 81101; http://www.coloradotrain.com

• Georgetown Loop Railroad, 1520 Argentine St., Georgetown, CO 80444; georgetownlooprr.com

• Royal Gorge Route Railroad, Santa Fe Depot, Cañon City, CO 81212; royalgorgeroute.com

• Pikes Peak Cog Railway, 515 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, CO 80829; cograilway.com

• Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, 479 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301; durangotrain.com

• Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, 520 E Carr Ave, Cripple Creek, CO 80813; cripplecreekrailroad.com