All Aboard For Family Fun: Colorado Train Experiences

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When I met my husband, I had only ridden trains twice. I was with my Grandma on a trip to California on the Amtrak when I was 5. I don’t really remember it. And, for one semester abroad in college, I had to take an electric train to campus. It was a practical thing and certainly not something I considered entertaining.

Trains, Trains & More Trains

I seriously underestimated the time I would spend in my life surrounded by all things trains and the enthusiasm for these great machines shared by the train loving population. In the 10 years we have been married, I am pretty sure I have been on every live stream engine passenger train within 300 miles, plus one in Williams, AZ.

I had never heard of a pass-time known as “chasing trains.” But I am here to tell you, if you haven’t either, you are missing out. (And I am only sort of being sarcastic here).

Chasing Trains

As it turns out, there are a great many number of “Train Fanatics” in this country. These people are willing to spend their precious time standing on the side of train tracks in the middle of nowhere waiting patiently for a special engine to pass by so they can wave, take pictures, and then frantically jump back in their cars and race ahead to the next place the road crosses the tracks and do it all over again.

My kids LOVE this activity. And I love them and getting out in the mountains, and taking pictures. Win-win.

Chasing trains has become a favorite family activity. And I have raised four children to be just as obsessed at the notion as their father.

So, I thought I would share my experience in case you, too, have train lovers. Here are my favorite train experiences in no particular order:

Cripple Creek Railroad

Cripple Creek Railroad — If you are looking for a close trip that can easily be managed in a day, this is your train.

Located in Cripple Creek, Colo., it is a scenic 1 hour drive from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek up Highway 24 and south on Highway 67.  The train goes out and back and provides interesting commentary on the mining history of the area.  It is a live steam engine and the rates are the best around at $10 for children and $15 for adults.

If you have littles who are into Thomas the Train, but are not quite ready for a longer commitment, this is a great place to start with the bright blue engine and less than an hour round trip on the train.  Open seasonally from May to October.  Check the website for details.

Colorado Railroad Museum

Speaking of Thomas the Train…  When my son, Tommy, was born I was totally against getting him all things Thomas the Tank Engine, but my efforts totally failed.

Eventually, I gave in and took him to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colo., for his 3rd birthday. Our whole family rode the “real” Thomas the Tank Engine that was visiting at the time.  It was fantastic.  That particular train travels around the country and was at the museum for a limited time, puffing live steam, smiling and talking while carrying passengers around the yard. Even though that event isn’t a permanent fixture, you can check out their calendar online and experience other great train history excursions such as riding on a “Galloping Goose.”

The museum is a 1.5-hour drive from Colorado Springs and is full of great exhibits.  If you are interested in seeing and riding on Thomas the train, he’ll be back September of 2020!

Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad

If you like the mining aspect of riding the rails, make sure to check out the train in Leadville, Colorado.

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad train is a 2.5-hour round trip open car, scenic railroad that heads north out of Leadville towards the Climax mine behind a diesel engine.  A beautiful ride and only 2 hours and 30 minutes from Colorado Springs, but make sure to bring a coat.  The weather up there can be drastically colder.  Children’s tickets start at $22 and adults at $42 dollars. Check the website for details.  This trail also runs seasonally from May through October.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

Another great option that is also closely tied to mining activities for the whole family is the Georgetown Loop Railroad.

This beautiful and classic train reopens for the 2020 season on April 25th.  Running from Georgetown to Silverplume along the I-70 corridor the ride lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes and can be boarded from either station.  If you are into mining and history wrap up with a mining tour and try your had at panning for gold. Children’s tickets are about $29.50 and adults at $38.50.  The drive from the springs takes about 2 hours.

Royal Gorge Route Railroad

If mining isn’t your thing and you are just looking for beautiful scenery, you can start with the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.

This train boards from Canon City — a mere 45-minute drive south of Colorado Springs on Highway 115.  Running behind bright orange diesel engines, this train runs west along the Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge.  This train runs about $44 for children and $49 for adults.  They also provide a whole assortment of themed train rides from Ales on the Rails to Murder Mystery to the Santa Express Train.

Amtrak California Zephyr

Similarly to Royal Gorge, if you like diesel engines and are into fantastic canyons and scenery, try taking the Amtrak California Zephyr from Union Station in Denver to Glenwood Springs.

This train ride is full of fun as it goes through the long Moffet tunnel on its way up to Winter Park and then winds through the Rockies along the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon and into Glenwood Springs.  Take a night in Glenwood, visit the hot springs and either catch the train back the next day or take advantage of one of the faster means available like the RFTA bus.

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

If it is the “Polar Express” you are looking for and you have the time, our family recently rode the Polar Express on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado. I could not recommend this train more.

My 8, 5, 4, and 1 year olds LOVED this experience.  An interactive “dinner theater” type show with acting, hot chocolates and treats is performed for the children on the hour long round trip to the “North Pole.”  My kids all attended in their pajamas, winter coats and boots and wrapped it all up with a visit and photo with Santa in the museum.  My husband and I have also taken this train solo. It’s a super romantic date through the incredible scenery of the Animas River to Silverton.

In the fall, this is unlike anything else.  Beautiful bright orange trees, under snow crested peaks.  We have even taken the kids camping in the summer where the train dropped us off in the San Juan National Forrest and we had to flag the train down the next day to catch our ride out. The DSNG also does other themed rides you can check out on the website.

Though an amazing experience I couldn’t recommend highly enough, Durango is about 5 and a half hours west of Colorado Springs and would likely require a long weekend to fully enjoy.  Tickets vary in price based on season and the excursion you choose.  Due to the length of the ride (in summer) you can also opt to take the train one way and then board a bus in Silverton for the ride back to Durango.

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

Not to be forgotten, one of the most incredible scenic rides I have taken is the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

This hidden gem is located south of Alamosa, Colo., just three hours southwest of Colorado Springs. This train also offers the option to ride the train one direction and take the bus back.  I recommend taking the bus from Antonito, Colo., to Chama, N.M., and riding the train back.  The train stops half way and for lunch in a lodge building.  Before and after you have the chance to take in some of Colorado’s most gorgeous scenery.  The train runs seasonally and tickets vary based on the type of trip you choose but don’t forget to take advantage of the 25% discount for residents of Colorado Springs!.

Grand Canyon Railway

If you happen to be heading to the Grand Canyon, you can take a train pulled behind a live steam engine from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon South Rim on the Grand Canyon Railway.

This is a scenic and relaxed way to visit the Grand Canyon.  Train tickets include entry to the park. Just watch out for train robbers on horseback that board and take all your money.  (Just pretend, but man was my 5 year old convinced!).

The Big Boy

If you don’t care so much about actually riding the train but also happen to be steam engine obsessed, you would love the Union Pacific engine 4014, “The Big Boy.” It is simply amazing.

A model that only saw about 25 engines constructed of which only about 8 total survived to present day.  This one was selected to be restored and was converted to an oil burner and now travels around the country.  However, its home is in Cheyenne, Wyo., just 2 and a half hours from Colorado Springs.  Keep up with what is happening with it on their website and check out this amazing piece of history.

Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway

At one point, you didn’t have to travel far for a train ride, the Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railroad used to take you from Manitou, Colo., all the way to the top of Pikes Peak.  However after years with maintenance issues, the railroad was forced to shut down.  The railroad is being revived and plans to be open for passengers again starting in 2021.  So, stay tuned on the website for updates.

With all of these wonderful opportunities to get out and enjoy the Colorado train experience, you’ll have no excuse but to get your caboose in “Woot!” for all the train adventures that await you.  Have fun!

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Rachel is a native Coloradoan, though originally from the Western Slope. She followed her husband Chris to his hometown of Colorado Springs after having met in engineering school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Together they have four beautiful children, Tommy (2011), Tazzy (2014), Zach (2015) and Zinny (2018). Having a young and active family keeps Rachel on her toes trying to find ways to keep the ship sailing while still meeting all the demands of motherhood. Though Rachel loves her most important role as Mommy most, she also works full time outside the home as a Water Resources Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. This role helps keep her life centered, bouncing from detailed and complex discussions relating to Colorado Water Law with her husband ( a mechanical engineer) to daycare and preschool drop off and pick up schedules, while being constantly interrupted by the equally complex musings of her 4 year.