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Time travel may not be a thing. But taking a trip on one of Colorado’s legendary railways gets you pretty darn close. Train tracks wind up mountainsides, showing off the same views that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen “America the Beautiful” at the turn of the 20th century. They connect storied mining towns in the Rocky Mountains and, for drama’s sake, trace the ledge of Toltec Gorge just south of the Colorado border amid a remarkable landscape that has drawn Hollywood filmmakers for decades.

Steam ahead for four of Colorado’s iconic train trips that are the perfect speed for summer.

GEORGETOWN, CO - OCTOBER 31: From left, Olivia Espinoza, of Denver, smiles at Shannon Foy and Shreya Patel, visiting from Texas, as they take photos during the Georgetown Loop Railroad ride on Sunday, October 31, 2021 in Georgetown, Colorado. (Photo by Rachel Woolf/Special to the Denver Post)

Rachel Woolf, Special to the Denver Post

From left, Olivia Espinoza of Denver smiles at Shannon Foy and Shreya Patel, visiting from Texas, as they take photos during the Georgetown Loop Railroad ride on Oct. 31, 2021. (Rachel Woolf, Special to the Denver Post)

Best day trip: Georgetown Loop Railroad

With Victorian architecture and an occasional train whistle setting the soundtrack, Georgetown is a small town that’s big on charm. But did you know that in the 1800s, this mountain town 45 minutes west of Denver was known as the “Silver Queen of Colorado” and was the third-largest city in the state? Today the Georgetown Loop connects two of the state’s famous mining towns, Georgetown and Silver Plume, and you can take in the sights during a round-trip narrow-gauge, steam-powered train ride.

“Those who haven’t seen a steam engine operate will be amazed at how impressive these locomotives are, using 19th-century technology to pull a heavy train up a steep mountain,” says Mark Graybill, president and general manager of the Georgetown Loop. “Unlike today’s locomotives, each engine almost seems human, with its own personality.” It’s almost as if you can hear them breathe, taking heavy sighs after they’ve been working hard, he says.

Round out your trip by adding on a mine tour and gold panning, and pop in for a cocktail at The Bread Bar in Silver Plume which is housed in an 1800s-era bakery and names its cocktails after local mining legends.

  • Duration: About 75 minutes
  • Cost: Tickets start at $24.95 for children ages 3-15 and $30.95 for everyone else. Children age 2 or younger ride for free.
  • Info: georgetownlooprr.com
David Esposito takes photos of the ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

David Esposito takes photos of the landscape as he rides toward the Pikes Peak summit on The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway on May 16, 2021. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Best scenery: The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

In the late 1800s, tourists wanting to see the views from the top of Pikes Peak made the journey on mules. But Zalmon Simmons (the founder of what became the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Co.) had the idea to engineer a more comfortable ride up the 14,115-foot mountain. In 1889 construction of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway began. One of the early Pikes Peak passengers was Katharine Lee Bates, who would conclude that “all the wonder of America seemed displayed there,” leading her to write “America the Beautiful.”

The cog railway recently shut down for three years so workers could rebuild and modernize the 9 miles of track that gain 7,795 feet in elevation. In 2021 the railway reopened, coinciding with its 130th year. Aboard shiny red train cars engineered in Switzerland, riders embark on a journey from the Manitou depot to the top of Pikes Peak, where they can get out and enjoy those awe-inspiring summit views as well as the new Summit House.

Along the ride, keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, foxes and marmots and marvel at the 2,000-year-old Bristlecone pines that dot the route. If you’d like a bit more adventure, arrange to ride the train up and then hike down on Barr Trail.

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Cost: Tickets start at $48.50 for children up to age 12 and $58.50 for everyone else.
  • Info: cograilway.com
The Cumbres & Toltec train chugs through remote terrain around the Colorado-New Mexico border and climbs to 10,200 feet at Cumbres Pass. (Provided by Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad)

Provided by Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec train chugs through remote terrain along the Colorado-New Mexico border and climbs to 10,200 feet at Cumbres Pass. (Provided by Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad)

Best for movie buffs: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad has appeared in more than 40 films and is perhaps best known for the circus animal scenes in “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.” The railway also received lots of air time in the Jay Z-produced film “The Harder They Fall” and in the recent movie “Hostiles.”

Running coal-fired steam locomotives from Antonito as well as Chama, N.M., the railroad follows 64 miles of tracks first laid down in 1880 that zigzag, crossing between Colorado and New Mexico 11 times. The train skirts canyon walls through 600-foot-deep Toltec Gorge, burrows through tunnels, and steams over Cascade Trestle (137 feet above a creek). It also ascends to the top of 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass, which is the highest point reached by any steam railroad in North America.

You’ve got lots of train trip options, but new this year is the 168 Dinner Train and 168 Brunch Train which provide a ride in a museum-quality historic train in all of its Victorian splendor.

  • Duration: Multiple trips, ranging from express rides to full-day excursions.
  • Cost: Rates start at $25 for children ages 2-5, $45 for children ages 6-12, and $90 for everyone else.
  • Info: cumbrestoltec.com

 

Trains of the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

Engines of the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad reminds many children of “Thomas the Tank Engine” characters. Well-behaved dogs are allowed to ride this route through old mining area. (Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad)

Best for the whole family (Fido, too): Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad