The Best of Colorado’s Historic Railroads

The story of Colorado is stitched together with mining seams and railroad lines. Come learn why as you ride historic trains, visit historic towns and witness grand feats of engineering.
Rating (5)
Program No. 4345RJ
9 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Watch the Colorado landscapes paint a beautiful watercolor of greens and blues as you experience this region aboard historic trains. Deepen your understanding of the Rocky Mountains as you slow down the whizzing world around you to relive the glory days of train travel. Aboard historic railroads, wind your way through mining towns, join experts in history museums and study the impressive feats of engineering that have stood the test of time. On this train-and-coach journey, trace the parallel development of the railroads and of Colorado’s settlement, and discover what hidden gems lie in its modern cities. If learning and fun are what you’re after, you’re on the right track!
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Walking up to one-half mile on varied terrain. Climbing on/off motorcoach and railroad cars. Elevations of 5,000-12,500 feet.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Compare and contrast steam and diesel trains as you ride the Durango and Silverton, and Cumbres and Toltec, narrow-gauge railways.
  • Experience the engineering marvel of Georgetown Loop as you cross bridges and climb the narrow canyon, and journey by 4x4 through the spectacular San Juan Mountains.
  • Ride along the Royal Gorge Route, Colorado’s oldest scenic railroad, to learn about its complicated history with the local railroad industry.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Steve Patterson
From eastern Tennessee, Steve Patterson joined the Santa Fe Railway in Kansas, after graduating from East Tennessee State University. Steve retired in 2007 after 42 years, working as a locomotive engineer for 19 of those years. He and his wife Maxine settled in Arvada, Colorado in 1980 and have traveled around the world by train. A longtime rail buff and photographer, his photographs have appeared in 147 railroad books and received the Railroad History Award in Photography from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Al Dunton
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Steve Patterson
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Rails Thru the Royal Gorge
by Doris B. Osterwald
The most spectacular scenic attraction in the West! Covered are 130 years of history about the world’s deepest gorge with a railroad, built in 1879, running through the bottom. Also includes a complete biography of Wm. Jackson Palmer, the story of the Denver and Rio Grande – Santa Fe ‘Royal Gorge War’, and the development of the new Royal Gorge Railway we ride through the bottom of the gorge. The Suspension Bridge, built in 1929, hovers 1,000 feet above the train we ride along the Arkansas River. The book includes over 200 B&W & color photos, detailed maps, charts and geological information.
All Aboard For America's Mountain
by Claude Wiatrowski
The Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway - the famous "Cog Wheel Route"! We climb to the top of 14,110 foot Pikes Peak on grades up to 25%. This is the official history and guidebook to the railway first opened in 1891. Lots of color as well as historic photos.
Ticket To Toltec: A Mile By Mile Guide for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
by Doris B. Osterwald
Everything you would ever want to know about the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TS). Includes the geology and geography of the area, detailed Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) history, flora and fauna, operations and equipment, and a detailed mile-by-mile guide and maps of our route. Many historic and modern photos with a few in color. The definitive reference guide that satisfies rail fans and tourists alike.
Colorado Railroad Map
by Robert W. Richardson Library
Covers all known Colorado railroads both operating and abandoned. On the back are eight smaller historical maps. Probably the single most useful item you can have on our program. Shown are the railroads we visit. Our motor coach is also routed to follow other operating and abandoned grades where possible. NOTE: This map and all books on this list can be ordered from The Colorado Railroad Museum online: shop.coloradorailroadmuseum.org
Cinders and Smoke: A Mile by Mile Guide for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
by Doris B. Osterwald
By the same author as Ticket to Toltec. Reference information about the Durango and Silverton (D&S) Narrow Gauge Railroad, another Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) successor. Also includes brief histories of the two towns that the D&RG reached in 1881 and 1882. Highly recommended. This book is available at the Colorado Railroad Museum and at shops in Durango and Silverton. It is not available at the D&S gift shop or on the train.
Colorado's Colorful Characters
by Gladys R. Bueler
Outstanding illustrated narrative history of the men and women that shaped Colorado. Starting with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, interwoven are the stories of the explorers, mountain men, Native Americans, settlers, miners, railroad builders and industrialists. Included are the two major railroad builders we discuss, General William Jackson Palmer (Denver & Rio Grande) and Otto Mears (tollroads and four small narrow gauge).
Tomboy Bride: A Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West
by Harriet Fish Backus
Just after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, twenty-year-old Harriett Fish took the train from Oakland to Denver to marry her fiancé George Backus. After the wedding, they journeyed by narrow gauge train to Telluride high in the San Juan Mountains. George was an assayer for the Tomboy, a silver and gold mine at timberline over 11,000 feet high. This is just over the ridge from the Yankee Boy Basin mining area we visit on our four-wheel drive trip. Author Harriett Fish Backus, describes their life in vivid detail. Over half the book covers their years at the Tomboy; also covered are their mining and milling experiences in British Columbia, Idaho, and back to Colorado. At the beginning of World War I, George pioneered the process still used today to concentrate molybdenum, a metal used to strengthen steel. This is the best book that covers everyday life in the mining camps of the West.
The Georgetown Loop- A Capsule History and Guide
by State Historical Society of Colorado
A wonderful illustrated history published by the Colorado Historical Society, the owner of the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park. Excellent coverage of gold and silver mining development, early Colorado railroad history, the building of the narrow gauge Colorado Central Railroad (later the Colorado & Southern) up Clear Creek, the Loop completed in 1884, and the mining towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. Also covered is the development of the Historic Mining and Railroad Park in the 1970s and 1980s.

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