This post is brought to you by our friends at Visit Durango!
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the town’s most popular attractions, and it’s not hard to see why. The rich history of the train has shaped the town and its culture as we know it… and it doesn’t hurt that the route is kind of gorgeous. The 3½-hour, 45-mile ride from Durango to Silverton (with a 2¼-hour layover before the ride back) is a perfect day trip, and it’s the crown jewel of Durango. But, there are still a lot of hidden features to the famous train that many don’t know about.
The train can be more than a scenic cruise to Silverton and back. It can also be used to access hiking, fishing, and more in the San Juan National Forest and Weminuche Wilderness, which is the largest Wilderness area in Colorado at 499,771 acres. You can hop off the train at the former mining settlement of Needleton to reach the stunning Chicago Basin. The Needle Creek Trail and the Johnson Creek Trail are two excellent hikes found here. This is also a popular backcountry campsite base camp for adventurers who are hoping to scale Sunlight Peak, Mount Eolus, or other mountains.
Another stop, Elk Park, is right near a trailhead for the Colorado Trail. Other hikes here include the nine-mile Elk Creek Trail, which can lead to the Continental Divide Trail, and the rugged, 34-mile-long Vallecito Creek Trail. If you’re planning to backpack or simply take a day hike, remember to come prepared!
You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the fact that the railroad has run this exact route since 1882. Even the station oozes vintage charm; it was built that same year. It was originally built as a line off the Denver & Rio Grande Railway to haul freight (mostly silver) and passengers. In fact, the railroad essentially founded the town of Durango. As silver mining fell off through the early and mid 20th century, tourism on the train grew. It’s been declared a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and featured in countless films, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Prestige.
Passengers looking to add that extra bit of historical info to their ride should snag tickets for one of the Historic Narration Journeys, which feature costumed interpreters telling the story of Durango and the railroad. And make sure to stop by the free Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Museum, located in the Durango station’s railyard. It’s housed in the roundhouse, which was built in 1989 to replace the original one that sadly burned down. From massive model train setups and antique locomotives, to vintage cars and a wild 1913 Curtiss Headless Pusher Model “D” aircraft, the museum has tons of interesting artifacts.
History buffs looking to travel in old-school Victorian charm should look to ride in the Nomad car, the oldest on the train. It was built in 1878 and still has a lot of its original features; anything new was added with an eye for maintaining the vintage charm. Plus, since it’s the oldest car on the line, it will always be in the back of the train. There’s a benefit to being in the back: You get an awesome view of the scenery and the tracks as the train cruises forward!
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has tons of different events that let you experience the train ride in new and unique ways. Families will love the holiday-themed rides, like the Polar Express. There’s also the Wine & Rails ride. It offers wine tastings from local vineyards on the ride out to Cascade Canyon, where you’ll deboard and enjoy live music and a giant lunch spread (along with games, and of course, more wine) before the ride back, which comes with coffee and desserts. There’s a similar excursion, the Brew Train, that features local breweries instead of wineries, and a Blues Train, which coincides with the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival and turns each train car into a rollickin’ party with live music and local beer. Whichever train ride you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time!