Hop on the fast-track to fun with these railroad-centric seasonal events and specialty rides.
Select dates, early March to early May
At the junction of craft beer and locomotives is this scenic trip alongside the Arkansas River between the towering granite walls of the Royal Gorge. Toast to Colorado’s booming craft-brewing industry inside the train’s comfy club cars as you sip on four varieties of beer from a single local brewer, carefully paired with four mini tastings. Past combos have included Colorado Trout Almondarro with Boulder Beer’s Buffalo Golden Ale and Colorado chicken over fried gnocchi parmesan with Oskar Blues Brewery’s G’Knight Imperial Red IPA.
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad — Mountain Rails Live
Select dates all summer (The railroad will not be running for tourists in 2020, but check back in 2021 for potential new offerings.)
Depart from Alamosa’s downtown depot and wind your way up lush La Veta Pass on historic 1878 tracks into the dramatic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At an elevation of 9,400 feet, you’ll disembark for a concert at Fir Summit Amphitheatre, only accessible by train. The musicians ride up on the same train as you, past artists having included the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Judy Collins, Larry Gatlin, Pam Tillis, Shenandoah, Juice Newton, Suzy Bogguss and Michael Martin Murphy.
Select dates, May and August
There’s something that just jives between a steady blues rhythm and the predictable chugga-chugga of a train in motion — especially a coal-fired, steam-powered train like the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Experience the synergy for yourself during their special Blues Train excursions. You’ll travel through the spectacular canyons of the San Juan National Forest while six live blues acts perform on board. Each artist or group plays in their own vintage coach, and passengers can dance their way from car to car to hear it all.
Colorado Model Railroad Museum — Fall Festival
The Colorado Model Railroad Museum holds an astounding collection, with 5,500 square feet of miniature railroad scenes that required 280,000 volunteer hours to assemble. The museum’s annual fall event is a great time to go, with family craft projects, games, prizes, pumpkin decorating and the museum’s “eye spy” activity, a scavenger hunt that encourages you to spot tiny details among the model trains displays.
Select dates in September
Does your child’s imagination regularly take off to the Island of Sodor with Thomas & Friends? Then you’ll want to surprise her with this special event happening the last three weekends in September. Your family will get to see a life-sized Thomas engine in person, ride a train led by Thomas and have your picture snapped with Sir Topham Hatt. Admission also includes access to Colorado Railroad Museum exhibits and model trains, and special activities planned for the event, such as a magic show, singalongs, a bean-bag toss and temporary tattooing. This is another popular event, so secure tickets well in advance.
Select dates, July and August
Sit back and breathe in the fresh mountain air while this train travels through rugged, wildflower-blanketed terrain and a knowledgeable guide illuminates fascinating local lore. Then stop at a high-alpine meadow for a 20-minute wildflower-identification hike fit for all levels. Because the timing of mountain blooms varies from week to week, guests will see a carpet of wildflowers unique to that excursion and learn the Latin names and fun facts about the flora before heading back down to complete the 3.5-hour trip.
Select dates, June to October
If you donned a set of striped overalls and an engineer’s hat as a kid and always pictured yourself piloting a locomotive, that childhood fantasy can now become reality. Through Cumbres & Toltec’s three- or four-day train engineering intensive, you’ll learn to fire an antique K-36 Baldwin locomotive, earn running time on the rails and get a hands-on education on the daily work that goes on behind the scenes of a railroad — all against the high-desert setting of the mystic San Luis Valley. But plan in advance; there are so many wannabe-engineers out there that the program routinely sells out.
Many dates in November and December
Start a new family tradition with a holiday-themed train ride between the snow-coated mountains rising from Clear Creek Canyon. Step into a heated warming tent as you wait for the train, decked out in holiday trimmings, then hop aboard to chug past a kid-approved light show synchronized to holiday music. Sip on hot cocoa and nibble cookies and roasted chestnuts inside your toasty coach car. Santa and his helpers stop for a special visit with each family before you return back to the Devil’s Gate Depot.
This weekend-long celebration of the Ridgway area’s railroad history is filled with guided hikes along historic rail routes, an open exhibition of a model version of the Denver and Southwestern Railroad and open houses at the Ridgway Railroad Museum. A highlight for train buffs are the half-mile rides on a historic fleet that includes the rare Rio Grande Southern Railroad Galloping Goose trains, said to be named for the way these unique steam engines whistled.