5 scenic Colorado train trips to see fall foliage

It’s that time of year when our fine state reminds us why it’s called Colorful Colorado. A drive through the high country is one way to witness the fall foliage that paints the mountains brilliant shades of red, orange and gold — but, really, this is a spectacle that warrants your full attention. For a more leisurely leaf-peeping excursion in which you don’t have to worry about keeping your eyes on the road, embark on a train ride and marvel at the fall colors in all their blazing glory.

From a ride on The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which is America’s highest railway, to the narrated Historic Georgetown Loop, here are five train rides that promise a colorful journey.

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Cost: Tickets start at $58 for adults and $48 for children.

The railway (it’s one of only two cog railways in the United States) ascends to a height of 14,115 feet and the view from the summit is where “America the Beautiful” was penned. Travelers will get to see the changing autumn landscape along this route, with views of 2,000-year-old Bristlecone pines dotting Pikes Peak, along with bursts of gold from the aspen trees. Wildlife may make cameos, too: Elk, deer, yellow-bellied marmot are native to the area and Pikes Peak is home to one of Colorado’s largest bighorn sheep herds.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

Georgetown Loop Railroad

  • Duration: About 1 hour
  • Cost: Tickets start at $23 for children (age 3-15) and $29 for adults. Children under 3 ride for free.

Reachable from Denver in under an hour, Georgetown shines in the fall with cute-as-can-be Victorian architecture and a scenic, narrated train ride that provides a historical overview of the town’s rich silver mining history.  During the hour-long trip, you’ll cross over Clear Creek on a bridge (that’s the Instagram moment) while traversing a loop that connects Georgetown to Silver Plume. From mid-September to early October, enjoy the fall foliage, with pretty patches of gold dotting the mountains. Once a foundation for the Industrial Revolution, the steam-powered locomotives you’ll ride today run on recycled waste oil and corn oil. Continue your time travel by popping into The Bread Bar, a cocktail spot housed in an 1800s bread bakery in Silver Plume, a living ghost town. The names on the drink menu are a who’s who in Colorado history.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad

  • Duration: 1½-2½ hours
  • Cost: Tickets start at $59 for adults and $54 for children.

There’s plenty to see during this 24-mile train trip, from the craggy granite cliffs that soar more than 1,000 feet above the tracks kissing the bright blue skies to the Arkansas River that rambles alongside the route. To add to the fall festivities, the Royal Gorge railroad has an Oktoberfest menu so you can pair brats with beer during the train ride. Dating back to 1879, this is Colorado’s oldest streamliner, and it has quite the sultry history. Two railroads fought for rights to the tracks that cut through to Leadville’s silver mines, a squabble that involved building stone forts to block the tracks and tools tossed in the river as an act of sabotage.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Cost: Tickets are $12 for kids (age 3-12); $17 adults, $15 for seniors (over 65).

A century-old steam locomotive transports you through a number of mines, with an engineer relaying facts about the Gold Rush and sharing local folklore. The cars are mostly open-air and  well-behaved dogs are allowed to join on the 4-mile ride. Kids especially love this trip because the locomotive, painted in bright primary colors, looks as though it could be the muse for Thomas the Tank Engine.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

  • Duration: There are multiple options, including the most popular trip being the full-day ride that runs for nearly 7 hours (10 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.).
  • Cost: Rates vary by trip, but start at $65 for children (ages 2-12) and $115 for adults.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a famous one: It’s appeared in two dozen Hollywood films, including “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and, most recently, “Hostiles” with Christian Bale. The railroad that connects Antonito, Colorado with Chama, New Mexico has 64 miles of track traveling between the San Juan Mountains and the Conejos Valley. The train climbs a lava mesa, and winds around wide curves, moving through the mountains. Perhaps the pinnacle of the trip is when the train glides along the rocky rim of the 800-foot-deep Toltec Gorge. A fall trip is extra special as the train snakes back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico amid thousands of aspens on a postcard-perfect stretch.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

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