Editor’s note, 10/10/20: This story has been updated with 2020 dates and fares.
If you look forward to seeing nature put on a show each fall but don’t enjoy sitting in a line of cars, each one slowing to stop for a picture, consider viewing the fall foliage by train. Here in Colorado, there’s almost no better way to take in the golden glow of aspens against a backdrop of pines than by rail. You’re chauffeured through stunning mountain scenery, some of it inaccessible by car, with two hands (steering-wheel) free: one to take as many pictures as your phone will store, and the other to hold a craft beer or crisp glass of white wine. Here, four fall foliage train rides in Colorado, from the San Juan National Forest to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the I-70 corridor.
Cumbres & Toltec
This coal-fired steam engine cuts through canyons, high desert, and mountain meadows between the Colorado and New Mexico border on a narrow-gauge track. Trains depart from Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, from May through October; the 2020 season ends October 18.
Length: Depending on the itinerary, the 64-mile trip takes between 4.5 hours and 8 hours
Landscape: According to reservation specialists, the Antonito to Osier stretch features a canyon and aspen trees as you approach Osier. The Osier to Chama stretch is more mountainous, with many aspen and some scrub oak.
Price: $110 (coach), $173 (deluxe), $216 (parlor)
The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad boasts well-preserved original equipment and coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives that take you on a 9-hour, round-trip train ride or a combination train-and-bus ride through the San Juan National Forest. While there are no special fall foliage rides (or hiked rates), according to Christian Robbins, marketing manager of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, but the railroad does host two special trains—the Durango Brew Train and Wine and Rails—on multiple dates in September of each year. The 2020 Silverton Season has been cancelled.
Length: It takes nine hours to do a 45-mile, round-trip tour; the bus-and-train combination varies in length and time
Landscape: Robbins considers it somewhat of a secret way to see Colorado’s fall colors, and the San Juan Mountains are definitely one of the state’s best spots for leaf peeping. A tip from Robbins: “[To] see the entire picture, take the train one way and take one of our motor coaches back; the train follows the Animas river and the our motor coaches go over two mountain passes, Molas and Coal Bank” for two “completely different views of the fall colors.”
Price: $89–$94 (standard class), $119–$153 (deluxe class), $189-$199 (first class) $219 (presidential class), special rates may apply
The Georgetown Loop Railroad was one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions, with the three-foot narrow gauge railroad being considered an engineering marvel of its time and a gateway to the Rockies. The Colorado Historical Society began restoring the railroad in the seventies to its current state as the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mining Park. This railroad hosts a Pumpkin Fest, Haunted Mine Adventure, and Oktoberfest events throughout the fall, as well as a host of holiday offerings throughout the winter.
Length: One-hour and 15 minutes for the whole trip (not including added tours)
Landscape: The Georgetown Loop abuts Guanella Pass, another hugely popular places to see fall colors. As an added bonus, the train station is only an hour or so from the Front Range.
Price: Adults, $27.50 (coach), $38.50 (parlor)