Durango Train: ride back to the American Wild West

Each year, Durango, Colorado welcomes thousands of travelers. Families, couples, and solo travelers of all ages are attracted by the promise of a new adventure, just as American pioneers once were.
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This article was created in partnership with Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum & Museum.

Durango, a hub of activities

It’s no wonder such a wide array of travelers have been drawn here throughout history. 

Outdoor recreation tops the list, with the Animas River running through the city, Vallecito Lake nearby, the San Juan Mountains surrounding the area, and opportunities for everything from zip lining to mountain biking, Durango is any adventurer’s dream playground.

There’s no need to limit your play time to summer, though. Head outdoors in the winter for skiing, dog sledding, and soaking in hot springs.

Durango of the Old West

Durango’s rich history greets you with a vibrant cultural personality, so when you’re downtown you can admire the many artists and musicians who find their inspiration here, take a step back to the Wild West lifestyle, or both!

The Diamond Belle Saloon in the Strater Hotel of historic downtown is a must. During the summer, you can witness a shootout spilling out onto the street and listen to live ragtime music inside the bar. Every detail will make you feel like a character in a Western movie. (A piece of advice: Book your table in advance, because the Strater experience is popular!) After dinner and the show, spend the night in the glorious Strater Hotel, established in 1887, and step inside one of Louis L’Amour’s novels.

Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

Picture by Scott DW Smith

A Ride Through Time: Durango & Silverton Railroad an American National Historic Landmark

While you’re downtown, stop by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. This museum is absolutely filled with authentic items from the Gold Rush times that once defined Durango, and it’s free!

Now that your interest is piqued, it’s aaaaalll aboard! The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation since 1882, just a year after Durango itself was founded. The line was originally created to haul silver and gold ore from southwestern Colorado, but its true value was the scenery it passes through to this day.

Few mines are still operating in this gold-rush-born area, but the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad still attracts people from around the world, just as gold once did. The authentic coal-fired, steam-powered engine still offers you the same ride it once did for miners, cowboys, and settlers.

Rides on the vintage locomotives offer various opportunities to learn more about the mining background, as well as the jaw-dropping panoramas. You can even choose to top your journey with a historical narrative. Dressed in period clothing, the narrators will share with you the tales and stories of the old times.

If you’re interested in packing multiple vacations into one train ride, check out durangotrain.com for more information.

A scenic train ride through the San Juan National Forest

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad lets you see places you can get to two ways, by foot or train.

The rails follow the Animas River, and as the country musician C. W. McCall sang: “you’re gonna get a shiver when you check out the river, which is 400 feet straight down.”

And what a spectacular view indeed! Wildlife, waterfalls, Engineer Mountain, the Needles, the San Juan Mountains… scenery unfolds before you and behind you as you roll along to the sound of the train.

Durango _ Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Y. Lashmett

Picture by Y. Lashmett

During summer and fall, the steamy locomotives go all the way through the breathtaking canyons to Silverton. It is the perfect opportunity to visit this little mining town with the bonus of access to the great outdoors. Various opportunities await in Silverton, reenacting the feel of the past to pair with the nostalgic mood of your train ride. And if experiencing the fall colors are on your list of activities to enjoy in the Rockies, there is surely no better place to experience them from than the train that carves a path through golden aspens as it chugs through the wilderness!

The views and experiences aren’t just limited to the warm months, however. Around the Christmas holiday, experience the magic of the POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride.  The award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg and adapted to the big screen in 2003, the story of a child’s Christmas Eve journey comes alive onboard THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride! All ages can enjoy the experience, warmth and fun of the Christmas season on a special trip to the North Pole!

Between the views and the serenity, the living history and the real-life story book experiences, The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a true bucket-list experience that shows off all the sides of Durango, Colorado.

Include the train and the city of Durango on your road trip along the San Juan Skyway from Durango to Mesa Verde National Park.

For more inspiration and tips, download our Guide for the National Parks, monuments and peaks in Colorado, and start planning today!

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