Earlier this Fall, USA TODAY ranked train trips in the United States and the state of Colorado finds itself listed as either the home to or part of four journeys in that list’s Top Ten.


#3 on List – Amtrak’s California Zephyr

California Zephyr in Colorado / Image – Amtrak.com

With a route that takes travelers from Chicago to Denver and then thru the Rocky Mountains (and the Continental Divide) as it makes to the San Francisco area, Colorado hosts some of the most spectacular scenery for the California Zephyr. The train runs daily each way, with a one-way travel time of just over 51 hours. In addition to coach seats, the train offers a sleeping car, a dining car, and a lounge/café car from which to see the sights. This writer is a frequent user of the Zephyr. For official Amtrak information about the trip, see the link California Zephyr.

#4 on List – Amtrak’s Southwest Chief  

This 40-hour trip between Chicago and Los Angeles skirts the south-east corner of Colorado, with stops in Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad, as it crosses high plains terrains and the Southwestern Tablelands eco-region. As with the Zephyr, the daily Southwest Chief has coach seating, a sleeping car, dining car, and lounge/café car.

The current route is not only significant for running the first all-Pullman sleeping car train, used by many celebrities in the 1930s, but also for recent and successful efforts to maintain the route as is. Segments of the line thru Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, which belong to the BNSF freight railroad, had deteriorated and forced the Southwest Chief, as a passenger train, to run much slower speeds. If repairs were not made, the route faced either cancellation or a new, more southern path thru other states.

Happily, a coalition effort involving the affected states, local communities, Amtrak and BNSF were able to secure some $40 million to do the upgrades. Amtrak officials confirmed the route saved this past August. ColoRail, a non-profit passenger train advocacy organization dedicated to expanding passenger rail in Colorado, of which this writer is proud to be a member, was an important player in these efforts.

Colorail logo.png
Image – colorail.org

Interestingly, the recent grassroots efforts in Colorado related to the Southwest Chief have created momentum for that train to expand service to Pueblo, northwest of La Junta, with a thru-car that would connect to the route’s main line.

#6 on List – Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG)

Image – colorado.com

Running between Durango and Silverton on a line that first began in 1882, this narrow gauge heritage railroad in southwestern Colorado covers some 45 miles with a running time of 3.5 hours (one-way / in the summer season). Travelling along the Animus River, the coal-powered steam engine pulls coach and gondola cars (a private car can also be booked) to deliver both captivating landscape views and a sense of late 19th century transportation. For the second year in a row, the D&SNG has offered a “holiday tree train” into the San Juan National Forest (for passengers booking this trip) to cut their own white fir tree for the season. Visit the Westernsreboot.com post Durango Holiday Train for more info about that particular trip and for links to the official D&SNG website.

#7 on List – Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Crossing between New Mexico and Colorado eleven times, the narrow gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the highest (at over 10,000 feet) and longest (64 miles) steam railroad in the US. Running between Chama, New Mexico, and Anonito in south-central Colorado, the line was first built in the years 1880-81 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Featuring open-air gondola cars, a coach, and a parlor car, the heritage railroad runs between Memorial Day and October – see the official Cumbres Toltec RR site for more info about the 6.5 hour trip (one way/includes stopover).

The Emmy-award winning public TV series Great Scenic Railway Journeys has also featured this line – here is a clip from that episode:

For the complete Top Ten list of USA TODAY’s “America’s Best Train Journeys”, see the link Top Ten Train Trips.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)


    1. Cheers, Jonathan, I appreciate the re-blog and comment. Feel free to do so with any of my posts as you feel appropriate.
      All the best,

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