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a train, smoke rising from the engine, rounds a bend high in the Rockies

The following is a guest post by Dave Stepheson.

Winding through the impressive canyons and mountains of the San Juan National Forest, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of Colorado’s most popular tourist attractions. Travelers come from all over the world to enjoy a trip on trains pulled by coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives. The narrow gauge tracks wind through the Colorado wilderness from Durango to Silverton – hence the line’s name – and modern day tourists are able to retrace the journeys of the cowboys and miners who traveled this same line more than 130 years ago.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The biggest attraction for visitors to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is undoubtedly the incredible scenery through which the train passes. The rail line tracks through the San Juan wilderness and passes through the breathtaking Animas River Gorge. The rail line has a collection of almost 50 railcars, including a private coach car dating from the 1870s and a modern observation car. Enclosed Pullman coach cars offer an old-fashioned way to travel while protecting riders from the smoke and ash drifting back from the steam engine pulling the train. Passengers who feel a bit more daring can enjoy the ride in open gondola cars; the trip can be a dirty one, but the panoramic views of the Animas Gorge are worth it. The boxcars on the train store passenger luggage and equipment just as they would have more than a century ago.

A standard trip on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad will take about eight hours round-trip. Stops can be made along the way, allowing passengers to hop off the train and enjoy hiking excursions or overnight camping; backpackers and campers can catch the train on a return trip and ride to Durango or Silverton. The railway also offers several themed trips and can arrange special outings upon request.

Facts about the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

One of the last remaining narrow gauge railroads in the world, the Durango & Silverton was only able to endure because of its unique and stunning location. Most of the other old lines were gradually abandoned as the silver market waned; once used to back the value of every U.S. Dollar; the Silver Standard was eventually abandoned making the cost of mining and refining silver too expensive to continue. Other types of cargo continued to travel the narrow gauge lines including oil, gas, and uranium, but soon the main source of revenue became leisure travel. The San Juan National Forest and the nearby Mesa Verde Nation Park are both major attractions that draw visitors to the area, with many choosing to enjoy a day’s travel on the Durango & Silverton.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has also become quite popular with Hollywood and is a widely used specialty location for movies set in the Old West. One of the well-known films that include footage of the Durango & Silverton line is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the 1967 film starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

Getting to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is easy and budget-friendly. Cheap tickets for dozens of daily flights to the Durango-La Plata Airport are readily available online or through travel agencies.