It’s a clear, cool autumn day in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. Beneath your feet, you feel the rumble of a 100-year-old steam engine. You hear the train’s whistle piercing through the wilderness. You see the smoke curling back in the breeze. The aspens, turning golden now, reach their branches out towards the tracks, nearly touching. If you didn’t know better, you might think you’d been transported back to 1880.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is the world’s longest and highest steam-powered railroad. It’s 64 miles of narrow-gauge track stretch from the small town of Antonito, half an hour south of Alamosa, Colo. (gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park) and an hour north of Taos, N.M. and Chama, N.M., nestled in the heart of the New Mexican Rockies. What was once a bustling transportation line for miners nearly fell into abandonment in the late 1960s until the states of Colorado and New Mexico purchased the tracks and trains, creating a National Historic Landmark and an experience like none other for visitors.

Train passengers in an open car on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Train passengers in an open car

Board the train on either end of the line for a full day of jaw-dropping views. You’ll wind through alpine meadows full of wildflowers and trembling aspen forests, rumble through tunnels carved into rock and over trestles spanning raging rivers. The journey will take you up and over 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass and at one point, the train will hug a narrow ledge over Toltec Canyon as you peer 800 dizzying feet down. The country you’re passing through is untouched wilderness. Most of the areas you see are inaccessible by car, so the train gives you an incomparable peek at the area’s scenery and wildlife.

The train makes a lunchtime stop coming from both directions in Osier, Colo. You’ll get out and enjoy one of two meals, the first featuring roast turkey and the second starring homemade meatloaf. While you’re eating lunch and taking in the above-timberline views, the crew will be adding water to the engines to fuel the rest of your journey. From here, you’ll either continue to the end of the line or take the train back to your starting point. 

“You have this feeling that you’re doing something so different,” says Rich Grant, formerly of Visit Denver. “You can really feel the history; it’s literally a monument that moves.”

Riding the train in autumn on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Spectacular views in autumn

The ride won’t be fast. Its max speed is 12mph, and there won’t be cell service, but that’s part of the charm. The train may have to stop to clear rocks or debris from the tracks or to shoo herds of sheep from its path. It’s a chance to slow down and take in the beauty around you.

Besides being a piece of state and rail history, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad has also been featured in several movies like A Million Ways to Die in the West and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The house Indy grows up in in The Last Crusade is located in Antonito, Colo. and is now the Indiana Jones Bed & Breakfast. If you’re a Harrison Ford fan, you can make a weekend of following in young Indy’s footsteps.

Reservations are highly recommended. 

For more information on the 2021 season and reservations:
1-800-286-2737
www.cumbrestoltec.com

Chama, N.M. Depot
500 S Terrace Ave, Chama, NM 87520

Antonito, Colo Depot
5234 B US Hwy 285, Antonito, CO 81120

Related

Motorcycles at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Roads to Ride: Denver to the Dunes

Pack your gear, grab your ride and head south from Denver to ride through amazing views of the central Rockies and the southern Colorado landscape.

Trail Ridge Road in Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Scenic Drives in Rocky Mountain National Park

These three roads pass by the most scenic park views that can be seen from a car: Trail Ridge Road, Bear Lake Road and Old Fall River Road.

Sightseeing from the road in Park County, Colorado

Drive Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret Road in Park County

Point your wheels towards evergreen forests, pristine rivers and abundant wildlife opening up to a beautiful high alpine valley, guarded by breathtaking peaks.

Photographer at Great Sand Dunes National Park

10 Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Home to the highest sand dune in North America, this park is packed with amazing things to do. Check out our Top 10.

Autumn at Great Sand Dunes National Park

48 Hours in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Make your time in the park count with our detailed itinerary! This other-worldly park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America.

RV driving on the park road inside Great Sand Dunes National Park

5 RV Tips for Great Sand Dunes National Park

While the park road is relatively flat, many roads in the Rockies are winding and involve driving alpine passes. Here's the best route for an RV.

El Moro Spirits and Tavern in Durango

Community First in Durango, Colorado

The great outdoors, creative food and passion for the community meet in Durango, Colo. But its heart is the Durango & Silverton Railroad.

Road to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Where to Stay Near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Get ready for a magical vacation in the sand with our insider information on hotels, cabins and camping near the national park in Colorado.

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Springtime

Sand-Filled Stay in Alamosa and San Luis Valley

Base in Alamosa to tackle the top 6 things to do in and near Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve plus two quirky side trips.