An overview of Denver's railroad history and attractions

THE STORY:           

Colorado has one of the most colorful railroad histories in the world.  Following the discovery of gold and silver in the Rockies, railroad lines were pushed up nearly every canyon and high pass, making them the lifeline of every mining camp and community in the state.

It was the railroads that changed Denver from a wild frontier town to a large, urban city -- the most elegant and sophisticated metropolis between Chicago and Los Angeles.  The colorful history of railroading through the Rockies has inspired railroad buffs for many years, making Denver one of the major destinations in the world for rail fans.  But even railroad novices will enjoy some of the model railroads and railroad museums to be found in the area.

THE COLORADO RAILROAD MUSEUM:                     

Established in 1958, this museum has the largest collection of historic records, mementos, artifacts, photos and stock of Colorado railroads.  At one point, over 2,000 miles of narrow gauge track probed the mountains of Colorado, and the exciting era comes to life at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Location & Facts: The museum is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9a.m. to 5p.m. (to 6p.m. June-August).  Admission is $3.50 for adults, $1.75 for children.

The museum is located 12 miles west of downtown    Denver.  From downtown, take I-70 west to exit 256 and follow the highway signs.  Address: 17155 W. 44th.

Phone: (303)279-4591, 1(800) 365-6263.

Exhibits:  The Museum is housed in a replica of an 1880 style masonry depot, filled with 50,000 rare old photographs and artifacts.  Outside on 12 acres of sprawling grounds are more than 50 narrow and standard gauge locomotives, cars and other rolling stock.  The museum has its own spur, allowing it to have "steam-ups" throughout the year.  In the basement of the museum is one of Colorado's largest HO model railroad exhibits representing over 20 years work in an area 45 feet by 20 feet, much of it recreating a cross-section of the state's most interesting railroads such as those at Cripple Creek, Telluride and Tennessee Pass.

Locomotives and cars come from such famous Colorado railroads as the Colorado Midland; the South Park, the Florence & Cripple Creek; the Denver Boulder & Western; and the Manitou & Pikes Peak.

Highlights of the museum include the Rio Grande Southern 1931 Galloping Goose No. 2; a meticulously restored Rio Grande 1881 Baldwin 2-8-0 engine; a huge Burlington CB&Q 4-8-4 locomotive; and the "Navajo," a 1937 steel observation car once used on the Santa Fe Super Chief.

The museum also has the Railroad Book Store with over 1,000 titles as well as an assortment of railroad gifts, tapes, magazines and memorabilia.


Operated by the Denver Rail Heritage Society, this is a replica of an open air "Seeing Denver" streetcar operated by the Denver Tramway Company in the pre-World War I era.  The trolley follows a scenic route along the South Platte River, beginning at the Forney Transportation Museum, and passing Confluence Park, the Children's Museum, Mile High Stadium, and other attractions.  The trolley, "Seeing Denver" Car #1977, was manufactured in 1986 and is powered by an on-board diesel generator, until overhead electric wires can be built.  "Old Denver and inter-Mountain car #25" is currently being restored.

Location & Facts: The trolley has five stops, the most convenient at Forney Transportation Museum and at the Children's Museum.  The trolley runs Fri.-Sun., April-Oct., and adds Thursdays June-Labor Day.  Charters are also available.  Fares are $3 for adults, $1 for children and seniors.  Phone: (303)458-6255.


Since the summer of 1998, the mournful sounds of a train whistle can be heard as Rio Golden and Engine Number 463 takes to the tracks at Heritage Square. Built from the ground up, the engine is an exact 5/12 (5 inches to the foot) scale model of an old steam train that runs on 15 gauge track. (That's 15 inches between the rails.) The cars are again exact models of Rio Grande's gondola cars. The train will take you on a journey around Heritage Square where you can enjoy exquisite views of Denver and the Front Range. Heritage Square, 18301 W. Colfax Ave., Golden, Colorado 80401, (303) 279-2789.


The Georgetown Loop Railroad is a reconstruction of one of Colorado's most famous railroads.  The original railroad reached Georgetown in 1877 and builders intended to continue it to the rich mining town of Leadville.  That line was never completed, but it was decided to push the railroad up the valley another two miles to the neighboring mining camp of Silver Plume.  The problem was that Silver Plume was 600 feet higher in elevation.  To gain that much altitude that fast, the railroad had to twist and turn four and a half miles, making two and a half complete circles and at one point crossing over itself on a 90-foot-high trestle --the Devil's Gate Bridge.

With the collapse of the mining industry and the coming of   the automobile, the railroad was closed and in 1939 the bridge and rails were torn up for scrap metal.  For 35 years the grade lay undisturbed, but then the Colorado Historical Society began to buy the land to reconstruct and operate the railroad.  Steam returned to the valley in 1975, and in 1984 the Devil's Gate Bridge was reopened.  Today, steam-powered locomotives make the climb up the valley through the end of September.  The train may be boarded in Georgetown or Silver Plume and offers panoramic views, particularly when crossing the bridge.  From the open air viewing cars it is possible to see big horn sheep and other wildlife, and the sound of the train whistle echoing down the valley is unforgettable.

Location & Facts: The railroad is located in Georgetown, 42 miles west of Denver on I-70, exit 228.  In town, the Old Georgetown Station has exhibits and a railroad gift shop;  the working station is outside of town and can be found by following signs.  The train runs late-May through the first weekend in Oct.  Along the way is an optional hour and 20 minute tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine for $3.  The train may also be boarded in   Silver Plume.  The round trip ride takes an hour and 10 minutes. Regular Rates: Train only adult $24.95; Train only child $16.95; Train/mine adult $32.95; Train/mine child $23.95
Departures: Silver Plume:
10:00 am
11:25 am
12:50 pm
2:15 pm
3:40 pm
Georgetown Devil's Gate:
10:45 am
12:10 pm
1:35 pm
3:00 pm

1-888-4-LOOP-RR (1-888-456-6777) .                                                                 


Tiny Town began in 1915 at the site of an old stage coach stop just outside of Denver when George Turner began erecting one-sixth sized buildings for his young daughter. In 1920, the town was open to the public and in just five years it became one of Colorado's top five attractions.  By 1939, a miniature railway was added, but a flood, a fire and changing economic conditions forced the attraction to close.

In 1988, volunteers began the resurrection of Tiny Town.       Today, over 100 colorful buildings are in place, all beautifully hand-crafted with wonderful details, many with full interiors.  Some of the buildings are exact replicas of famous structures from Colorado's history, but all fit the character of a Colorado village at the turn of the century.  The one-sixth size village is circled by the miniature tiny town railway, a mile-long run with open-air cars pulled by an authentic steam locomotive similar to the narrow gauge locomotives that once worked the mountain lines of Colorado.  The train crosses a trestle over a small stream, and curls through tall pine trees in its lovely mountain location, affording excellent views of the 100 buildings of the village.

Location and Facts: Just 30 minutes from downtown Denver, five minutes west of the C-470 interchange on U.S. 285.  Turn left at Tiny Town sign onto South Turkey Creek Road.  Open every day from Memorial Day through September, 10a.m. to 7p.m.  Open Weekends in May and October, 10a.m. to 5p.m.  Phone  (303)790-9393.


The Forney Transportation Museum is a one-of-a-kind collection of over 500 exhibits relating to historical transportation. It began with antique cars, but soon expanded to include vehicles of all kinds. Some of these are familiar, while others spark the imagination.  Highlights include the Big Boy, the world's largest steam locomotive, and a selection of Forney Locomotives, as well as rail cars and private cars. 

Location & Facts:  4305 Brighton Blvd., Open. Mon.-Fri., 9-5,    (303) 297-1113.


This is the world's largest model railroading store, a virtual supermarket of trains with all scales and sizes as well as operating railroad memorabilia including books, video tapes and more.

Location & Facts:     Address: 500 S. Broadway.  Phone (303)777-6766.  Call for hours.


One of thirty gardens here is a Garden Railroad.  Constructed in the spring of 2000, the Garden Railroad features over 700 feet of "G" gauge railroad brass track, trestles, bridges, waterfalls, and a variety of plantings matching the scale of the miniature trains. Higher and lower loops allow two trains to run simultaneously--a diesel engine and a steam engine. And a third rail even runs a trolley on a short line.Over forty tons of rock were used to create this condensed Colorado landscape. A great diversity of plants, from dwarf conifer to rock garden miniatures "create" the garden. The water is recycled to the lower pond and up over the two waterfalls. The Railroad Garden is a popular attraction for Garden Railroad enthusiasts of all ages!  The railroad runs May-first weekend in Oct.

Location & Facts:  The Hudson Gardens & Event Center,  6115 South Santa Fe Drive,  Littleton, CO 80120,  Phone 303-797-8565


The model railroad trains are located in the basement at Union Station. There's 4,000 feet of track to travel and the layout looks a lot like much of Colorado. Incredible is the only word to describe the model railroad exhibit and it's open to the public only once a month on the last Friday of the month from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For information call (303) 572-1015.


Permanently parked narrow gauge railroads can be found in many towns near Denver.

Idaho Springs has a beautiful train and park near the center of town, located just 32 miles west of Denver on I-70.

Central City/Black Hawk  has several narrow gauge locomotives on display in town, and many of the casinos here and in neighboring Black Hawk have a railroad theme.

Boulder also has a parked narrow gauge train next to a lovely stream in the middle of Central Park at Broadway and Canyon Road.  Boulder is located 27 miles northwest of Denver on Hwy. 36.


MANITOU & PIKES PEAK RAILWAY CO.:                    

Just 90 minutes from downtown Denver, the world's highest cog railway climbs from

Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak, 14,110 feet above sea level.  The train runs daily May through October and winds past cascading streams and dense forests of aspen and pine. Spectacular sweeping views are available at the summit. Reservations are recommended. Call (719) 685-5401 for times and prices.


Considered by many to be the most spectacular stretch of rail in America, the Royal Gorge Route offers the best experience of the Royal Gorge on a breathtaking, 2-hour scenic and historic train ride on the most famous portion of the former Denver & Rio Grande Western train line. The 1950's era train departs the Santa Fe Depot in Canon City, daily with up to 4 departures at: 9:30, 12:30, 3:30 and 7:00 PM   The tracks cling to a narrow ledge while the canyon walls rise 2,000 feet straight above.  A highlight is the world-famous "Hanging Bridge."

Royal Gorge Route Railroad
Santa Fe Depot
401 Water Street
Cañon City, CO 81212
1-888-RAILS-4-U (1-888-724-5748)


A four-mile round trip ride through one of the most historic gold fields in Colorado, pulled by authentic steam locomotives.  Cripple Creek legalized casino gambling in October 1991, and now offers over 20 casinos with slot machines, poker and blackjack.  The train runs daily from May through October. Call (719)680-2640 for prices and times.


An American legend.  The daily 90 mile round trip train excursion from Durango to Silverton allows you to travel through the San Juan mountains of Southwestern Colorado, going into areas accessible only by train.  Coaches, open gondolas, parlor car, fired steam operated narrow gauge locomotives. Five trains operate during the peak of season Open from early May to late October.  Reservations are recommended. Phone (970)247-2733 for prices and information.


America's longest (64-miles each way) and highest (10,015 feet) narrow gauge steam railroad.  Starting in Antonito, Colorado, the line angles southwest through rolling high-country, then begins a steady climb through the forested slopes of the San Juan range, passing through groves of pine and at 10,015 feet in spectacular Toltec Gorge of the Los Pinos River.  The line then begins a precipitous 4 percent grade drop into Chama, New   Mexico.  For information and times phone: (719)376-5483.


Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the nation, is the    departure point for the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad.  The train leaves from Leadville's century-old depot and travels over the old Colorado & Southern high line, following the headwaters of the Arkansas River up to a spectacular view of Fremont Pass.  Then it's down to French Gulch water tower where the train stops to view Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak. For information:  (719) 486-3936 or write: LC&S RR, P.O. Box 916, Leadville, CO 80461.