RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

The Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad
by Donald Woodmancy

Steam locomotive pulls the grade on the scenic route from Durango to Silverton

(Click here for a winter ride on the D&SNGRR.)

Rare and wonderful—a roadtrip where getting there and being there are equally gratifying. If you thrill to vintage trains and snow-capped peaks, this is the journey for you! The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is based in the picturesque mountain town of Durango, Colorado. Throughout the summer, excursion trains pulled by beautifully restored old steam engines wend their way through mountain canyons and along tumbling rivers to the old mining town of Silverton, high in Colorado's Rockies. Once snow begins to accumulate, less frequent trips climb into the lower elevations, turning around at Cascade Canyon.

View of the town of Ouray from the Million Dollar Highway

The road trip into Durango is mesmerizing from every direction. If you travel from the west you'll pass near Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation area, Canyonlands National Park, and Mesa Verde. From the south, your route can include Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Four Corners, and the entire Navajo Nation. From the east, you can easily enjoy Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Wolf Creek Pass, and Chama. Most spectacular of all is the journey from the north: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Red Mountain Pass and the Million Dollar Highway, so named because of the low-grade gold ore that is in the road bed. In addition to wondrous views, the Million Dollar Highway also provides access to Ouray, Silverton, Purgatory and Telluride, towns whose very names are the stuff of western legends.

Once in Durango, take a day (or better yet, a week!) to check out the historic town. Then it's "All Abooooard!" for a journey over the same route that carried over $300 million in gold and silver ore in the late 1800's. Departing Durango, the train passes along the edge of town before climbing into the Animas River Canyon. For the next 45 miles, the beauty around every curve is breathtaking. The train twists and curves along mountain ridges and cliffs, and the tracks cross the river on picturesque (but safe!) trestles. You may see bear, elk, deer, fox, coyotes, falcons, hawks, or even bald eagles along the route. A few cougars also live in the high country, but it is unlikely you will spot them from the train. (Click here for virtual postcards of the steam locomotives as they make their way through the canyons.)

Three-and-a-half hours later, you arrive in the high mountain town of Silverton. At 9,320 feet, Silverton is more than 3,000 feet higher than Durango, and you should dress accordingly. At all times of the year, it may be cooler-sometimes much cooler-in Silverton than Durango. Closely nestled in a mountain bowl, the town is surrounded by high peaks that are frequently draped in snow year around.


Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road
479 Main Ave
Durango, CO 81301

Durango is at the junction of US Hwy 160 and 550 in southwestern Colorado.
The Durango-Silverton trip
is so exceptional it received a five-star award from the National Association of Travel Journalists, and it was named one of the top ten most exciting train journeys in the world by the Society of American Travel Writers. The D&SNGRR trains have also been featured in a number of motion pictures through the years, including Viva Zapata, Around the World in 80 Days, How the West Was Won, and Support Your Local Gunfighter. The route has also been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the National Park Service.

Each year, a number of special train-related events are scheduled. If dressing up in Victorian-age clothing appeals, you might consider the New Year's costume party. There's also a special day trip for lovers of fall foliage, fine wine, and choral music. (Click here for more information.)

Donald Woodmancy
September 1, 2002
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