Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
T aking a step inside the station of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad is to begin a journey back in time. The vintage locomotives still operate on coal and steam power alone and depart from the original building, constructed in 1882. Located at the south end of historic Main Street in downtown Durango, the train station is impossible to miss. Follow the billows of dark smoke and the classic sound of a train whistle (your kids will drag you to it whether you want or not), and you’ll find it. The train is visible from inside the building and the street outside, and workers bustle about in coal stained overalls and conductor caps.
Once on the train, the journey begins. Experts onboard talk passionately about the history of the train, constructed originally to haul gold and silver mine oars from the San Juan Mountains. There are indoor and outdoor cars, depending on the weather and your preference, and concessions (try the apple cider!) are available in every car. Riding the train through town you cross the beautiful Rio de los Animas, and get a grasp of local life in Durango. Wave to the locals – they’re sure to wave back. Making your way through the Animas Valley, the canyon walls close in and you’ll find yourself in a narrow gorge, climbing higher and higher into the San Juan Mountains, winding with the beautiful Upper Animas. If you’re lucky, you can catch rafters cascading through the Class IV and V rapids. A ride on the train in late summer or fall will allow you sweeping views of brilliant aspen and oak leaves that paint the mountainside in bright yellows, burnt oranges and electric reds. The ride one-way to Silverton takes about 2 hours and is worth considering, especially if you have kiddos, as the round-trip can get a bit long. If you opt for this route, you’ll have some time to wander the quaint and historic streets of Silverton before hoping a bus back to town. Of course, the steady rocking of the train is famous for lulling children (and adults) to sleep on the way home, and the return journey almost always feels about half as long. Be sure to check out the schedule around your visit as well – you might be able to catch a special event, like Cowboy Poets or the Historical Narration Train.
A visit to Durango isn’t complete without a trip deep into our majestic mountains, and there is no better way than on the D&SNGR. If you’re the backpacking type, consider taking the train to Cascade where you can hop off and trek deep into the Weminuche wilderness for camping at 12,000 feet and higher. Or, take advantage of the many options offered by D&SNGR for tour options that pair your train ride with rafting, trekking, horseback riding, zip-lining or a variety of other outdoor activities.
If you find yourself in Durango in the middle of winter, don’t discount the train as a solid option for entertainment, especially if you’re carting little ones along. D&SNGR puts on a rendition of the classic The Polar Express that is surely unmatched. Complete with hot chocolate, a group reading of the book and a visit to the North Pole, your children won’t forget the magic they enjoyed, especially when they wake in the morning with a sleigh bell in their pocket.