Riding the Rails in Colorado: Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad offers an enjoyable way to see Colorado's back country. Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad offers a unique way to see Colorado’s back country. Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Riding the Train

The railroad was an important part of the Old West. It brought settlers, travelers and businessmen to remote regions of the country and helped new communities thrive.

Those railroad glory days are long past, but the railroad still has a fascinating role here in Colorado allowing passengers to ride the rails for fun, exploring parts of the Rockies that aren’t reachable by car.

Riding the train is a fantastic way to see more of the Rocky Mountains. I saw that firsthand during a recent trip with the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.

My fiancé and I attended the Mountain Rails Live Summer Concert Series, and although we both grew up here in the Centennial State, it was a new experience for both of us.

Concerts are performed at the Fur Summit Amphitheater. Photo by Janna Graber
Concerts are performed at the Fir Summit Amphitheater. Photo by Janna Graber

The summer mountaintop series combines a train ride through some of Colorado’s scenic countryside with top live performances at the railroad’s own Fir Summit Amphitheater.

It is located at 9,400 feet in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Enjoying Good Music 

The idea of enjoying some good music in a beautiful setting – the amphitheater is surrounded by forest and operates on clean wind and solar energy – was enough to entice us.

Add in a train ride through undisturbed Colorado back country, and we knew we had to try it.

The train departed from the tiny town of Alamosa, which is just two hours from Colorado Springs, but four hours from our home near Denver.

So we decided to make a whole weekend of it.

Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Historic Windsor Hotel

I hadn’t realized how much rich farm and ranch land is in that region of the state, but we passed large herds of grazing cattle and fields filled with alfalfa and barley, which we later learned was destined for Colorado’s own Coors Brewery.

Our base was the historic Windsor Hotel, a stately location which opened in nearby Del Norte in 1874. From Del Norte, it was just a 30-minute drive to Alamosa that next morning.

At 10:30 am, we boarded the train, heading for the Diamond Class wagons which include two lovingly-restored City of New Orleans club cars.

The train was pulled by a stylish mid-century diesel engine. It was easy to see how much care and attention had gone into the train’s restoration.

The company’s decided team – most certainly passionate train enthusiasts – had located many of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad’s historic cars in varying states of decay and disrepair.

The cars have been carefully restored to their authentic glory. Riding in them felt a little bit like stepping back in time.

Tickets Cost 

Tickets for the railroad excursion start at $39/adult, $29/child and go up by class of service.

The service in the Diamond Class was top-notch, with drinks, snacks and appetizers on offer, served along with stories and commentary of what we were seeing as the miles of track fell behind us.

The band Exile is best known for their 80s hit "I wanna kiss you all over." Photo by Janna Graber
The band Exile is best known for their rock ballad “I wanna kiss you all over.” Photo by Janna Graber

Best of all, the band we were going to see joined us in the Diamond Class car.

The band Exile first found success as a rock band in 1978 with the ballad hit “Kiss You All Over,” before re-establishing themselves in the 80’s as a country music group with strong southern rock flavor. I was looking forward to their concert.

The train continued through the region’s ranching country before heading up into the mountains toward La Veta Pass.

The sky was a bright blue that is so typical of a Colorado summer day, and there were still wildflowers in bloom.

It’s Time for Some Great Music with Dinner 

By the time we arrived at the amphitheater, we were relaxed and ready to listen to some great music.

BBQ and other food is served onsite, and our Diamond Class ticket included a meal and drinks, which we enjoyed in camping chairs under the shade of a canopy.

I didn’t know all the songs that Exile played – I was just a kid when they were in the charts – but I loved the music. They even played hits that they had written for other bands, such as Alabama.

The train station in Alamosa, Colorado. Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
The train station in Alamosa, Colorado. Photo by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

The ride back down to Alamosa was just as pleasant, and as the miles passed by, I could almost imagine what it might have been like back in Colorado’s early days, when the train brought settlers to exciting but uncertain futures.

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad brings an important part of America’s heritage to life, and I’m glad I got to experience it. I just wonder why it took me so long to do it.

If You Go

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
coloradotrain.com
877-726-7245

The Mountain Rails Live Summer Concert Series departs 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer from the Alamosa Train Depot at 610 State Ave, Alamosa, CO.

Regular prices start at just $39/adult, $29/child. For a complete list of artists scheduled to perform this season, please see the Mountain Rails Live Concert Schedule.

Rails and Ales is another way to experience the rails and have a great time doing it. The annual brewfest brings together 20 regional brewers, live music and great BBQ.

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