Though other narrow-gauge historic trains can be found in Colorado, none of the rebuilt engines are quite as impressive as this ride – a chance to tackle the Cumbres Pass by power of steam. In 1880 the Denver & Rio Grande Western Rail completed a track over Cumbres Pass, linking Chama, NM, with Denver, CO, by way of Alamosa.
The twisting mountainous terrain was suited to narrow-gauge track, which is only 3ft wide instead of the standard gauge of 4ft 8in. Within a few years the line was extended to Durango, Farmington and the Silverton mining camp, 152 miles away. Railroad buffs encouraged Colorado and New Mexico to buy the scenic Cumbres Pass segment when the Antonito–Farmington line came up for abandonment in 1967. Their efforts led to a compact between Colorado and New Mexico to save the railway as a National Register site, and churning along its track, past hills of pine and aspen and expansive views of the high plains and mountains, makes an excellent way to spend a day.
Today, chugging steam engines pull passenger cars up the 10,022ft Cumbres Pass between Antonito and Chama – the longest and highest narrow-gauge steam line in North America. Along the way, the train follows a precipitous rock ledge 600ft above the Rio Los Pinos in the Toltec Gorge. At a plodding 12mph to 15mph, the 64-mile ride takes slightly more than six hours, including water stops and a lunch stop midway at Osier. You can take a round-trip to Osier, or a trip to the beautiful Cumbres Pass. The through-trip to Chama returns by van in slightly more than an hour. All trips require a full day.
The railroad also provides access to the backcountry and prime fishing streams in the USFS lands along the border between Colorado and New Mexico. Backpackers can make reservations for drop-off and a later pickup at the water stops. If you wish to camp in Chama, Rio Chama RV Campground offers tent sites only two blocks north of the depot.
Dress warmly as the unheated cars, both enclosed and semi-enclosed, can get extremely cold.
There are currently eight day-trip options to choose from. Call ahead or see the website for current schedules and reservations.