On the Road with Sue: Durango Silverton Railroad

The small town of Durango, located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, has much to offer RVers, outdoor adventurists, and tourists in general. Surrounded by the breathtaking San Juan Mountains, it’s easily accessible on good roads from the southwest, coming through the Four Corners area, from the south via Farmington, New Mexico, from areas of western Colorado, or from the north, crossing over Wolf Creek pass.

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The area offers river rafting, hiking, lots of cute shops, great skiing, and other winter sports, all in a gorgeous setting. But the number one attraction is the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, consisting of a three foot wide track running 45 miles between Durango and Silverton. The railway is a federally designated National Historic Landmark, and also cited by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Throughout the year, these Durango-Silverton steam trains carry thousands of tourists over the mountain passes between Durango and Silverton, a quaint ghost town with a rich history.

The route was originally opened in 1882 to transport the silver and gold ore mined from the San Juan Mountains. At that time, Silverton was totally isolated during the winter months, and the train was able to also bring much needed supplies to the miners living in that area. But as mining ventures declined and highways were built, (not to mention winter snow slides), the railroad ran into tough times. After World War II, as tourism began to grow across the country and several movies were filed along the line, passenger traffic began to increase. But with very little freight and not many passengers, in the 1960s the railroad actually filed a petition with the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the route. Fortunately for us, this request was denied, and the railroad began investing in additional rolling stock, track maintenance, and improvements to the depot in downtown Durango, cleaning it up and encouraging new shops, restaurants, and other businesses to open. Today, the trains and the depot dominate the downtown area.

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Summer train rides offer round trips from Durango to Silverton and back, which will take most of the day. Deciding we didn’t need to see the same route twice, we opted to ride the train from Durango to Silverton, and to take a motor coach back. We had lunch in Silverton, with plenty of time to wander. There are several classes and prices for the trip, and guests can choose to ride in either closed cars or open air gondolas. Our particular car had docents in costume aboard, reliving some great and informative stories from mining days in the west. In winter, the train still operates, but it runs an abbreviated route through Cascade Canyon, allowing passengers to experience the Colorado winter wonderland up close.

There are a number of great RV parks in Durango, but like the train, they can often be booked solid during summer months. We really appreciated our particular park, as staff were available to check on our dog while we were gone that day. It was reassuring to know that he’d be taken out for a walk and run in the dog park while we were gone.

You really can’t spend any time in Durango without hearing the toot toot of the steam train as it rumbles through town. The tracks run by neighborhoods, where residents come out to wave as you go by. It’s a charming and relaxing way to see some incredible Colorado scenery.

Until next time…

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13 Responses to “On the Road with Sue: Durango Silverton Railroad”

  1. charles W reinhardt

    look good

  2. DAN

    We road the train on our honeymoon 40 years ago. And made a trip back to ride with our teenage kids. Allegedly one for the cliffs to a river pool was used in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “can’t swim - the fall will probably kill you”

  3. Stan Jones

    Too bad that the narrow gauge at Chama, NM didn’t receive a visit as well. It actually runs from Chama to Antonito, CO

  4. Jeffrey

    Can your pet ride on the train? If you do the train ride RT, is it better to stay in Durango or Silverton?

  5. JCarter

    Agree. The Durango-Silverton RR is a delight to the senses and a trove of historical knowledge. The ride is also beautiful. Don't forget the Million Dollar highway that also goes from Durango to Silverton. There are BLM, primitive, and commercial campgrounds all along the way.

  6. Cliff

    Great unit

  7. Michael

    I know how to run my hydronic heater while parked and plugged into power my question is how do you run it while on the road for heat and hot water? I have a hurricane hot water system while plugged in I flipped the switch a green light comes on and I hear the burner kick in and the water heats up and I can set my thermostat and hot air comes out. While on the road what do I need to do to have this same operation happen? Thank you

  8. Jody

    What campground in Durango checked in on your dog while you road the railroad? I'd like to stay there. Jody

  9. Bill

    I am trying to locate an electrical access compartment door for an AWARD 723 trailer (1994). that I am restoring. The outside, frame, dimension is 9.25 in./23.5 cm square, the door itself is 8.38 in/21.2 cm. It could be new or used & it could be just an intact door.