Kids are back in school. Football is rolling into stadiums. The summer heat is fading into a warm autumn. Pretty soon, we will see the first hints of fall colors in the only state with color in its name: Colorado.
As a photographer, I love and hate driving a car in the mountains. It's s beautiful and challenging and yet, there's no way for me to actually enjoy the beautiful vistas and dramatic, vibrant aspens. Taking a train is the best solution to let everyone enjoy the views while still keeping the parade of Rocky Mountain gold moving. If you haven't booked tickets for a train ride through the fall colors, you still have a chance. Here are a few options.
Farthest north in our list and therefore first to turn that glorious gold, the far-famed Loop is a fine addition to anyone's trip up Clear Creek. The aspens around Georgetown and Silver Plume are legendary, especially up the former grade of the Argentine Central. The only downside: the equally legendary traffic on I-70. Better on a weekday, ideally a Tuesday or Wednesday
If steam is not as big a deal for you, the LC&S has an opportunity for a trip to near-timberline. While aspens are not nearly as numerous, the opportunity for closeups and wildlife are increasing. The trip up the nice side of Fremont Pass is an enjoyable one. Were it able to go all the way to the summit, it would certainly rank among the best.
Steam and diesel both make the trek over La Veta Pass and aspen and buckbrush are available. Most of the climb is isolated from any road, allowing for a sense of true exploration and yet the standard gauge rails allow for full-size accommodations. Although most seats are under or behind glass, an open air car usually allows for great photo opportunities. A recent wildfire damaged the facilities at the summit of the pass, so what is there is brand new!
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
|Photo: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
There is one narrow gauge railroad route that takes riders further and higher than the others: The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. Starting in Antonito, Colorado or Chama, New Mexico, the train climbs over Cumbres Pass from both directions daily, passing through stands of aspen on both sides of the state border it hopscotches, scraping every contour for every bit of grade needed to summit the pass. Several sections are rail isolated and the coal fired steam is every bit the railroad experience you hope for and a fall color paradise late in the season! There are plenty of reasons USA Today readers voted it the best scenic ride in the country!
There is only one line that has never stopped hauling passengers over its narrow gauge rails. Since 1882, the Denver & Rio Grande Western and now the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroads have taken passengers up the Rio de las Animas between the former milling town of Durango and the remote mining town of Silverton, Colorado. The deep chasms of the San Juan mountains still turn gold with aspens as if to match the Grande gold of the cars of the splendid little train. Stuffy coaches, open air gondolas or even the Silver Vista glass dome car still ply their trade and regularly rock over the rails as ever they did.Honorable Mention: California Zephyr
It may cut through the most amazing scenery on the entire Amtrak system, and aspens may run riot through every canyon, but until you can (legally) pry your Superliner window open for an unfiltered photo or plant a seat in the vestibule, the CalZ is not your ideal way to see the colors.⚒