For people who like to celebrate by doing something outdoorsy, February isn’t the optimal time of year to have an anniversary. Sure, we could have gone skiing… if we felt like dropping $200+ for a single day and spending hours sitting in traffic.
So instead, we settled on a scenic train ride through the Royal Gorge.
The Royal Gorge is located about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs outside the town of Cañon City, whose strange history includes a prison that the prisoners were forced to build around themselves. The prison still stands, as do many other historic buildings. But the main attraction of Cañon City is the Royal Gorge.
Building a railroad through the Royal Gorge was no small feat back in the 1800s, particularly at the location where the gorge is only 30 feet (9 m) wide. This was accomplished by installing a hanging bridge; at this section, half of the train is supported by the rock walls of the gorge and the other half hangs out over the Arkansas River.
Other highlights of this 11 mile (18 km) ride are the views, mining remains, and the old water diversion structure that runs the length of the gorge and was used to funnel drinking water into Cañon City for nearly 70 years. The section of river close to the city was polluted by mining outputs, so they had to collect water from upstream. Far above the Gorge, you can also see the Royal Gorge Bridge, a tourist attraction that spans from rim to rim, 1053 feet (321 m) above the train.
The train reverses course at Parkdale and travels back along the track to Cañon City. One of the onboard staff members was a teenage kid with dreams of being a train engineer, and he enthusiastically shared tons of train-related information with us as we watched the conductor walk alongside the tracks to the rear of the train in order to guide us safely back to Cañon City. I don’t remember everything he taught us but I do remember that he explained to us the train horn signaling the conductor used to communicate with the engineer. It was the old-fashioned way of doing things but these two still preferred to use this method of communication.
The entire ride lasted about 2 hours. We spent the first part enjoying lunch and a sampler of Colorado beers from the onboard restaurant, and then passed much of the remaining journey out on the open air car. It had snowed a couple inches the night before our ride, so everything was coated in a thin, shimmering layer of white. It was a sunny day but sections of the gorge were in the shade and were very chilly; definitely come prepared for the weather of the day!
In addition to the standard train ride through the gorge, the Royal Gorge Railroad offers numerous other (more expensive) options, including first class tickets, tickets that allow you to ride up front with the engineer, and special events such as murder mystery rides, the Santa Express, and the Ales on Rails beer event.
So, if you’re ever looking for something to do around Colorado Springs that doesn’t require any hiking, head on over to the Royal Gorge Railroad and climb aboard!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the depot is located at Highway 50 and 4th Street in downtown Cañon City, Colorado
- Fees and passes: fees vary depending on class of service and which train ride you’re taking. Some fares are discounted in the winter. See all the options here. Parking is free.
- Hours: trains run daily, except in case of inclement weather
- Other: if you plan to spend any time in the open air car, come prepared for the weather. Parts of the gorge get little to no sun; it was cold down there!