Nothing is better than experiencing the majesty of the San Juan mountains as experienced through the open air gondola on the Durango Silverton Train. Whether you’re a lover of expansive mountains, streams, rich Colorado history, wildlife or just a fan of trains and steam engines the Durango & Silverton Train is a must-see on any trip to southern Colorado.
Durango & Silverton Steam Engine
We took the train all the way to Silverton and back and took advantage of the layover in Silverton to shop around and grab some lunch.
The train starts at the historic Durango and Silverton railway station. Many trains are running each day with times about every hour during the morning hours. When you arrive, make sure to have your tickets and if you need help finding your railcar the staff was extremely helpful in getting you to the right cars and showing you where to go.
Once you’re aboard and the time has come, you will hear the whistles of the steam engine blow, and you will start on your journey through the San Juan mountains on a railroad full of history and wonder. The train winds its way through town with spectators galore usually waiving at you as you steam through the city. Everything usually puts a big smile on your face already even though this is just minutes into your journey. Each of these signals announces starting, stopping or approaching a station, and everyone in town is familiar with them to congregate around for photos and to wave.
As you leave town, you start to follow along with the beginning of the infamous million dollar highway through the Animas Forks area, and you can see the San Juan mountains getting closer and more prominent. Often, as you travel through the valley, the cars on the parallel highway will honk and wave, always a fun experience to see everyone so enthusiastic about the train. My favorite campsite used to be along Hermosa Meadows but has since been developed into a neighborhood.
About an hour in, The train will make a stop at a small station called Rockwood, an elevation fo 7367 feet usually to pick up whitewater rafters. You heard that right, for those adventurous enough some outfitters will do a train ride to a remote camp in the mountains in which you can ride the Animas river rapids back down for a short train ride back. Sounds like fun and I hope to experience this one day to write about!
From this point on, the experience just escalates from beautiful landscapes and scenery to astounding views and vistas as you inch along cut out cliffs and mountainsides and follow the river along the valley. The engineering and efforts put in to get the train cut through these mountains are mind-boggling. How did people in the late 1800s blast through these cliffs and build a railroad that would last generations for us to enjoy to this very day?
You get to see steam in all its glory on this trip, from filling up with water at Needleton Tank to pressure & steam releases as you cross and zig zag over the Animas River. Check out our in our Train videos below to watch some of this action!
After winding along the river, you finally stop in Silverton Colorado. This town has plenty of shops, restaurants, and places to browse around. I wish there was a train schedule with about another hour or two to explore the town. I enjoyed a sandwich and beer at the microbrewery in town.
The experience of the railroad, the sounds of the steam engines, cars, and nature around you are meant to be experienced first hand. I want just to give you a glimpse into what you can experience, and I hope you choose to take a ride. Please enjoy our photo gallery and videos and share them with your friends and family. The Durango & Silverton Steam Railroad is a national treasure and should be on your next visit.
The D&SNG Trains
The Durango Silverton Train system is based on the narrow gauge steam train 470 series Class K28 engine with a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement. Each locomotive engine has two wheel pilot truck, eight drive wheels and two wheels trailing truck behind the cab.
Being a “Narrow Gauge” railroad means the that the rails are only 3 feet apart. This design affords them better capabilities in the mountains such as navigating the tighter turns and narrow cuts/shelves more manageable than a standard broader gauge rail system.
Each locomotive will typically steam with 8 tons of coal and 5000 gallons of water. If you pay attention closely, you can see all the coal along the track that has fallen over the years as the train wobbles its way on its journey. On a full there & back trip from Durango to Silverton you will get to experience several water tank refills and the conductor will explain whats going on for you to be able to watch and get photos.
The locomotives were built by the American Locomotive Company of New York of which ten ran on the D&RGW. In the 1940s several engines were taken over by the US Army and placed in Alaska and later scrapped. One locomotive could carry 12 load coaches between Durango and Silverton.
The Durango Silverton Railroad has a historical society working to preserve and maintain engines and over the years has added more locomotives to the working fleet.
What to bring on the Durango Silverton Train
- Camera / Phone with Good Camera
- Camera Batteries or USB Charger for Phone
- Light Backpack to carry stuff in
- Eye Protection (Cinders from Train smoke!)
- Raincoat / Windbreaker (summer/spring months)
Food, drinks, snacks and eye protection are available for sale on the train. Summer is often monsoon season for the Rockies, so your trip may start out with beautiful clear blue skies so be prepared for afternoon showers and cooler weather with a lightweight windbreak/raincoat.
Steam Train Whistle Signals
Here are some simple signals to know. I find just having a little understanding of the train made the experience that much better for me. A single period “.” means short horn and a double dash “–” means long horn.
- Release brakes: — —
- Apply brakes: : .
- Approaching Highway crossing: — — . — (this one is popular crossing 550)
- Approaching Station/Crossings: —
- Warning Whistle: — .
Durango Silverton Train Videos
Watch a few of our videos on this playlist. Click the “Hamburger Menu” on the top left of the video below to select individual videos.
Getting to the Train
479 Main Ave, Durango, CO 81301
Buy your Durango Silverton Train Tickets Online
The Trains can fill up quickly so be sure to reserve your spots in advance.
When you reserve a seat that is your seat for the duration of the trip, I would recommend if you’re just doing a half-trip that you reservice a spot on the right side of the cars so you can see the best scenery on your way to Silverton. Otherwise, if you’re making a there & back trip, you can experience both views.
The Durango Silverton Train is fun for the entire family and should be on your plans for your next trip to Southern Colorado. I took the train as a young teen and retook it in my later years; each time it warmed my heart and gave me the experience of mountains, history, and adventure that kept me dreaming until we could do it again. Until next time Durango!
Read More about the Durango Silverton Train
Visit the official D&SNGRR Website here: http://www.durangotrain.com/ They have activities, trains, discounts and details about planning your next Durango trip online. Great resource!