Cumbres and Toltec Railroad It has been said, “The West has to be seen to be believed. But it has to be believed to be seen.”

— Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday. The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad will begin rides this Memorial Day weekend. Make sure you get your tickets for the greatest ride in the Southwest!

The same could be said about the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad. America’s most authentic steam-operated railroad, the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, is a proud remnant of the spirit that won the West. In recognition for its place in our national history it was awarded National Historic Landmark Designation in 2012. 2013 marked the first year the C&TSRR operated under this prestigious designation.

Built in 1880, the track between Antonito and Chama was part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, with tracks running from Denver through the ore-rich Rocky Mountains into Silverton, Colorado. Its path through steep passes and deep gorges is the stuff of adventure novels and was an engineering feat for the time. The decline of silver mining in the 1890s ended the railroad’s vital role.

The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad filed for abandoment in 1969, but the most scenic part of its route, its equipment, and its buildings were saved by the states of Colorado and New Mexico in 1970.

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Today the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad fulfills another important mission – taking passengers on the ride of a lifetime, connecting Colorado and New Mexico, the Mountains of the San Juans to the Conejos Valley, and allowing us to see where the deer and the antelope play.

Throughout the year there are special trains and tours to satisfy the geologist or the botany enthusiastic goer. Discounts and special days and events throughout the summer.

For all details please visit: 

Here’s a brief history of the railroad:

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was awarded National Historic Landmark Designation in 2012

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was originally constructed in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande’s San Juan Extension, which served the silver mining district of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado. Like all of the Rio Grande at the time, it was built to a gauge of 3 feet between the rails, instead of the more common 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches that became standard in the United States. The inability to interchange cars with other railroads led the Rio Grande to begin converting its tracks to standard gauge in 1890.

However, with the repeal of the Sherman Act in 1893 and its devastating effect on the silver mining industry, traffic over the San Juan Extension failed to warrant conversion to standard gauge.  Over the ensuing decades it became an isolated anachronism, receiving its last major upgrades in equipment and infrastructure in the 1920s. A post-World War II natural gas boom brought a brief period of prosperity to the line, but operations dwindled to a trickle in the 1960s.  Finally, in 1969 the Interstate Commerce Commission granted the Rio Grande’s request to abandon its remaining narrow gauge main line trackage, thereby ending the last use of steam locomotives in general freight service in the United States.

Most of the abandoned track was dismantled soon after the ICC’s decision, but through the combined efforts of an energetic and resourceful group of railway preservationists and local civic interests, the most scenic portion of the line was saved.  In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased the track and line-side structures from Antonito to Chama, nine steam locomotives, over 130 freight and work cars, and the Chama yard and maintenance facility, for $547,120. The C&TS began hauling tourists the next year.

Today the railroad is operated for the states by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission, an interstate agency authorized by an act of Congress in 1974. Care of the historic assets, and interpretation of the railroad is entrusted to the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a non-profit, member-based organization whose mission is to preserve and interpret the railroad as a living history museum for the benefit of the public, and for the people of Colorado and New Mexico, who own it.

When you visit, be sure to take the self-guided tours of the railroad yards. For a map and tour information about the railroad yards, including historic landmarks, trestles and tunnels, follow the link to the Maps & Miles page.)

If you would like to learn more about how you can help support the C&TS as a volunteer or sustaining member of the Friends, visit the Friends of the C&TS web site.

“Americas Most Authentic Narrow Gauge Railroad”