May/Jun 2014 Issue
This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.

Make Tracks to Leadville’s Railroad
A Rocky Mountain getaway doesn’t get any better than one taken on a historic railroad right-of-way.

Where riches to be made from mining were the original draws to Colorado’s mountains, tourism now looms large as a wooer of visitors. Aboard the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad, the two realities blend in a beautiful train ride through postcard scenery.

Leadville CVBThe rail trip boards in historic Leadville, billed as the highest incorporated city in the U.S., and climbs out of town on tracks that helped open up central Colorado to mining. Some of that mining heritage is still evident during the journey, but landscape magnificence dominates the trek.

Depending on the time of year—the railroad operates from late May to early October—differing attributes of mountain majesty takes center stage. Wildflowers in spring and fall foliage in fall, for instance. In addition, special package trips combine the relaxing rail excursion with more activities designed to deepen the experience.

Taking the Train

The LC&S takes advantage of its unique ability to travel between past and present, all the while sharing one of the most breathtaking panoramas in the country. Each of its trips trades on the historic underpinnings of the region, while letting guests take the time to revel in the natural setting passing by them.

As the train rolls across the Arkansas River Valley, humorous anecdotes about Leadville’s colorful past will provide a lively soundtrack. The two-and-a-hour adventure through wilderness of the San Isabel National Forest will not be easily forgotten. This fact is made even more apparent when tales of the legendary people who once called the region home, including Molly Brown, the Guggenheims and Doc Holiday, are shared by tour guides.

Along the way, the tracks climb 1,000 feet, offering spectacular views of Fremont Pass and the two tallest peaks in Colorado—Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. The same view offered of Fremont Pass also showcases the Climax Molybdenum Mine. Midway through the excursion, the stop at a water tower provides a great photo opportunity and a chance to tour both the engine and caboose. (For those really into the train part of the experience, there are opportunities to reserve seats to ride in either the engine or the caboose.) At the stop, the conductor and other crew members will be happy to answer questions about the history, wildlife or wildflowers of the area.

Because of the altitude, the getaway will defy summertime—even in July and August, warm weather exceeds expectations at 75 degrees. Plus, it’s not surprising to encounter snow through June and again in late September. Even when it gets cool late in the season, though, the fall colors will make it worth the trip.  The amazing displays of gold, red and orange Aspen trees lighting up the mountain side will warm any day.

For the Fun of It

Leadville CVBThe scenery and history are sure to please most passengers, but anyone looking to turn the train trip into something more will be pleased by special package tours offered by LC&S.

  • The full-day Raft and Rail Package runs daily between May 25 and Aug. 19. LC&S partners with Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting Co., which takes guests on a memorable run on the Arkansas River. The package includes a half-day trip in Browns Canyon and a relaxing ride aboard the train as it visits the headwaters of the Arkansas, complete with a picnic lunch on board. For more information, visit www.noahsark.com.
  • The Zip Line Package lets passengers enjoy the scenic ride through the San Isabel National Forest, then it sends them zipping down to base camp. This four-hour tour is perfect for adults and children, giving them an opportunity to see untouched wilderness. The package is available throughout the train season. For more information, visit http://topoftherockieszipline.com.
  • Food is the star on the The BBQ Special, which features an evening train ride July 13. The two-hour ride is not to be missed. And new this year are two Stork Curve-Climax Specials with a light supper. These will be three-and-a-half hour trips to the end of LC&S’s line. The journeys will travel over the Arkansas River at its headwaters and take in the beauty of a late-summer sunset. The first Stork Curve-Climax Special departs on Aug. 22, the other on Sept. 5.  
  • The Wild Flower Specials will depart July 19, July 26 and Aug. 2. These getaways will show off alpine flowers at their peak, when they splash the mountains with vibrant color. There also will be a guided hike through pine forests, aspen groves and open meadows. There will be multitude of wildflowers at the water tower, too. Some flowers to be expected are Indian paintbrush, lupine and wild strawberries. Wildlife and other flora also are likely to be seen.

Any Wild Flower Special can be extended with a Healy House Museum Tour add-on. On the museum extension, guests can enjoy a catered box lunch on the lawn at the Healy House Museum, where they will also have time to enjoy a stroll through the house’s heritage gardens. The gazebo frames Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, and the lawn is a good place to view Harrison Avenue, where it becomes obvious why the home’s builder chose the spot. Following lunch there will be a private guided tour of both the Healy House Museum and James Dexter’s cabin. For more information, call (866) 386-3936.

Regardless of how guests decide to take in their rail-riding adventure, the Leadville Central & Southern Railroad has the tour to suit them. Be it railroading, scenery or history, or all of them with a little adventure thrown in, these tracks will lead the interested to the best possible destination.

For more information about the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad, visit www.leadville-train.com. For trip-planning assistance, visit AAA.com/travel.