Of all the ways to see the USA, rail tours are one of the most appealing. What better way to cover a vast portion of the American landscape and see several of the country’s most iconic landmarks all in the same trip? Tribute to a golden age of pioneers, gold rush and discovery, the railroads date back to the nineteenth century when they first made the wild American West accessible. The great thing about travelling by rail in this region is the history of the routes themselves, with vintage trains travelling through scenery very much unchanged since the construction of the railroads. The tracks themselves are incredible feats of engineering, passing through terrain still unreachable by car. Here is a breakdown of four of the best railroads in the American West, all of which are covered by tours in a two to three week trip.
The Grand Canyon Railway was constructed in 1901, and is 64 miles long leading straight up to the rim of the canyon itself. The diesel locomotives that travel the route are beautifully restored coaches first built in the early 1900s. Open, wild landscape leads to one of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet. The canyon charts four eras of geological time in its many layers, and is a staggering 227 miles long reaching depths of up to one mile.
The Cumbres and Toltec Railway travels through the lofty heights of the Rocky Mountains. Coal burning locomotives make the journey, adding to the atmosphere as passengers travel to the old time sounds and smells of the steam engine. The scenery is wild and dramatic, with the railroad passing over gorges, through historic tunnels and over open valleys with spectacular views of mountains, park land and wilderness.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs through the Juan National Forest. The track was constructed in 1881 and is considered to be a magnificent feat of engineering. Even today, the terrain through which the train passes is unreachable by care or coach, leaving it to be explored and enjoyed only by train passengers and horse riders.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad is in the heights of the Rocky Mountains and was built in 1884. Most stunning on this journey is the Devil’s Gate High Bridge, which is a 100 foot high viaduct constructed masterfully to loop back over itself. This stretch of the loop is 300 foot long and is an exhilarating experience, with sweeping views either side of the track.
Many tours that incorporate these four railroads also stop off in a number of other classic American West destinations such as the Petrified National Forest with its fossilised trees, Albuquerque with its beautiful historic district, and atmospheric Wild West towns like Durango. Taking an all inclusive tour eliminates the need for a travel guide or any amount of stress, as all of the plans are expertly made and travel arrangements taken care of.
Article by Sophie McGovern.