ANTONITO —There are hints of gold showing in the high Rocky Mountains, heralding the impending arrival of glorious fall colors. Step aboard the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSRR) for a trip back in time to the 19th century, where steam railroads at 12 mph were the state-of-the-art fastest way to travel and there were no cell phones or automobile roads. There were, however, mountainsides of brilliant aspens and the Cumbres & Toltec still steams through them, just as it has for 140 years.
Voted for the third consecutive time by the readers of USA Today as the nation’s “most scenic train,” the Cumbres & Toltec is a National Historic Landmark that moves – a completely authentic steam railroad ride through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. The nation’s most scenic train is particularly gorgeous in the fall as it steams past thousands of colorful aspen trees.
This year, due to social distancing, passengers will have more room to spread out than ever before. All the train windows open to let in the fresh Rocky Mountain air and extra open air gondola cars are added to every train. For the ultimate bucket list trip, book a private rail car to experience the fall colors with your closest friends and family. This year, private rail cars are more attainable than ever and available on a limited, space available basis. Private rail cars must be booked by calling the Depot at 1-888-286-2737 (no online sales).
Autumn is a favorite time to ride the C&TSRR. There are more than 2 million acres of aspen trees in Colorado and New Mexico -- 1 billion trees that if placed together would cover Rhode Island and Delaware. Aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains grow from 6,500 to 10,500 feet in elevation. Since the Cumbres & Toltec runs from elevations of 7,800 to 10,015 feet, you can expect to see pretty fall aspens in differing stages of their spectacular fall show all along the route.
Rocky Mountain aspen leaves don’t just turn color in the fall, they positively glow a bright luminescent yellow gold, almost as if they had their own light source. The leaves are small, delicate and tissue-thin with an aerodynamic shape that keeps them in perpetual motion. Even a slight breeze sends every leaf on the tree shimmering. Add in a steam whistle, the smell of coal and the crisp afternoon sunlight and you are in for an amazing bucket list trip.
Leaving from Antonito Station, the train speeds over high plains before circling through aspen trees on tracks that are inaccessible by car. There are two tunnels and a trip through Toltec Gorge, where the train passes along a cliff face 600-feet above the roaring river below. At scenic Osier Station, there is an hour stop for a hot lunch while the locomotive turns around for the return trip back to Antonito.
Fall rides are popular and with reduced service in 2020, they do sell out, so book early to avoid disappointment at www.cumbrestoltec.com