Last week we visited the small community of Georgetown, about an hour out of Denver and one of the departure points for the Georgetown Loop Railroad. It’s only a seven-minute drive along I-70 between Georgetown and the next westerly town at Silver Plume, the other departure point for the railroad. The train, however, uses tracks that travel past two historic mines, the Everett and Lebanon underground mines. You can ride the train alone, or buy an excursion stopover and visit the mines as well. You cannot, however, visit the mines without riding the train as the railroad is the only way to get there. In the opening shot, engine 11 is coming into Georgetown over the large trestle bridge just outside of the Georgetown Loop Station. As there are no turnaround tracks, the engine is connected “backward” and pulls the cars from Silver Plume to Georgetown in reverse. Upon arriving at Georgetown, the engine uses a side track to move to the other end of the train to pull it forward toward Silver Plume.
Our friendly agent waited for the train to arrive so that he could help guests board the open cars. Guests who wish to ride in the enclosed parlor cars must board at Silver Plume. Boarding at either station is for a round-trip tour. If you opt for the mine tours, you’ll get off at the mining camp, then board a later train. As our time in Colorado was short and we were anxious to get on to Albuquerque, we decided to save the mine tour for another visit.
As we pulled into Silver Plume, we passed an available parlor car. Guests that boarded at this station departed prior to new guests boarding. While the passengers were transiting, the engine was being refilled with fresh water. Once that was done, the engine moved from the front of the train to the back. As you can see by the photos below, the siding track is quite close to the main track.
One of the conductors stayed on board the engine during the transit, waving as the engine went by. Below, the engineer in deep concentration powered the steam engine by our open car.
Though the railroad tries to use steam engines whenever possible, maintenance schedules may find your trip being propelled by a newer technology. Though that might take a bit of charm away from the trip, the countryside is no less beautiful.
While the mine tour passengers departed and the previous visitors reboarded, we sat in the open car we’d chosen and enjoyed the mountain scenery. When the tracks were first laid in the 1870s, the railroad brought freight, raw minerals and tourists into and out of the Rocky Mountains. By 1884, the tracks extended to Silver Plume, and eventually was supposed to go all the way to Leadville.
Building the railroad was an engineering feat. A system of curves, bridges and spectacular engineering reduced the average grade to 3 percent, a necessity as the 6 percent grade of the terrain was too steep for the trains of the day. Leadville was easier to reach from the south and the Denver & Rio Grande railroad completed that route. The Georgetown Loop tracks end only a few miles west of Silver Plume. No matter, a strong tourist trade rode the line from the 1880s to the early 1900s. By 1938, the excursion trains from Denver to Georgetown were discontinued as the automobile became the preferred mode of tourism. One of Colorado’s first tourist attractions was finally closed.
Thanks to the Colorado Historical Society, work began in 1959 to reopen the mines for tourists and reconstruct the narrow-gauge railroad. It took until 1984 for the entire loop to be completed and to open again to tourists who must now drive from Denver to Georgetown for the 75-minute ride through the Rocky Mountains. You can find more information about the railroad and order tickets in advance on their website here. Tickets ordered online will be at a Will Call window when you arrive. It’s best to order early as the train frequently sells out. The gallery of images below features the beautiful scenery along the route. In most browsers, you can click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.