The Royal Gorge Route Railroad ranks at the top of the list in terms of romantic activities in the Royal Gorge Region. The 3-hour leisurely train ride along the beautiful and scenic Arkansas River can be combined with first-class dining for a trip you won’t soon forget.
Originally, this section of track was laid during the silver boom of the 1870s to get supplies and people to the silver fields of the Southern Colorado Rockies. However, construction was delayed by a two-year “war” between the Denver & Rio Grande and the Santa Fe companies for the right to lay track through the Gorge. Started by a failure to file the correct paperwork, this disagreement resulted in bloodshed and culminated in a Supreme Court battle before the Denver & Rio Grande company was able to finish laying track on what became known as “The Scenic Line of the World.” Passenger service ran for 88 years until the growing popularity of air travel caused passenger train service to fall out of fashion, and passenger service on this route was shut down in 1967, although freight continued to roll until 1996. Saved from abandonment in 1998, a 12-mile section of track between Canon City and Parkdale was purchased by Royal Gorge Express LLC and the first Royal Gorge Route Railroad ran in 1999.
These days the RR offers a 24-mile round-trip excursion service from March through December to over 100,000 passengers each year. Mid-19th century coach, dining, and vista dome cars, along with 1950’s era locomotives, has been carefully restored to retain the authentic, elegant feel of mid-century railroad travel.
If you choose to dine aboard the train, there are full-service lunch and dinner options, with your choice of seasonal entrees, served on the white-linen-covered dining tables. The collection of chef-prepared hors d’ouevres we tasted onboard was high quality and quite delicious. If there is a beef tenderloin on the menu when you visit, I’d recommend it.
A nice feature of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad experience is that there is an option for every budget. You can opt not to purchase any food on your ride, or to purchase a la cart menu items or a drink from the bar, or you can go all out for a wine dinner (served from June thru October) where each of the multiple courses is paired with a different Colorado wine. All cars have great views, and the trip is long enough to enjoy a meal on the way out and then roam the train enjoying the scenery and fresh air on the way back.
You can ride during the day, but we rode in the evening and highly recommend that time of day. In addition to seeing a beautiful sunset, we wandered from the dining car to one of the open cars to enjoy the cool evening air and the relaxing sound of the river and were even lucky enough to spot some big horn sheep scaling the cliffs in the Gorge. It isn’t uncommon to see big horn sheep, blue herons, or bald eagles.
Upon arriving back at the Sante Fe Depot, we disembarked and capped off our relaxing romantic evening aboard the train with a short walk back to Jewel of the Canyons Bed & Breakfast, where we spent a little time relaxing together on the front porch before turning in for the night.