Nature’s Thrill Ride

02 Aug 2023

Where heart-stopping vistas, rail escapades and an engineering marvel converge to create an adventure like no other

By Emily O’Brien

In the heart of Colorado, amidst the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountains, lies the majestic Royal Gorge. As the vibrant summer sun bathes the landscape in golden warmth, the gorge becomes an enchanting sight to behold. 

Standing on the edge of the towering Royal Gorge Bridge, a deep and narrow chasm that stretches for over a thousand feet exists below. The canyon walls, rugged and imposing, create a natural amphitheater that intensifies the grandeur of the scene. And just below, a tangerine-colored train snakes its way along the Arkansas River across the canyon floor.

All Aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad

Located roughly two and a half hours from Boulder in Cañon City, which is located just outside of Colorado Springs, sits the Santa Fe Depot, the train’s departure site. Once aboard, you’re privy to an up-close-and-personal look of the 1,250-foot-deep gorge. The Arkansas River seems to set the pace—the train meanders with ease, giving spectators plenty of opportunities to take in the sights year-round. 

As Colorado’s first and only full-service railroad dining experience, the train features a carefully restored mid-century coach, dining, bar and lounge, as well as windowed vista dome cars, with high-quality crimson-clad furnishings, which transport passengers to eras past. Each ride lasts a minimum of one and a half hours, depending on the experience. Among the featured experiences includes a Breakfast Train, complete with morning-time favorites and bottomless coffee and cocktails, and the opportunity to take to the tracks alongside the locomotive’s engineer.

No matter the experience, passengers can choose from Coach, Deluxe Class, First Class or Vista Dome tickets. The latter is truly immersive with panoramic windows and booth-style seating. Although, all passengers can also visit the open-air observation car to enjoy unobstructed views of the canyon walls and its accompanying water channel. 

The train marries stunning scenery with scrumptious breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, available to all passengers and made to order featuring local ingredients from chefs onboard. Casual diners can choose from the 403 Grill menu while First Class ticket holders can indulge in three-course meals, which, we must be honest, were pretty spectacular. The “rolling” dining experience starts with a glass of champagne, mixed greens and warm rolls and steams ahead with entrees like Pork Osso Bucco and Buffalo Short Rib. Cocktails, microbrews and wines from the Conductor’s Reserve Wine List are also available for purchase.


Duel of the Railways: A Stage Intermission

The service classes and furnishings of the trains pay homage to a bygone era when train travel exuded luxury and elegance. The railroad itself is rich in history, with a storied past that traces back to a momentous confrontation.

ENTER the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSFR) and the Denver and Rio Grande Company (DRGC), two formidable entities in the realm of rail transport.

They take center stage.


Intense legal battles unfold as the ATSFR and DRGC argue over the rights to lay their tracks over Raton Pass in northern New Mexico, near the Colorado border and then, later, through the Royal Gorge. The stakes are high, and the tension is palpable.


The conflict escalates beyond the courtroom, erupting into violent clashes and gunfights. Chaos reigns as these rival railroads fight for dominance.


Finally, a momentous decision is reached. The federal courts rule in favor of the DRGC, bringing an end to the mayhem. The dust settles, and a new chapter begins. 


We find ourselves aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, a testament to the rich history of these railroad giants. The legacy of the epic clash lives on as the train glides through the stunning landscapes of the Royal Gorge. 



Royal Gorge Bridge & Park 

Just a short 30 minutes from the train stop or a three-hour drive from Boulder, Royal Gorge Bridge and Park provides the chance to explore the Royal Gorge from above. Its scenic beauty rivals that of the Grand Canyon and its suspension bridge—America’s highest—soars an astounding 1,053 feet above the river.

“The beauty is unsurpassed surrounding the Royal Gorge, and the Royal Gorge Bridge is still considered an ‘engineering marvel’ even after all these years,” says Peggy Gair, human resource manager of Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. “The wooden-planked bridge has stood here since 1929 and has been crossed by millions.” 

Open 365 days a year, weather permitting, the Royal Gorge Park boasts attractions for all ages and adventure-seekers to enjoy. Those looking for an adrenaline rush can strap in and free fall at 50 miles per hour, 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River via the Royal Rush Skycoaster. For climbers, there is the Royal Gorge Via Ferrata, a cable system that leads guests up the granite walls. The Cloud Scraper Zip Line, anchored 1,200 feet above the river, flies guests across the gorge and is deemed The Travel Channel’s #1 Colorado Bucket List experience.

Although, it’s not all high stakes at the Royal Gorge Park. The Aerial Gondolas provide a steady glide across the gorge and panoramic views, which include the adjacent mountain ranges. For additional respite, visit the Plaza Theater for a 20-minute mini-documentary on the history of the area and the construction of the bridge.

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