Riding train from Denver to Glenwood: Sit back, relax and hike
November 21, 2017
One of Colorado's best hikes covers 185 miles, and if you do it right it takes less than six hours.
After nearly 25 years along the Front Range and seeing that silver train come and go between Denver's Union Station and Glenwood Springs, I finally talked myself into taking the journey. It has always been one of those things where it sounds like too much time, but at the end you're left thinking about continuing because it's like being on such a great hike that you don't want to turn around.
The cityscape of old houses and graffiti-decorated underpasses changes to the rural part of the metro area before breaking through the foothills south of Boulder. And that's about the time you realize you're OK with this trip taking twice as long as driving to Glenwood.
The engineering feats to build these lines and countless tunnels through the mountains and along the rivers remain a marvel.
The big-game sightings were few on this day but countless lines of tracks crisscrossed in the snow. A couple of eagles outside Fraser and then a couple more later down the line as we cruised along the Colorado River. A tiding of magpies enjoyed a Sunday brunch of venison just off a dirt road where a deer met its fate.
And that's where things get wilder. The tracks meet up with the Colorado River at Windy Gap Reservoir just outside of Granby. As the line wraps around Mount Chauncey, it's about three hours downhill to Glenwood Springs, and that's plenty of time for the imagination to wander as the land seems untamed. But for the rail line, there are times when the landscape is pristine.
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There are points through the Gore Canyon looking down at the upper Colorado River that the train feels like you are paragliding just above the water or along for a drone ride.
But enough of those prose, what you really need to know are these pro tips:
Overall, the right side of the train facing forward is the most scenic (though the left side is best from Granby to the Glenwood Canyon). If you're lucky, you can pop back and forth in the coach car or for sure wander into the sightseeing car.
Yes, there is a crazy amount of legroom in the coach seats, and the chairs recline and have leg rests, providing optimum napping setup.
If you're not checking a bag, the conductor said show up 30 minutes before departure.
Yes, there is a bar and a dining car.
Yes, there is no Wi-Fi.
Yes, people still love to wave at the trains, from their cars at crossings to river rats floating the Colorado.
I've heard stories of rafters dropping trou, but luckily on this chilly Sunday morning there was none of that. There are still some things in nature that need to be left to the imagination.