All Aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railway: A Must-Do Experience

Embark on an unforgettable experience aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Located in Cañon City, Colorado, visitors will enjoy a two-hour breathtaking journey through the majestic Royal Gorge. As the only passenger train to travel through this beautiful canyon, the Royal Gorge Route is sure to provide stunning views, delicious food, a full bar, and an adventure you won’t soon forget. 

The History of the Royal Gorge Route

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is a historic train journey that dates back to the late 1800s. Originally built to transport goods and passengers through the Royal Gorge, the train quickly became a popular tourist attraction due to the stunning scenery along the way. 

The route was operated by several different rail companies over the years, with some sections even being electrified in the 1900s. Today, the train remains one of the most iconic attractions in Colorado, drawing visitors from all over the world looking for a unique and unforgettable way to experience the area’s natural beauty.

Outside of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Person hold tickets to ride on the orange train.
Women in a green dress sitting in the two person booth in the Royal Gorge Route Railroad Vista Dome train car.

Four Ways to Enjoy the Ride

Before we delve into the four cabin options, let’s first talk about seat assignments. It’s important to note that not all seats are created equal! Unless you’re on the Engineer Ride, guests do not have the option to choose their seats. Rather, guests can only select the class of cabin they wish to ride in. Once the tickets have been purchased, Royal Gorge Route will assign seats within the cabin that corresponds to the guest’s choice. If guests are part of a group, they will be seated together. However, it’s worth noting that the view is not equal on both sides of the train.

To help you understand the train’s orientation, imagine the seats are arranged like those in a standard car. Passengers seated on the “driver’s side” of the train are treated to breathtaking views of the canyon and river from their seats. On the other hand, those seated on the “passenger side” will mostly see the canyon wall without much of anything else. However, don’t worry if you find yourself on the “passenger side.” All passengers, regardless of their class, can enjoy unobstructed views of the stunning landscape from the open-air car.

One last note: the train does not turn around at the end of the line. It simply stops for a ten-minute break and continues the journey back to the station in reverse. 

There are four options to select from when booking your ticket for the Royal Gorge Railroad.

The Vista Dome – I opted for the Vista Dome experience, which boasts large curved windows that provide a breathtaking view of the towering canyon walls and the Arkansas River. The seating arrangement is designed in a booth style with a dining table, accommodating up to four guests per table. As I was traveling solo, I was seated at a half-size booth meant for two people. I couldn’t have been happier with my seat selection. It offered a great view and extra space to store my jacket and bag without having to leave my belongings on the ground. 

Delux Class – Offers standard large glass windows in a cabin with tables and chairs for dining. Throughout the year, the Royal Gorge Railroad hosts special event lunches and dinners that offer first-class dining experiences. These are hosted in the Delux Class and consist of a prefixed menu of three courses and are expertly paired with wine.

Coach – Traditional passenger train style seating. 

Ride with the Engineer – This experience allows guests to ride in the locomotive with the train engineer. However, due to limited space, only one or two tickets are usually available per ride, and they tend to sell out fast. If you or someone you know is passionate about trains, booking this ticket well ahead of time is recommended.

The Vista Dome seating for one or two people inside the Royal Gorge Railroad.
A glass of red wine in the Vista Dome.
Deluxe Class dining car on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.

What to Expect on Board

Each ride on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad lasts approximately two hours. The train travels a total distance of 24 miles round trip and reaches speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The train offers a relaxing journey through the Royal Gorge, allowing guests to take in the stunning natural scenery of the canyon walls and Arkansas River. 

Regardless of which cabin class you choose, the Royal Gorge Railroad offers a comfortable, spacious seating area with large windows and plenty of legroom. Each train car is heated during the colder months and air-conditioned in the summer, ensuring a comfortable journey in any weather condition.

But it’s not just the train itself that offers a unique experience – the staff also make the journey unforgettable. They are knowledgeable, friendly, and always happy to share interesting tidbits about the route and the history of the area.

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad traveling through the Royal Gorge. Red walls of the canyon are on both sides of the train tracks.
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad traveling through the gorge. The Arkansas River is flowing below.

Food Offerings Onboard 

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is like a restaurant on wheels, offering dining options for food and drinks to passengers in all cabin classes during the journey. I prepaid for my lunch at the time I purchased my ticket. Once I was settled in my seat, a friendly server checked my receipt and handed me a menu of the lunch offering for the day. 

Food and drink orders were taken before the train started its journey through the canyon. As we completed the boarding process, I sipped a glass of locally sourced red wine. As the train began to gain speed, my table was served with a delicious chicken sandwich complemented by homemade chips. At that moment, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this railroad was the sole means of transportation when it was constructed in the late 1800s. While the picturesque landscapes zoomed past my window, I envisioned myself as a woman crossing the newly industrialized Americas in pursuit of a better life. It dawned on me how courageous these individuals must have been to embark on such a venture into the unknown.

The food offering on the Royal Gorge Railroad. A chicken sandwich with chips.
The view from the Vista Dome. The suspension bridge and cable car is overhead.

Unexpected History Lesson 

Our server also acted as our onboard narrator, teaching guests about the history of the Royal Gorge and its significance throughout the ride. The first interesting fact pointed out along our journey was the long-standing history between Cañon City and the Colorado Penitentiary System. The train slowly passed the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison built by prisoners in the 1800s. 

Fremont County, in which Cañon City resides and has more incarcerated people in the county than it does residents. The United States Penitentiary Florence Administrative Maximum (ADMAX) facility, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” is the country’s most secure prison. Located Southeast of Cañon City, ADMAX houses some of the nation’s most notorious and dangerous criminals, including El Chapo.

Our server also drew our attention to a long trail of dilapidated wooden planks on the opposite side of the river. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it had she not mentioned them. She asked if anyone could guess what they might have been at one time. The wood piles on the rocks looked as though they were stuck to the mountain after a flood had receded from the river. Our server revealed this was the original water pipe that brought running water to the city when it was first established. This industrial feat was made possible by (once again) using prison labor to blast large holes into the mountain. 

The water pipe was constructed using resilient redwood lumber. The wood would swell as water flowed through, creating a watertight seal along the edges. However, occasional leaks still occurred. To ensure the water line’s integrity, a caretaker was tasked with daily inspections and promptly patching any leaks that were found.

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad traveling through the gorge. The Arkansas River is flowing below.

Open Air Train Car

Needing a change in scenery, I left my train car to explore the other amenities the Royal Gorge Route had to offer. I steadied myself as I walked down the narrow, swaying hallway and pulled the heavy door open to the adjoining railcar will all my might. This opened into the Club Car, where adult passengers can indulge in a range of alcoholic beverages, cocktails, and specialty drinks. 

The train has an open-air car, perfect for taking photos and feeling the fresh Colorado air. The blast of cold air and squealing of the train erupted as I slid open the door to the open-air car. It was crowded with people shuffling towards the railing to take photos of the scenery. Everyone was in awe of the magnitude of the towering canyon walls. 

As we make our way back, the train stops at a scheduled point for guests to catch a glimpse of the highest suspension bridge in the U.S. It’s a moment to pause and appreciate the breathtaking beauty of our surroundings. One of the knowledgeable Royal Gorge employees calmly told the guest this stop is also tradition because Teddy Roosevelt stopped at this exact location during his campaign for President in the early 1900s.     

Women standing along the rail of the open aircar.
View of rainbow colored yurts along the route of the Royal Gorge Railroad.

Happy Endings Caboose Café

Take the chance to visit the Happy Endings Caboose Café if you’re still craving more after riding the Royal Gorge train back to the station. Built in 1924, the Royal Gorge  Route caboose has lived many lives as a working railcar, accommodating baggage and up to ten passengers in the prime of its life on the rails. Today it is stationary on the corner of 3rd Street next to the train tracks. The Happy Endings Caboose Café offers a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snacks that cater to every taste bud.

For those looking to experience the beauty of the Colorado Rockies, a ride on the Royal Gorge Route Railway is a must-do experience. From the rich history of the railway to the breathtaking scenery, the Royal Gorge Route Railway has something for everyone. Whether you choose to ride in the Vista Dome, the Open Air Car, Coach, or enjoy Deluxe dining, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience. 

To fully explore all the activities available in Southern Colorado, I highly recommend taking a look at the posts listed below. They offer valuable information and insights that can help you make the most of your time in the area. Don’t miss out on any of the amazing experiences Southern Colorado has to offer.

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article. If you find out-of-date or inaccurate information, I’d love to hear about it to update the article. Use the comments section below. Thanks!

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5 thoughts on “All Aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railway: A Must-Do Experience

  1. Reading you blog is the best way for me to travel. One year ago my husband and I traveled to Yellowstone, and after checking in he immediate fell, was transported by ambulance out of the park. I would love to go to Colorado Springs and then to Cannon City. Your detailed everything. Claudia

    1. Awe that is the nicest compliment. I’m so happy you enjoyed my post! Hopefully one day you’ll be able to visit Colorado Springs. It truly is one of my favorite places to visit.

      1. Karissa, My grandson enlisted and was headed to Colorado Springs, but broke his fibular and things are up in the air. There’s a slim chance Claudia

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