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Durango train and hiking in May 2014

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Basel, Switzerland
posts: 3
reviews: 369
Durango train and hiking in May 2014

After a town's trip to New York, we are now planning our first countryside vacation in the US for next May. Based in Chicago, we thought to book an Amtrak Vacations trip (Grand Canyon Discovery [unaccompanied]) which ends in Flagstaff. We then thought to rent a car to end up in a bigger town (e.g.Denver) to take the plane back to Chicago.

As a retired couple from Europe (and train enthusiasts) we thought to visit Durango and its railway.

One day for a railway tour to Silverton and back - or even a package?

Another day for a hiking. E.g the Colorado trail. Do you see the possibility to take the train and walk - even we are not free from giddiness?

Are there other nice things to do in Colorado, we don't see?

Many thanks for your advice to two greenhorns ...

13 replies to this topic
Destination Expert
for Colorado
posts: 7,679
reviews: 105
1. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

How much time do you have for the trip? Any particular reason to begin in Chicago?

Can you give us a little more information about what you might consider nice things to do? You'll get better suggestions if you can give us an idea of the kinds of things you might like or the things you are NOT interested in. Are you interested in western U.S. history, old mining towns, jeep tours, hot springs, hot air balloon rides, stargazing, small local museums, local foods or crafts, fairs, native American sites, art, dinosaurs....

I'm going to look up the route for the Grand Canyon Discovery.

Having just returned from our first trip to Europe, I can tell you that a trip on Amtrak will take quite a bit more time than a journey of similar distance in Europe, and much of the trip from Chicago is not all that scenic or interesting. I corresponded last summer with a retired couple who took the train from Chicago and they said they would not do the whole thing again. (I'll look up the name of the bed and breakfast in Durango they said was one of their favorite places in all their travels the world over)

I might suggest a modification of the route, where you fly from...say, Chicago to Denver, take the train to Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction, then drive to Durango, with a few days for stops along the way if you have the time. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is well worth a stop. If you go to Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument is a must, and you might consider a trip to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. From there to Telluride, perhaps, then Mesa Verde National Park and Durango. Lots of options and things to do and see, but I'd really like to hear a little more about your interest, how much time you have, why you're beginning in Chicago, etc.

2. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

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Colorado Western...
Destination Expert
for Ouray, Outdoors / Adventure Travel, Montrose
posts: 551
reviews: 7
3. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

It's very likely that there will still be a significant amount of snow on the ground at higher elevations (such as the Silverton area) in May. Your plan to hike a section of the Colorado Trail may not be very feasible unless you enjoy hiking on snow.

Many of the possible Colorado destinations that misspWestSlope_CO mentioned in her last paragraph are much lower and likely to be free of snow in May -- especially late May. Colorado National Monument has a number of lovely hiking trails, and is a desert/red cliff type of environment. The same is true for Arches National Park. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is unique -- an extremely deep and narrow canyon with numerous overlooks. There are some short hikes up on the south rim (the side accessed from Montrose) that are very enjoyable.

Destination Expert
for Colorado
posts: 7,679
reviews: 105
4. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

The Durango-Silverton train ride would indeed be a must-do, and there are several adventure packages available depending on weather & trail conditions (hike, jeep tour to ghost towns, etc.) that help make the most of your time. There will be plenty of hiking opportunities and as you get your route firmed up you can have several places in mind, then make the specific hiking decisions as you get closer to the time of the trip and we can get a little better handle on whether the high country will be dry or still snowed in at the time of your trip.

Edited: 10:40 am, December 03, 2013
Basel, Switzerland
posts: 3
reviews: 369
5. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

Many thanks to all of the community for your help – we appreciate that very much.

We start in Chicago, because we visit friends in nearby Madison WI. As we are train enthusiasts and Chicago is Amtrak’s most important hub, we thought we would go by train to somewhere. We first thought to go to the Glacier National Park, but then, we thought, apart from the bears, it would be a little similar to the Swiss Mountains. So, when Amtrak recently published the Grand Canyon Tour, we turned to that, as we definitely don't have such an attraction in our country.

We have planned to stay a week in Chicago, another week with our friends in Madison and to make a trip of roughly two more weeks. And as we have made such good experiences last year with B&Bs which were recommended in TA in France, we would stay, if possible also in B&Bs. From that point of view also the better solution than our original plans with prebooked hotel chains.

I have a guidebook which covers the West of the USA. But I have been absolutely lost within its 836 pages. Now, with your suggestions, I see already better …

We are interested in Nature (hot springs) and American History and Culture (local museums, foods or crafts). Apart from hiking, we are not great sportsmen. So, National Parks are great, Las Vegas would be less interesting for us …

So, the adjusted plan would now be: flight to Denver, stay overnight, and take the train to Grand Junction. Rent a car and make a tour around Colorado via Durango and back to Denver.

We understand, it would be better to visit Colorado a bit later. So we first go to Madison and Chicago and then it will be early June when we start in Denver.

Would you prebook all the B&Bs early June?

Is it worth to pass more than one night in Denver?

Should we also go to the south: Flagstaff, Santa Fe, Sedona which was in Amtrak’s programme?

And what about the Grand Canyon?

posts: 1,394
reviews: 106
6. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

IMO, definitely include the Grand Canyon--at least for one full day. Santa Fe is also very nice but maybe not a must-do with all your other choices. If you stay overnight in the park, it's not too soon to make lodging reservations.

On the Durango train, I highly recommend the adult-only car. Service is outstanding and the car has fewer riders than other cars, with very comfortable seating. Some prefer riding the train one way and the bus the other (more time efficient), but for me, a highlight is watching the Animas River gorge below the tracks with rushing rapids. I've done the train twice, staying on the train for both directions; if I ever do it again, I'll choose the same option.

Fruita, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Fruita, Grand Junction
posts: 4,097
reviews: 178
7. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

I, too would do the train both ways if you are train enthusiasts. Plus, things always look different from a different direction, imho. Flying to Denver helps in your plans as the long train trip over the prairie is avoided and the train ride from Denver to Grand Junction is a delight. It goes places that the highway doesn't and you will see some awesome sights.

There are actually several adult only cars on the Durango train. The Alamosa Parlor Car, the Cinco Animas, and the Nomad are all closed cars. There's also a 16+ car that is open air (might be a bit chilly) - the Silver Vista Car. Check them out at durangosilvertonrailroad.com/durango-train/t…

So much to see and do, I know you will have a great time.

posts: 1,394
reviews: 106
8. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

We were in the Alamosa Parlor Car both years. Not every train has all cars; in fact, I think there is just one enclosed adult-only parlor car on each train. Both years that we rode, the Alamosa car was on the 2nd train out of Durango (maybe around 9:30 departure?); an earlier train had one of the other adult cars.

One year we road the Alamosa to Durango and the SilverVista back. I think you have to phone for this option rather than reserving on line. It poured rain on the return route; even though we were provided with "rain blankets" which kept us dry, we decided to do the enclosed car both ways the next time. I'll add that I'm usually a budget traveler, but the Alamosa was a wonderful treat that I'd enjoy doing again and again. And I'm not a railroad enthusiast. Another tip: we took a picnic lunch both years rather than joining most of the passengers in the crowded Silverton restaurants and ate at the miners' shrine looking down on the town--several of the railroad employees said they usually spend their break there. A great option if the weather is good. There is also a fascinating cemetery with many old graves at the opposite end of town, but it would be a more rushed option than the shrine.

Destination Expert
for Colorado
posts: 7,679
reviews: 105
9. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

Yes, do prebook your lodging, whether bed & breakfast, lodge, cabin, or hotel. No need to rush right now, but as soon as you have your dates/itinerary firmed up, go ahead and book the lodging, especially if you want to stay at a lodge in a national park, like Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde NP or one of the Grand Canyon lodges.

I would include the Grand Canyon if you have time. Drive there from Cortez/Mesa Verde, and visit Monument Valley along the way. If you take the train to Grand Junction, I would highly recommend you visit Moab-Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. You'll see scenery here that is very different from what you have in Switzerland.

I like the itinerary of the Grand Canyon Explorer very much. (The Discovery tour basically adds 2 nights in Chicago and a day/overnight to Santa Fe & skips Albuquerque) Santa Fe and Sedona are very beautiful, and offer unique views and culture. I can see the attraction of travelling across the huge flat heartland of America by rail, but in effect, much of that part of the journey is at night and while I love the wide open spaces and blue skies, it can be boring after the first hour or two. So I stand by my recommendation to fly from Chicago. Your destination will require some research and choices, depending on the time you have available and your travel budget.

It would be lovely if you could fly to Denver for a few days, take the train to Grand Junction as mentioned, see Moab/Arches Natl Park, Black Canyon Nat'l Park, visit the picturesque old west mining towns of Ouray, Silverton and Telluride along the San Juan Skyway, take the Durango Silverton train ride and ALSO go to Santa Fe to pick up the Grand Canyon tour set up by Amtrak. Wow, what a great trip that would be.

Here's another idea. Unless Rocky Mountain National Park and the Denver sights are "musts" for you, what if you flew from Chicago to Albuquerque? You could rent a car and drive to Durango, then make a loop through Southwest Colorado and Moab, then over to Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon and back to Albuquerque. Or you could do Amtrak's train tour to the Grand Canyon, then do your driving loop.

I don't mean to confuse you even more...there are so many great choices. But do some reading about the destinations mentioned and see which appeal to you the most. I would definitely try to include the Durango-Silverton train ride, Mesa Verde National Park, and Moab/Arches National Park. Three days in Chicago would be enough, then add 4 days to the Southwest US part of the trip so you could include either the Grand Canyon or Santa Fe.

Columbia, Maryland
posts: 684
reviews: 3
10. Re: Durango train and hiking in May 2014

Great info from the experts here. So much to see and not enought time to see it all.

Now let me give you the perspective of one who planned a once in a lifetime 10 day roadtrip to the SW US and had to whittle down what to see.

Take MissWestSlope's advice and fly to Denver and take the train from Denver to Grand Junction. There is not a whole lot to see on the ground going from Chicago to Denver. The Denver to Grand Junction trip is one of the most scenic in the US on Amtrak. (Haven't done it but it is on our list). Spend the time going to see the sites instead of traveling across vast amounts of empty space.

Must do's in the SW - Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.

As a train enthusiast - ride the Durango and Silverton both ways. Keep in mind it is 3.5 hours each way. The first hour on the way and the last hour coming back follow the highway are are not the most scenic.

We are train enthusiasts and did this.

While in Grand Junction take the time to drive through the Colorado National Monument. Allow 2 to 3 hours.

Keep in mind, driving distances are long out there. Consult Google maps to get an idea of driving distances.

Here's a loop that would work. (disclaimer - we did not get to all of these. Like I said, had to whittle down our itenerary to fit the time). The mountains you will see in this area are quite different from the Alps. Amount of time to spend at each depends on your total time available. You said 2 weeks so this should work.

Head west out to Arches National Park via I70 (allow a day). Head south on US 191 and take in Canyonlands along the way. Continue on US 191 south to US 163 west. US 163 west will take you through Monument Valley. If you desire, overnight at Monument Valley or Kayenta and take one of the tours through the Navajo Valley Tribal Park.

Pick up US 160 west to 89 south to AZ 64 into the Grand Canyon. Spend at least one and maybe 2 nights inside the park depending on when you would arrive. You want at least one full day there to view the sunset over the canyon.. (Make resrvations NOW).

Leave GCNP and head east on US 160 to Cortez and Mesa Verde. You need at least one full day in Mesa Verde. Stay one night in Cortez or in the park and do your touring the next day.

After completing your touring of Mesa Verde, head east on US 160 to Durango. You will need at least 2 nights in Durango to ride the train. The Durango SIlverton trip is an all day thing (Make your reservations early).

From here decide if you want to return to Grand Junction and take the train back to Denver ot drive to Denver. This may be determined on how much the drop off charge would be for returning the car to a different location.

If returning to Grand Junction, head north on US 550. There is a bit of white knuckle driving on this stretch - cliff on one side, mountain on the other, little shoulder and no guard rail. This will look more like the Alps.

Overnight in Ouray and take in one of the hot springs.

Continue north on US 550 to US50 east and take in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Then get back on 50 west and return to Grand Junction.

If driving back to Denver go one of 2 ways.

Same as heading back to Grand Junction except head east on US50 to US 285 north toward Buena Vista. THere are quaint places to stay there. THen head east on US 24 to Manitou Springs or Colorado Springs. Overnight and take in Pikes Peak - take the Cog Raliway. Then head to Denver on I25.


Head east on US160 toward Alamosa, overnight, and take in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Then head north on I25 to Manitou Springs or Colorado Ssprings, overnight, and take in Pikes Peak. THen head north on I25 to Denver.

You can pick and choose between these destinations based on your time available and how long you want to stay somewhere. This will give you a good cross section of what there is to see out there.

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