First trip and now I understand why everyone raves about this. We had no idea how lovely this would be until we actually got underway.
We ordered our tickets online well ahead of the visit, as we were assured the train would be crowded this holiday weekend. At that time, I also bought the parking pass, to park in the train's reserved lot. Technically, this may not be necessary, but street parking is metered and enforced, and many of the nearby merchants will tow your car. The Bus Depot lot nearby also has parking, but it is the same price as the train lot.
One is asked to pick up their tickets the night before the ride, but since the willcall office closes at 6PM, this is not always possible. So we arrived early the day of and I waited and waited along with about a dozen other people for the office to open. While we waited there was an opportunity to look through the gift shop and visit the train's museum. Restrooms are also available. Unfortunately, they got off to a late start that day....
Husband stayed with the car as the parking lot for ticket pickup is separated from the one where you leave your car during the ride, and it was much too small. When we finally did get our tickets, we were early enough and the trains were empty enough that we were allowed to get on the train scheduled ahead of our reserved time. We had tickets for the open-sided car, as it was least expensive. Several types of cars are available with varying prices, including a car with costumed narrators. When we ordered the tickets, we were told that the car we wanted most, the Vista car with the glassed dome roof, would not be available. Sure enough, when we arrived, it was part of the train, but it was too late to change.
Things were getting off to a disappointing start.
Our seats were on the right going up. This was beginner's luck, as we had no way to know this. But these are the best seats to ride up to Silverton and it turned out to be a brilliant shiny day, so these were excellent.
Some words of caution. The open car gets dirty! The engine is a genuine vintage coal-fired steam engine. It makes clouds and clouds of dirty smoke and the seats and hand rails do get grimy. Wear dark durable clothing and bring some sunglasses to protect your eyes from the flying ash (and sometime water spray if the boilers generate too much pressure). If you wear contacts, this might not be the best place for them.
Each car has access to restrooms and it is possible to walk between cars to the dining car which serves a wide variety of beverages and lunch type food.
The round trip takes nine hours; each way is 45-miles and takes 3 1/2 hours with a 2-hour-15 minute stop for lunch and shopping in Silverton. Trains run this route from May to October, weather permitting. In the winter a 5-hour, 52-mile round trip to Cascade is offered. At Christmas, a Polar Express is available.
But the scenery is over the top! And that why this review gets an excellent rating! The route goes through the San Juan National Forest and follows The Animas River. There are pasture lands, campgrounds, and peaceful places. And then the tracks climb and the mountain views are up close and personal. The Animas River has places were it runs some impressive Class V rapids that even the Pros respect. There are wide flat areas, and then steep sided gorges that you can looks straight down into. There are places where the train wheels are just feet away from the water and others where you are high above it. And if you wish to do a zipline, that's available too, and a train car is reserved by the zipline company especially for their customers.
Silverton is an Old West town that builds it's schedule around train arrivals. There are lots of dining opportunities and lots of shopping. There's also an impressive Shrine to the Miners about 500-ft up into the hills behind town. Steep climb but very impressive...
There is an option to ride the train back to Durango or to take the bus, which is an additional cost. We opted for the bus (and would recommend this) as we had been warned that flying cinders were worse on the down hill ride, and my eyes were red and itchy when we arrived. The bus was delightful. The driver narrates so one learns something about the area. The route is the Million Dollar Highway and the scenery here too is quite spectacular. These are comfortable long distance buses with restrooms. We enjoyed this almost as much as the train