CAÑON CITY, Colo. — When you visit Cañon City, you’ll likely notice a loud sound echoing throughout the historic town. And it’s probably the horn of the Royal Gorge Train as it travels along the Arkansas River.
The first line to ever go through the Gorge was in the 1800s and used primarily for mining and industrial services.
“Passenger rail and rail traffic in general through the Gorge was stopped in 1967,” said David Romano, Royal Gorge Route Railroad General Manager. “It wasn’t until 32 years later in 1999 that we re-established this route through the Gorge.”
“It’s been really fantastic,” said Michael Picard, a passenger. “This was a birthday present from my wife.”
Romano said the owner was passionate about trains and providing service in the industry.
“It was his vision to really bring this back and start to do first-class dining services and food services through the Gorge – and just make it a great entertainment venue.”
“It’s something that we’ve both been interested in doing,” said Picard. “We’re having a great time. To enjoy a good meal, enjoy a great view.”
The train offers varying types of cars for people to experience while on their ride. One is the club car.
“This is where we have traditional seating. So, you could possibly have two guests seated next to two other, guests that don’t know each other,” said Romano. “But it’s a great opportunity to make friends.”
Another option for seating is the coach car. That seating arrangement is similar to that of an airplane or a traditional train.
There are also Vista Dome cars that allow passengers to see great views of both the south side and north side of both the Arkansas River and the Gorge.
“Being able to look out either side, seeing what’s going on, being able to look straight up and seeing the Gorge bridge overhead and the cliffs towering over the train, that’s been neat,” said Picard.
However, the most popular type of car is one that brings guests up close and personal to the Gorge.
“The open-air car, which is fantastic. That’s just what it is,” said Picard. “Most guests, a lot of guests, will hang out there the entire ride.”
“The ride’s been very nice and smooth,” said Picard, “and the views have been spectacular down here in the canyon.”
And there are several cars to choose from – once that number was just five, and now it’s 17. Full dining services are available throughout the entire train.
“It’s really a large rolling restaurant,” said Romano.
Over the course of the two-hour ride, guests can also learn a little history from the staff, including some of its famous passengers, such as former President Theodore Roosevelt.
“When he came through here in 1905, he actually pulled the emergency brake on the train,” said Bob Mick, a staff member, “because he wanted to get out and have a photo taken on the hanging bridge.”
Romano said keeping the history alive on the train is very important to them.
“We have one car, it’s called the William B Strong car. William Strong was instrumental in establishing some of the railway lines, and it was very important to the family that his name remains on the car and that we always have his history and his photograph in the car.”
To the staff at the Royal Gorge Railroad, keeping the authenticity of the past is necessary – but ensuring a fun and unique experience is, too.
“We are working on trying to invent a new class of service, a new car,” said Romano. “Not sure where that’s going to go just yet, but we’re thinking along the lines of a lounge. So you’d have a bar car – and maybe that’s more of a lounge car for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and things.”
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is open year-round, running multiple trips throughout the day.
“We’ve got family that has ridden the train before, and they really enjoyed it, and they recommended it,” said Picard.
“This is a bucket list item if you’re here in Colorado.”