If you’re spending time in Northern New Mexico, you’ve got to make room on your calendar for the village of Chama. Home to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, you’re guaranteed to experience history and beauty you simply won’t find anywhere else.
Wandering through the San Juan Mountains, the Cumbres & Toltec line is the longest, and highest, narrow gauge left in the United States today, passing through its peak point at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The scenic trip begins in Chama, New Mexico and ends in San Antonito, Colorado with the winding track taking visitors back and forth across the New Mexico/Colorado border 11 times during the journey.
The Cumbres & Toltec was built in 1880, and was originally part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway extension. The line is an example of revolutionary engineering for its day, climbing steep slopes and covering terrain previously thought impassable for trains. During its busiest years, it was a much needed line for the booming silver mines. The silver industry declined in the late nineteenth century and the route survived by supporting other industries in the area, including agriculture. But by the 1960s it was facing abandonment. In 1969 New Mexico & Colorado joined forces to save this living artifact of the Wild West, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Voted Best Scenic Train Ride for 2019 by USA Today readers, the railroad is now jointly owned by both states.
The Cumbres & Toltec is open for business from late May until late October every year. You’ve got choices on how you ride, depending what kind of experience you’re looking for. You can choose one way or round trip. One way riders will be returned to their starting point in a luxury shuttle while round-trippers will experience the beauty both ways, also getting the benefit of different times of day which can afford a new experience with different colors, light, and shadows. The route is 64 miles, much of which is only visible from the train, meaning if you never get on the train, you never see these views, you can’t just drive there instead. A buffet lunch is included in the ticket price and you can choose from the classic coach car, deluxe tourist car, or premium parlor car. Find the full schedule here.
Northern New Mexico is lucky to have a vast amount of undeveloped terrain where visitors and locals alike can enjoy nature, naturally. The locomotives used by Cumbres & Toltec were built in the early 1900s. The historic coal-fired steam engine train has been described as frozen in time, a feeling helped by the unhindered natural beauty that surrounds it. Development along the route is minimal, allowing riders to truly step back in time. You will witness breathtaking views of gorges, valleys, rivers, and the Southern Rocky Mountains while your learn about the history of the area and enjoy one of the most unique experiences Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado have to offer.