DENVER, CO – With eight new restaurants, two bars, a hotel and a half acre of splashing water fountains, The Mile High City’s glittering newly refurbished Union Station has already become the center of downtown Denver.
It’s not the first time. It was the railroads that transformed Denver from a dusty, frontier town to the largest and most opulent city between Chicago and San Francisco. In the golden age of railroading, Denver’s lavish Beau Arts 1914 Union Station was a beehive of activity, handling up to 200 trains per day.
One hundred years later, Denver Union Station is back, serving as a transportation center for light rail; AMTRAK; a massive bus network; two electric bus shuttles and coming in 2016, a 24 mile-long rail line to and from Denver International Airport.
For rail fans, Union Station is just the beginning. The Denver area is home to operating steam trains, historic locomotives, cog railroads and some of the largest model and garden railroads in the nation. All aboard for a rail tour of the Mile High City!
Hop on board for a train-themed trip to Denver, and find great hotel deals at VISITDENVER.com.
Denver Union Station
Following the discovery of gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, railroad lines were pushed up canyons and over high passes, making them the lifeline of every mining camp in the state. By 1880, there were dozens of railroads passing through Denver, and the city had four stations. Jay Gould and Walter Cheesman consolidated this network into one central location called Union Depot. Although nothing remains of the original station which burned down, the current one, designed in the Beaux Arts style by local architects Gove and Walsh, was completed in 1914 and completely restored in 2014.
The old waiting room has been re-christened “The Great Hall.” With its soaring arched windows, this grand room is open to the public 24-7. The old ticket windows have been turned into The Terminal Bar, which features more than 30 Colorado craft beers and a huge outdoor patio. In front of the station is a new water park with dozens of dancing fountains shooting water into the air; it is particularly pretty at night when the fountains are lighted.
Looking down on the Great Hall from a terrace above, is The Cooper Lounge which re-creates the glamorous old-Hollywood days of railroading with high-end cocktails and an extensive wine list.
In the wings of the Great Hall is the elegant 112-room Crawford Hotel. Named after local developer and preservationist Dana Crawford (who was also responsible for preserving nearby Larimer Square), The Crawford is affiliated with the Oxford Hotel across the street and shares their spa and meeting facilities.
The Crawford has three styles of rooms. The “Pullman” rooms on the second floor are modeled after the luxury private sleeping cars of old. The “Classic” rooms on the third floor come with tall ceilings and large windows. The former attic area hosts “Loft” rooms, featuring exposed wood timbers, vaulted ceilings and a more contemporary design. To take advantage of the station’s architectural features, most of the rooms in the hotel are one-of-a-kind designs and shapes.
On the ground floor of the station are some of Denver’s finest new restaurants and classic retailers. Chef Jennifer Jasinski (winner of the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest and owner of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, and Euclid Hall in Larimer Square), has just opened Stoic & Genuine, a seafood-centric restaurant in the grand tradition of the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, New York.
The Kitchen [Next Door] got its start in Boulder nine years ago as The Kitchen. The owners opened a second version on Denver’s 16th St. Mall in 2012. The Union Station version is a community pub in the great tradition of British pubs, focused on simple food and Colorado beers with a beautiful outdoor deck to take advantage of Denver’s 300 days of sunshine.
Alex Seidel (Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of the Year 2010) of Fruition has just opened Mercantile Dining & Provision, a full service restaurant and market for locally made foodstuffs, many of them produced at Fruition Farms, Seidel’s 10-acre sheep dairy and creamery in nearby Larkspur. The market will sell everything from pickled beets, fruit spreads, cheeses, breads and yogurts to jar-preserved sturgeon rillettes and duck confit.
The station also contains Milkbox Ice Creamery owned by local favorite Little Man Ice Cream and a branch of the famous Tattered Cover Bookstore.
The Colorado Railroad Museum
Next stop for rail buffs is the Colorado Railroad Museum, which has the state’s largest collection of locomotives, cars, photos and historic railroad mementoes. At one point, more than 2,000 miles of narrow gauge track probed the mountains of Colorado, and this exciting era comes to life at the museum. Located in Golden, Colorado at the base of scenic high Western buttes, the museum is circled by a half-mile track, which allows them to do monthly “steam ups” with operating locomotives. On alternative weekends, the museums also runs the Galloping Goose, a rare bus mounted on train wheels that used to take passengers over Lizard Head Pass near Telluride. The museum has a number of special events throughout the year including a Christmas train with Santa Claus, an Easter Bunny train, an Old West event with shootouts and train holdups, and “varnish specials” of authentic historic wood cars, complete with coal-fired stoves to keep passengers warm in winter. There are more than 50 narrow and standard gauge locomotives, cars and other rolling stock, as well as one of Colorado’s largest indoor HO model railroads, and largest G-scale outdoor garden railroads. The museum has the definitive Railroad Book Store with more than 1,000 titles and an assortment of railroad gifts, DVDs, magazines and memorabilia.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad
One of Colorado’s most famous railroad engineering feats is just 42 miles from Denver. The original railroad reached Georgetown in 1877. It was decided to push the railroad up the valley another two miles to the neighboring mining camp of Silver Plume. The challenge: Silver Plume was 600 feet higher in elevation. To gain that much altitude that fast, the railroad had to twist and turn four and a half miles, making two and a half complete circles and at one point crossing over itself on a 90-foot-high trestle –the Devil’s Gate Bridge. Today, steam-powered locomotives make the climb up the valley, sending huge plumes of smoke into the surrounding forest of pine trees. The train may be boarded in Georgetown or Silver Plume and offers panoramic views, particularly when crossing the 90-foot high bridge. From the open air viewing cars it is possible to see big horn sheep, while the sound of the train whistle echoing down the valley is unforgettable. There are wine trips every day that include a wine-tasting in an historic car. There are also special Christmas trains in December. Along the way is an optional hour and 20 minute tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine.
Located just 30 minutes from downtown Denver, Tiny Town began in 1915 at the site of an old stage coach stop when George Turner began erecting a village of one-sixth sized buildings for his young daughter. In 1920, the town was open to the public and in just five years it became one of Colorado’s top five attractions. By 1939, a miniature railway was added, but a flood, a fire and changing economic conditions forced the attraction to close. In 1988, volunteers began the resurrection of Tiny Town. Today, more than 100 colorful buildings are in place, all beautifully hand-crafted with wonderful details, many with full interiors. Some of the buildings are exact replicas of famous structures from Colorado’s history. The one-sixth size village is circled by the miniature Tiny Town Railway, a mile-long track with open-air cars pulled by an authentic steam locomotive similar to the narrow gauge locomotives that once worked the mountain lines of Colorado. The train crosses a trestle over a small stream, and curls through tall pine trees in its lovely mountain location, affording excellent views of the village.
Forney Museum of Transportation
This is one-of-a-kind collection has more than 500 exhibits relating to historical transportation. It began with antique cars, but soon expanded to include vehicles of all kinds. Highlights include the Big Boy, the world’s largest steam locomotive, and a selection of Forney Locomotives, as well as rail cars and private cars.
This is the world’s largest model railroading store, a virtual supermarket of trains with all scales and sizes as well as operating model railroads and memorabilia including books, DVDs and model cars, buildings and more. There are special classes on all aspects of model railroading. Model trains layouts are displayed throughout the store, and there is a G-scale train circling the entire store on a track mounted near the ceiling.
There are 30 different gardens in this beautiful area along the South Platte River and including one the nation’s largest outdoor garden railroads. Constructed in 2000, the Garden Railroad features more than 700 feet of “G” gauge track, trestles, bridges, waterfalls, and a variety of plantings matching the scale of the miniature trains. Higher and lower loops allow two trains to run simultaneously. More than forty tons of rock were used to create this condensed Colorado landscape. The railroad runs May through the first weekend in October.
Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway Co.
Just 90 minutes from downtown Denver, the world’s highest cog railway climbs from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak, 14,110 feet above sea level. The Swiss-made bright red train runs year-round (snow permitting) and winds past cascading streams and dense forests of aspen and pine until it breaks tree-line and continues another 3,000 feet of elevation gain across rocky tundra. Spectacular sweeping views are available at the summit. Reservations are recommended.
Royal Gorge Route
Considered by many to be the most spectacular stretch of track in America, the Royal Gorge Route offers a breathtaking, 2-hour scenic and historic train ride on the most famous portion of the former 1879 Denver & Rio Grande Western train line. The 1950’s era train departs the Santa Fe Depot in Canon City. Tracks cling to a narrow ledge while the canyon walls rise 1,000 feet straight above. Club cars offer full dining and drinks. A highlight is the world-famous “Hanging Bridge.”
Go to VISITDENVER.com to learn more about Denver’s colorful history.