[DENVER] No matter how big boys get, they still love a train.
And the Georgetown Loop is a classic. It’s a real live steam engine, chugging on a narrow gauge track between Georgetown and Silver Plume. The distance between the two historic mining towns in the Rocky Mountains an hour west of Denver is just 2 miles, but to manage the steep grade, engineers in the 1800s plotted a 3.1-mile winding track that loops back over itself.
The train is a kick for any age or gender, but for the guys, it’s a little like a warehouse full of designer shoes at 70 percent off. Eyes open wide, they’re enchanted by the noise, the power, the gears and the sheer size of the engine. Add in a perilous-looking bridge far above a rushing river, and you’ve just about celebrated Christmas.
But to ensure a full-steam-ahead, there are a few things to know before you go:
Reserve your tickets online. Quite often, certain tours will sell out. Secure your time and location in advance to be sure you're on track. (Apologies for the pun.)
Watch the timetables. The departure times vary between stations, from weekday to weekend, from month to month and with the addition of a mine tour. It almost takes a calculus degree to determine when you should be where.
Explore both ends. Georgetown is a quaint little town. You should definitely spend a bit of time wandering, or grab a bite at Lucha, where you can get delicious fresh Mexican. (The menu alone is entertaining.) But don’t skip Silver Plume. In fact, you may want to start your roundtrip ride there, because fewer people do. There’s also an interesting little train museum with retired cars and trivia gems such as railroad nails imprinted with the year that they were used. Grab a Silver Plume brochure in the ticket booth and see if you can locate the town’s oldest tree on the map inside.
INSIDER TIP: The best seat is on the red car with a roof at the end of the train. In one direction, you’ll be at the end, back far enough to see the engine loop around ahead. Upon your return, the engine will move to the other end of the train and couple up right in front of you, so you can watch the works up close.
Bring sunscreen and a jacket. In open-air cars at elevation, you could get a sunburn and you could freeze—often both at the same time.
Consider a mine tour. I haven’t tried any of the ones offered by the Georgetown Loop, but I loved the mine tour I took as a kid. We tried to take the free mine tour at the Argo Mine just down the road in Idaho Springs, but when we showed up at 4 p.m. for the last tour of the day, the “Closed” sign was already out, even though their posted hours said they didn’t close until 5. When we went on in, the young woman behind the counter informed us that the last tour was at 4 p.m. When I pointed out that it was 4 p.m., she said that we had to be there earlier to register. This despite the fact that the young tour guide was standing beside her. Clearly, on a Friday afternoon, they were ready to pack it up and get out. We passed several other disappointed families on our way out. So consider the Georgetown Loop mine tours; avoid the Argo Mine tour!
Listen in. The conductor is full of bad puns. (The men living there in the late 1800s formed a baseball team—they played in the “miner” leagues. Ba-dum-bum.) But he’s also full of fascinating factoids. For instance, did you know that when crews were clearing the ground for the tracks, they turned the dangerous work of packing boulders with dynamite and lighting the fuse over to children? Kids were thought to be faster and more nimble, and thus better suited for the task. They called them powder monkeys. Share this with your kids the next time they’re complaining about making their beds.
Look for wildlife. Each time I’ve been on the ride, I’ve seen something wandering the surrounding forests. Most recently my daughter spotted a mule deer lunching in the shade along the route.
The Georgetown Loop railroad is most certainly a tourist destination, but it doesn’t feel too Disney. In fact, it’s a little bit rough and tumble, a little bit wild West, inspiring a sense of adventure around every twist and turn. Just the thing for the boys and for kids of all ages.