The Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville Railway, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, completed the Georgetown Loop Railroad in 1884. Built as a 3-foot narrow gauge, its main objective was to haul silver out from the mines in Silver Plume. Due to the rugged and narrow confines of the Clear Creek canyon, the line wound 4 ½ miles from Georgetown to Silver Plume, a straight-line distance of only 2 miles. This portion of the line gains more than 600 feet in elevation with horseshoe turns, grades approaching 4%, and 4 bridges across Clear Creek. It also includes the massive 95-foot high Devils Gate Bridge that loops the line over itself. Later in 1893, the line became part of the Colorado and Southern railroad system. Due to its unique construction and beautiful vistas, the Georgetown Loop has been popular with tourists since its beginning. The line was dismantled in 1939 due to declining revenue from the mines, but thankfully, was re-built in the 1980’s.
On a recent family vacation to Colorado, my family and I paid a visit to the Loop. You can ride the Loop starting at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. We started in Silver Plume. The railroad is very easily accessible by taking I-70 west from Denver, and in fact, the railroad runs right beside I-70. In Silver Plume, you can visit the original depot, and often catch some yard operations. There are also other cool sights to see in Silver Plume, such as the engine house and a small museum.
Also, while in the Silver Plume area, the little town itself is well worth a visit. There are many historical buildings and hardly any paved roads. It still feels like an old west town.
Once you depart Silver Plume, you can see all sorts of interesting sights. If you look up on the mountain sides, you can see the evidence of many old mines.
As part of your train ticket, you have the option to purchase a mine tour of one of two old mines. We decided to tour the Everett Mine as part of our trip. In addition to our mine tour, we were treated to a hot dog lunch and gold panning. The train stops at a little station built for this purpose and picks you up to continue on your way later. This was well worth the little extra money, and even our young boys enjoyed the mine tour.
The highlight of the trip is the ride across the massive Devil’s Gate Bridge. This 95 foot tall steel bridge has been rebuilt to look exactly like the original. The train slows to cross the bridge, and you are treated to unparalleled views of the narrow canyon in both directions. Far below, you can see the tracks that you will be on in just a few short minutes.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad is well worth the visit if you are ever in Colorado near Denver. It is easy to imagine yourself riding the line way back in the early 1900’s. The slow-paced trip through the rugged Clear Creek Canyon is simply gorgeous, and offers an opportunity to truly experience the beauty of the Colorado Mountains.
Jason Stamper – Photographs and text Copyright 2017