Smoke, Steam & Aspens – View Fall Colors from the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad curls for 64 miles through beautiful stretches of aspens as it snakes from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico, crossing the state line 11 times

The best way to see Colorado’s annual fall color show is to go where no one else goes, and leave the driving to someone else. That’s where the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad comes in.

Twisting and turning, the railroad curls for 64 miles through some of the most beautiful stretches of aspens on the planet as it snakes from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico, crossing the state line 11 times. It is the highest and longest steam railroad in North America. And the most authentic – an historically accurate re-creation of 19th Century railroading, a sort of “Williamsburg on wheels.”

Built in 1880, the National Historic Landmark railroad has been jointly owned and operated by the states of Colorado and New Mexico for the past 45 years. While the ride is spectacular at any time, it is especially gorgeous in the fall when the aspens put on their annual show.

The tracks of the Cumbres & Toltec go where no roads go, past tens of thousands of aspen trees, climbing from 7,888 feet in Antonito to the top of scenic Cumbres Pass at 10,015 feet, then back down to Chama at 7,860 feet.

Fall in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico

There are 1.9 million acres of aspen trees in Colorado – over one billion trees that if placed together would cover Rhode Island and Delaware. Aspen trees in Colorado grow from 6,500 to 10,500 feet in elevation. Although many factors make leaves turn color, as a general rule, the higher the elevation, the sooner the leaves turn gold. That means that over a period of time, you can often see a variety of shades of color on one mountainside, with deeper golds on top at 10,000 feet, blending to pale yellow in the 8,000 foot range.

Aspen leaves don’t just turn color in the fall, they positively glow in a luminescent bright yellow gold, almost as if they had their own light source. The leaves are small, delicate and tissue-thin with an aerodynamic shape that keep them in perpetual motion. Even a slight breeze sends every leaf on the tree shimmering.

Riding the Rails: Chama to Antonito

The scenic…

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