Attractions, Destination, Road Trip

The Disabled Traveler’s guide to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

My first train ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was the summer of 1979 as part of a high school graduation road trip.  The train ride was the high-lite of the trip, listening to the sound of the steam whistle from the vintage locomotive, the views of the Rocky Mountains and traveling alongside the beautiful Animas River.  I vowed to myself that as soon as I had the chance, I was going to ride that train again. Little did I know that it would be 43 years later, yet the experience was just as great as the first time I rode the train from Durango to Silverton.

The Denver & Rio Grande Railway began construction of the line from Durango to Silverton in August 1881 and completed the route to Silverton by July of 1882. The line was constructed to haul silver & gold ore from Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, but passengers soon realized it was the view that was truly precious.

Steam-powered locomotives travel along the same railroad tracks as the original trains in 1882. The 45-mile trip to yesteryear begins with a ride of 3 1/2 hours each way on the train while spending a nearly 2-hour layover in the historic mining town of Silverton, which is a sleepy old mining town with dirt roads and looks like the old west with mountains in the background, to enjoy the sights, shopping, food, and libations that Silverton offers.  If the round trip seems too long, you can catch a bus up to Silverton and ride the train back to Durango or vice versa. The price of a ticket also includes admission to the D&SNGRR Museum.

For the Disabled Traveler, the D&SNGRR offers a train car with a wheelchair-accessible restroom and lift service and a spacious interior. This car is scheduled to run daily on the summer train to Silverton and on the winter train to Cascade Canyon. The wheelchair can be locked in position, and you can ride right in the same car with the passenger in the wheelchair. Be sure to ask for the ADA car when booking. Any special needs should be communicated with a reservation agent at the time of booking.

You have the option to purchase your parking ticket at the same time as you purchase your train tickets. You may also purchase your parking ticket with cash at the parking lot on the morning of your ride. The D&SNG parking lot (209 W College Drive) is located next to the rail yard at the corner of U.S. Hwy 550 and College Drive, just west of the McDonald’s restaurant. For the Disabled Traveler who may have difficulty getting from the Parking Lot to the train station, there is an ‘unloading zone’ on Main Avenue near the Depot to let off passengers before parking the vehicle. If you have a Handicapped Parking Permit placard or plates on your vehicle, you may park at any metered parking space for no charge.

The Durango & Silverton Railroad Museum is located by the Durango Train Depot.The 12,000 square foot museum was created in 1998 utilizing 8 stalls of the ‘new’ 15-stall roundhouse built in 1989. Many families and old railroad workers have donated or provided artifacts that tell the history of railroading, especially from the D&RGW line.

The museum is well worth visiting. You have to walk/roll past the depot and cross two tracks to get into the museum. If the train is in the station, it could be a challenge to cross the tracks.

Historic Downtown Durango is worth visiting, but it could be difficult for the Disabled Traveler. The streets are hilly and there are limited parking areas. All the parking spaces have meters that charge 1 cent per minute. Handicapped parking is extremely sparse. The parking fees are not in effect after 6 p.m. so that’s a nice break. Downtown Durango is filled with over 200 unique shops, stores, and restaurants, and has something for everyone.

At an elevation of 9,318 feet, Silverton is nestled in a flat area of the Animas River Valley surrounded by steep peaks, including 13,487-foot Storm Peak. It grew from an old mining town in the 1870s to a Victorian community. Today, Silverton is the destination of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that makes daily trips from Durango. For the Disabled Traveler, Silverton is not an easy place to negotiate.  The roads are a dirt gravel mix, and the sidewalks are rough and uneven often without cutouts to get on and off the sidewalk. Most of the stores and restaurants have steps to enter the building and since the stores are on the smaller side the aisles inside are narrow and hard to navigate. I was also told by someone that if you take the bus from Durango to Silverton the bus dropped them off at the outskirts of town in Silverton making it difficult to get into town for lunch. They could have been dropped off closer.

Overall, the train ride is a great experience, and I would recommend it to everyone, not just train enthusiasts.  There is no hustle and bustle, just a relaxing day. The train ride was a long day but very scenic. For the Disabled Traveler they do very good of accommodating you with personalized service and a special car for disabled people with a wheelchair lift.

These Boys were selling rocks in Silverton. Had a good business going. My wife bought 5 rocks for $10. They had a gold rock that they were trying to sell for $100.

Click here for the D&SNGRR home page

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