top of page

Rails, Trails, and Tunnels

One of the cool side effects of Colorado's incredible mineral legacy is that the mining activities often left the trails, roads and rail beds that were used to haul people, supplies, and building materials to, and ore and refined products away from, the mines and processing sites. These transport routes can be found all over Colorado in varying states of repair and accessibility. We've been able to visit just a few of them.

Photo looking through two tunnels originally built for the Midland Railroad in Colorado
Midland Railroad Tunnels near Buena Vista, Colorado

The Gold Belt Tour Scenic & Historic Byway is the first of these transportation links we explored after we moved to Colorado. This byway is located between the town of Florissant, which is along Colorado Highway 24, and takes three slightly diverging routes south through the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining District to Canon City (Spanish spelling, pronounced 'canyon') and Highway 50. Each route has its own history and reason for existence.

Photo of Phantom Canyon Road in Colorado in the fall
Phantom Canyon Road near Victor

When gold was discovered here in 1890, the Victor and Cripple Creek area quickly grew to be the site of the largest gold rush in the world at the time. During its heyday, more than 500 mines were in operation in the District. Obviously, roads and railroads had to be built to haul supplies up to the mines and ore down to the smelters. The Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad was built in 1894 between Florence, near Canon City, and Victor through rugged Phantom Canyon. This narrow-gauge railroad only ran for a few years. Today, the tracks have been removed and the railbed graveled, but you'll still find the sharp turns, two tunnels, and the remaining 1897 steel bridge. However, we also discovered that Phantom Canyon Road can be extremely rough in places -- it actually shook the fuel pump loose from our vehicle! (Because we were concerned about getting back to civilization, I didn't get photos of the bridge or tunnels on that trip, and haven't been able to talk my husband into trying it again since.)

Photo of tall cliffs along Phantom Canyon Road in Colorado
Phantom Canyon cliffs

Another road that appeals to an adventuresome spirit, but on which a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle is strongly recommended (and is therefore one we haven't tried yet), is the Bachelor Loop Historic Tour. It takes you on a 17-mile tour of the formerly incredibly rich silver mining area above Creede. This road can provide a glimpse of the real-life difficulties of precipitous mountain slopes, narrow trails, and harsh living conditions that were overcome to bring the silver ore down to the mills.

Photo of a steel railroad bridge over the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, Colorado
Steel railroad bridge spanning the Arkansas River

Our recent discoveries and drives have been to the tunnels of the former Colorado Midland Railway, as seen in the photo at the top of the page, as well as to this old steel railroad bridge over the Arkansas River near Buena Vista. (The plate on the bridge support reads, "Built by Virginia Bridge and Iron Co., Roanoke, VA, 1919.") The Midland Railway ran from Colorado Springs west over the mountains to Grand Junction, with spurs to Leadville, Aspen and Spring Gulch, and an eastern spur that included Denver in the north and Pueblo in the south. Since the Midland Railway was abandoned in 1918, the steel bridge and its stretch of railroad are not related; so far, I haven't found any historical information about it, but it's located adjacent to popular walking/biking trails, a day use area for picnics and for rafting enthusiasts floating the Arkansas, and a campground.

Photo of a former railway tunnel along the South Platte River in Colorado
DSP&P Railway tunnel on what is now County Road 96

Our latest drive was up Park County Road 96 on the former Denver South Park & Pacific Railway line from Lake George up the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. Of course, the South Platte being the South Platte, even on that weekday just after a snowstorm, the canyon had several dozen fishermen along the nine-mile stretch leading to the dam at Eleven

Photo of a section of rail and ties from the old Denver South Park & Pacific Railway in Coloradorailway
Section of rail and ties from the old railway
Photo of a railway tunnel converted to a road tunnel in Colorado
Another tunnel for the narrow-gauge railway

Mile Reservoir. This area tends to look like a city parking lot on almost any given weekend during the summer, and is even more popular on holiday weeks. It's one of the reasons we've avoided checking it out until now.

Photo of the South Platte River along the historic Midland Railway route
South Platte River along Midland Railway route

You'll notice that most of the photos for this post are verticals; it's because a LOT of the locations are mostly straight up and down! I guess that's one of the "hazards" of living in a state that could easily have ended up named for the incredible number of canyons it's home to, rather than a word that means "colored red."

You're welcome to check out other travel, nature and wildlife photography at my website, To continue seeing my ramblings about nature, wildlife, photo art prints and ideas for your home or office, and our adventures with our teardrop camper, please "sign up to stay connected." #travel, #travelphotography, #NaturePhotography, #naturephotographer, #photography, #nature, #colorado, #photoart, #buyart, #artforsale, #metal, #canvas, #prints, #art, #interiorstyling

Photo of steel railroad bridge with icy Arkansas River near Buena Vista, Colorado
Another view of the old steel railroad bridge with icy Arkansas River near Buena Vista

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page