Georgetown Loop Railroad
The most convenient scenic railroad for Denver area residents also stands as one of the state’s great engineering feats. The historic narrow gauge Georgetown Loop recreates the dramatic climb from Georgetown to Silver Plume, both established as important silver mining regions in the 1860s.
Success of the mines depended on reliable rail lines between Denver and the mining camps. By 1877, a route was completed through Golden and Idaho Springs to Georgetown. There, engineers and construction crews faced a daunting challenge. Silver Plume, just two miles away, was 600-feet higher in elevation – up a narrow, steep canyon. The resulting six-percent grade would prove too great for most locomotives.
The solution included more than four miles of track and multiple bridges including the Devil’s Gate High Bridge rising 95-feet above Clear Creek. The first passenger train arrived in Silver Plume in April 1884, beginning a boom in tourism for one-day excursions from Denver. Abandoned by the late 1930s, the track and bridges were dismantled.
The Colorado Historical Society, assisted by a major grant from the Boettcher Foundation, spent more than ten years reconstructing the roadbed, laying track and rebuilding the Devil’s Gate High Bridge. Dedication of the new facilities occurred 100 years after the original completion.
Today an oil-powered steam locomotive exhales deep, throaty chugs as it pulls passenger cars up the scenic canyon. Soon the rhythm recalls the children’s book words, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Trainman, Ron Ruhoff, willingly answers questions and interprets whistle signals; three toots for going backwards, a long and a short when approaching a trestle.
During the summer months, until Labor Day, a tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine offers an added attraction. Accessible only by train, the guided underground excursion conveys tales of hard rock miners’ difficult lives.