Time for a Wintertime Day Trip

Royal Gorge Route Railroad

Picture this: You’re sitting in a nice comfortable booth in the Vista Dome railcar, sipping a glass of wine, and looking over your dinner menu. The steep granite walls outside the window are awe inspiring, thanks to the Arkansas River’s work over millions of years carving a 1,000-foot-deep, nearly 10-mile-long canyon called the Royal Gorge. You’ve just embarked on an exhilarating train excursion that departs from the Old Santa Fe Depot in Cañon City, a mere 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.

The Royal Gorge train has been called Colorado’s most breathtaking rolling restaurant, and legend has it that, in 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt described the Royal Gorge railroad as “the trip that bankrupts the English language.”

“There are many ways to experience the Royal Gorge Route Railroad,” says Kelly Pascal Gould, Royal Gorge Route Railroad spokesperson. “A few of our year-round favorites are the lunch and dinner trains. The views are spectacular, and we’re particularly proud of our dining and bar service. We source our ingredients locally, and we cook from scratch in our on-board kitchens. Our wine, beer, and cocktail list is also extensive.”

“During the holiday season,” says Pascal Gould, “we always recommend the Santa Express Train. It’s a magical experience for children and families.” You’ll hop aboard the beautifully decorated Santa Express, which makes its way to the “North Pole” to pick up St. Nick. Once on board the train, Santa greets every child and presents each with a special gift.

Options for a more grown-up experience include the Holiday Train, which features decorated cars, holiday fare, and cocktails, and the New Year’s Eve Dinner Train. All passengers have free access to the open observation car for a little al fresco viewing of the spectacular canyon.

“Riding the train is a terrific way to enjoy the best that Colorado has to offer,” says Pascal Gould. royalgorgeroute.com

Old Stage Riding Stables 

Time to saddle up! What better winter adventure than a guided horseback ride on beautiful backcountry trails with folks who know their way around horses and have been in the business for decades. You’ll be treated to gorgeous mountain views, and if there’s snow on the ground, you’ll get to check out tracks of the animals that live in the area.

Laurie Zickefoose, co-owner of Old Stage Riding Stables along with her daughter, Jennifer Lehn, says, “During the winter, Old Stage offers one-hour rides at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to take advantage of the warmest hours of the day. Horses are matched to riders to ensure the best experience.”

Old Stage Riding Stables
Old Stage Riding Stables

Laurie and her dad, lifelong horseman extraordinaire Hugh Trabandt (check out YouTube’s “Hugh Trabandt: Of Horses and a Man”), started the stables together in 1991.

The drive to the stables is a somewhat rough and winding five miles of dirt road, which makes four-wheel-drive vehicles a good idea, depending on winter conditions. And, if you prefer, you can arrange to hop a ride up on an Adventures Out West Jeep. You’ll want to arrive a bit early for your reservation to give yourself time to meet your horse, of course.

After you and your new four-legged friend have communed with nature, soaking in the peace and quiet of winter’s bountiful forest, you’ll be hungry, right? Be sure to mosey on into the rustic Stage Stop Cantina back at the stables. The cantina is open Friday through Sunday over the winter, weather permitting, says Zickefoose, and offers “fun moonshine-based drinks [a nod to Hugh, who passed away last year] like the Winter Stagecoach, featuring caramel moonshine and hot apple cider. And the Blackberry Sipper is a year-round favorite. The cantina serves up home-smoked meats with four types of BBQ, which pair nicely to keep everyone warm.” comtnadventure.com

Adventures Out West

Hit the road, Jack—and Jill and Mom and Dad and kids. Layer up in your winter gear and get ready for a fun and fascinating cowboy-guided Jeep tour in the Pikes Peak foothills. Wool blankets are provided on these open-air tours, and photo opportunities abound.

“One of our most popular winter Jeep tours is our Foothills Garden of the Gods tour,” says Eric Windle, Adventures Out West reservations manager. It runs two and a half to three hours in length and is a great way to enjoy and learn about the Pikes Peak region. “Our entertaining and informative cowboy guides take you on a journey through time through the foothills of Pikes Peak. The tour highlights western scenery and some of Colorado Springs’ most famous historical sights.” This tour features North Cheyenne Canyon, Helen Hunt Falls, the Shortline Railroad and its 100-year-old tunnels, Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, and the spectacular red rock park that is Garden of the Gods. Adventures Out West is a permit holder of the Pike National Forest.

“We can take up to 50 guests, depending on availability,” says Windle, who suggests calling ahead to check weather. Adventures Out West utilizes a variety of vehicles, including the classic Jeep Scrambler, the modern four-door Jeep Unlimited, and a Hummer H2.

The Garden of the Gods tour takes place on about 70% paved roads and 30% dirt. Adventures Out West provides bottled water and light snacks. The company offers private charters as an option for those interested. Tour vehicles are modified to enhance the guest experience—you may have spotted some of the high-topped open-air rigs out and about.

Ready to get up close and personal with our area’s world-renowned park full of phenomenal sandstone and limestone outcroppings and formations? As Adventures Out West says, think wind in your hair and memories for a lifetime. advoutwest.com