My in-laws were recently in town to visit us and we thought it would be fun to treat them to a ride up to Pike’s Peak through the Cog Railroad. That is where they spent their honeymoon five decades ago. Not the Cog Railroad, but Pike’s Peak that is.
It would be nostalgic and an indoor activity, which was a requirement for the minus double digits weather we had been experiencing last week in Colorado. Plus, who doesn’t like trains?
Pike’s Peak is an hour and half drive South from Denver and close to Colorado Springs and several other attractions. It is one of the 53 or 54 fourteeners in Colorado and one that is accessible year round thanks to the Cog Railroad and Pike’s Peak Highway (weather permitting).
There are many interesting facts about Pike’s Peak from both a geological and historical aspects. It is the most visited mountain in North America and second in the world behind only Mt. Fuji in Japan. It was a landmark for explorers and Gold Rushers back in the day and it was named after an American general called Zebulon Pike: his parents must have hated him…
You can drive it, hike it, bike it or ride the Cog Railroad, although in the winter I would only go for the last option. Yes, I am a creature of comfort and having to pee or sleep outdoors in -20F is not my idea of fun.
So here are the details you will want to know before visiting:
I am not big on reserving tickets early, but with this activity you will want to. Because the trains are small and only run twice a day M-TH in the winter, tickets sell off fast. I checked on them a couple of days earlier at midnight and went to book them at 8am the next day and they were gone, so plan ahead and if this is an activity you absolutely want to do, then reserve early.
Tickets are sold online and cost $36 per adult and $20 per child. Here is the website for reservations.
The train stops going to the peak around November when temperatures drop and snow covers the tracks. Check with the operators about track closures if you want to ride to the peak.
Ask for the left side seats
The train ride is about one and a half hours in the winter (no access to the peak) and longer in the summer. It rides up and down on the same tracks, so there is always a more scenic side and that is the left side of the train. The operators define it as the three-seat side. The right side only has two seats. When reserving, we got lucky we were assigned the left side and no one was sharing with us so we were able to face each other and change seats with each other at different parts of the trip.
Another seating tip I would give is to try to reserve the first or last row of the train on the left side. This will provide you views from the front as well as side of the train. However, if you are like me and can’t ride anything backwards without getting motion sickness, then choose the more flexible option of reserving facing seats on the left side.
Use the bathroom at the station
There is no bathroom in the train. There are Porter-Potties at the stop about 4 miles into the 9 mile ride, but you will only stop there at the return trip and the train goes painfully slow to be holding it in. Use the restroom at the station and avoid the long lines for the Porter-Potties as well.
Bring plenty of water and snacks
I have said it plenty of times before, but it is never enough. At high elevations it is important to keep hydrated. The train in the winter goes up to 11,500ft and even at 8,500ft you can start to feel the effects of the thin air. Drink plenty of water to help you ward off its effects.
Bring paper towels
The train is not heated, but even at chilling temperatures, the body heat of the passengers make it a comfortable ride. However, the hot air inside causes condensation on the windows and it fogs up, blocking the amazing views outside. We had some folded sheets of paper towels in our backpack- a practice we started a long time ago in case of emergencies or cleaning up messes- and it came in handy for wiping off the condensation instead of using our sleeves. Those paper towels come in handy as well if you don’t follow the advice to use the bathroom at the station and need to use the Porter-Potty.
We really enjoyed riding the Cog Railroad at Pike’s Peak with my in-laws and can’t wait to do it again in the summer.