Unplug in Colorado's Royal Gorge

Thanks to 3 million years of unrelenting flow by the once meager – now mighty Arkansas River, those living in the new millennium can experience the soaring cliffs of the Royal Gorge.  These granite wonders tower more than 1,000 feet above the rushing Arkansas down below.  More than 300 days of sun, a dry and dreamy climate and the protection of this narrow, winding, dramatic canyon draws some of Colorado’s most majestic wildlife, like big horn sheep, bald eagles and Blue Herons.

Adventure seekers and in-the-know travelers are also drawn to the Royal Gorge region for its beauty, warmth and southern Colorado charm.  In some spots, you can’t even get a phone signal and visitors view that as a good thing.  Could the Royal Gorge be the last place in Colorado where you simply have to unplug?

Up until 1999, the only way to experience the Royal Gorge, was by raft or to catch a glimpse from the City’s Royal Gorge Bridge. Then, in 1999, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad was resurrected by the same family that ran the famous Georgetown Loop Railroad until 2004.

The Royal Gorge Route Railroad ran its first passenger train through the Royal Gorge in May of 1999 with just 5 passenger cars and a cooler, which carried cold drinks for passengers. The train quickly grew, with added classes of service, first class cars, dining cars, and the addition of full-length dome cars. Classes of service expanded quickly from coach class, to vista dome, gourmet lunch & dinners, murder mysteries, 5-course wine dinners, along with our successful Santa Express Trains. They were the first scenic railroad in Colorado to lead the way in defining what “first-class” means, winning awards for their exquisite 3-course lunch and dinner trains. The Royal Gorge Route is run by a Colorado Company passionate about quality.

Until 2003, the Royal Gorge Bridge was the highest bridge in the world.  Today, this suspension bridge with a wooden walkway is only the highest bridge in North America – which isn’t too shabby. Either way, it’s seriously impressive and the views are spectacular, dare I say, equally as spectacular as the Grand Canyon.

The Royal Gorge is best viewed by two vantage points:  the Royal Gorge Bridge and the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.  The bridge is a marvel of engineering tethered above a marvel of nature.  It’s an absolute bucket list must.  While you’re on the bridge, you’ll see the Royal Gorge Route Railroad winding through the snaking canyon – this is how you’ll best view the canyon up close and personal.  The train began running through the Gorge in 1879, quit service in the 1960s and was resurrected in 1999.  Now more than 100,000 people from all over the globe ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad for its killer views, rich history, classic railcar dining and charming service.  Ride first class for a multi-course dining experience or coach or vista dome if you’re on a tighter budget.  Either way, bring a camera and visit the open-air car while aboard this renovated mid-century streamliner.  Check the schedule for  lunch trainswine dinner trains and murder mystery excursions for a railroad experience you’ll never forget.

Once you hit these two Royal Gorge musts, you’ll need lodging, food and more fun.  For lodging, Jewel of the Canyon is the very best place to lay your head.  This bed and breakfast is hosted by two lovely innkeepers, has great views and well-done décor.  Canon City Queen Anne Tea Room is also cozy and centrally located.  They offer wonderful cooking classes too – if you happen to be in town at the right time.  If you’re going frugalista or just love to camp, hit the hip 1950s Starlite Campground. The Royal Gorge region has no shortage of local chain hotels.  Before booking, be sure to inquire about original build dates or last renovation for the best experience. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad has preferred guest rates with various local and chain hotels throughout town, so check with them when booking your train ride to get the very best rates available.

Eat & Shop

Dining has become increasingly good in the Royal Gorge region.  Canon City’s French restaurant, Le Petit Chablis, is truly a find.  Lovely seafood dishes, a very good wine list, and freshly made breads and pastries mean this place stands shoulder to shoulder with similar bistros in the big city. Call (719) 269-3333 for reservations.  In historic downtown Canon City, you’ll find Pizza Madness, a fresh pizza joint with local artist’s works flanking the walls.  It has a solid wine and beer selection that makes this place even better – and the price is right.

Speaking of downtown, its just across the road from the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and has a set of charming shops.  If you’re with the family or have any appreciation whatsoever for browsing through antiques, secondhand or handmade items , you must put Main Street in Canon as well as Florence on your itinerary.  For your morning or mid-day caffeine fix Coyote’s Coffee Den is the place.  They know how to draw an excellent espresso and the southwest country atmosphere is worth the trip.

Adventurers Unite!

For more fun – rafting, rafting, rafting!  The Arkansas is one of the best rivers in Colorado for a raucous ride on an inflatable.  With rapids named Sunshine Falls, Sledgehammer, Wallslammer, Corkscrew, the Narrows, Boateater and Soda Pop Rock, you know you’re in for a really good time. There are many outfitters in the area – but a few rise to the top.  Do your research before you book for the very best experience.

Visit the Royal Gorge Welcome Center for more information on where to go and what to do when you arrive, located on the corner of 4th and Royal Gorge Blvd. For the planners among you, you can also visit canoncitycolorado.com.

The Royal Gorge is just two hours from Denver and 45 minutes from Colorado Springs.  It’s a day trip or a weekend getaway for anyone in the region.  Because it’s in Southern Colorado you can expect great weather and sunny days year-round.