It’s hard to believe 3 years has passed since once of my coolest photography experiences. In February 2014 I traveled to Durango, CO to ride the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Winter Photo Train. Designed especially for photographers, the day long experience is meticulously planned. They do a fantastic job, delivering huge value for the money spent.
The train runs between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, on track dating back to 1882. Riding this train will be sure to take you back in time, no matter what class of service you choose. Running along the Animas River the train crosses the river 5 times on the way to Silverton.
The crew has the best locations pre-planned for this photo excursion, stopping the train at numerous locations to allow all photographers to hop off and find the perfect setup location. The train backs up, steam and smoke clears the sky, everyone finds their spot, fiddles with their camera settings and waits. The train blows the whistle when it starts rolling down the tracks, ensuring you have a chance to capture that perfect shot of the steam engine rounding the corner, crossing the bridge or humming along the mountainside. It’s nearly impossible to capture a bad shot!
Downtown Durango is equally as charming as the train. The downtown area is a nationally registered historic district, boasting excellent pubs, restaurants and boutique hotels and shops. If you’re traveling to Durango for the train, be certain to allow at least a few hours to explore the downtown area. One of my favorite breakfast restaurants is the Durango Diner on Main.
For the photographer making the trip to experience the photo train, here are some tips:
- My favorite hotel is the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Durango, located at 501 Camino Del Rio, only a few blocks away from the train station and all the best downtown has to offer.
- Ship your gear! You will save money on checked luggage fees and avoid the hassle of lugging all that bulky gear through the airport or having it pack every corner of your car. Here are a few items I chose to ship directly to my hotel:
- Heavy winter coat
- Gloves, winter hat and earmuffs
- Snow pants
- Hand towels
- Snow boots
- Heavy sweatshirts and sweaters
- Rent pro gear! If you don’t have professional camera gear (I’m talking the really good stuff), you will want it for this shoot. The train comes through each scene moving pretty fast, so you’ll want the fastest lens your money can afford. It would really be disappointing to come all this way only to have blurry train pictures. I always rent from BorrowLenses, and if you use this link you can get a discount.
- No Need for First Class – I booked the best tickets in first class, but looking back I wouldn’t do it again. You’re on and off the train so much, and moving between cars that it’s almost pointless. Unless the weather is extremely cold and you might want a super warm place to defrost during the day!
- Stay out of the frame of other photographers. There are plenty of locations at each stop, so please be courteous to your fellow photogs.
This is an experience unlike anything else, especially for the train buff. The staff is very friendly and helpful, and you’re sure to leave with a few new friends. I hope to return someday soon for the Fall Photo Train, for some amazing fall colors in the mountains.
Pro Tip: At the end of your Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad winter photo excursion, save some energy to drive 40 minutes north of Durango to capture the sunset hitting the top of Twilight Peak in the San Juan Mountains. The view is stunning.