Rio Grande Southern Railroad

photo courtesy of the Colorado Railroad Museum.


The Rio Grande Southern Railroad was Otto Mears' pet project.  He was known as the Pathfinder of the San Juan Mountains and had been living in Colorado for over 20 years.

As gold continued to be discovered throughout Colorado, Mears built toll roads in southwestern parts of the state to connect out of the way towns and people.


Traveling on these toll roads were wagons and stagecoaches.  He kept trying to find a better way to get people and goods to the mountains.

No other railroad route would run north from the southern connections, so Mears decided to form his own.



The Rio Grande Southern was built from Durango to Ridgeway, a few miles north of Ouray.

In 1891, the railway was completed and traveled the routes to the mines in Telluride, Rico and beyond.


During the silver collapse of 1893, Mears lost the Rio Grande Southern, which was incorporated into the Denver Rio Grande Railroad.

The Rio Grande Southern continued to haul coal, livestock and supplies on its freight cars.

As the mines ran out, tourists started seeing Colorado as an interesting and exciting part of the old west.


Soon the Denver Rio Grande and Southern were very popular with visitors.

For a round trip fee of $28.00 (at the time), travelers could board in Denver, and ride the rails through the Royal Gorge, over Marshall Pass, through the Black Canyon of Gunnison, Telluride, Lizard Head Pass and Mesa Verde.

The return went from Durango, Alamosa and back to Denver.  All the while displaying Colorado's most amazing mountains, canyons and wildlife.


The excursion trains ran for many years, until 1951, when the railroad went bust.

There are still some scenic railroad lines that incorporate many of the Rio Grande Southern's routes today.

You can take a look at them in the Colorado Scenic Railroads section of this site.



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