Galloping Goose Trail (CO) History


At a Glance

Name: Galloping Goose Trail (CO)
Length: 20 Miles
Trail activities: Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: San Miguel
Surfaces: Dirt, Gravel
State: Colorado

A Brief History

The Galloping Goose Trail is named after an interesting contraption once used for passenger service by the Rio Grande Southern (RGS), the railroad which originally built and operated the right-of-way. This system was conceived during the height of Colorado’s mining boom and constructed one of the state’s many narrow-gauge networks. Many of these little operations were abandoned before World War II; however, the RGS grew quite large, and while it too struggled financially, the railroad managed to survive until the early 1950s. The Rio Grande Southern has drawn much interest over the years because of its fascinating, narrow-gauge operation situated in southwestern Colorado’s extremely rugged, yet quite beautiful backcountry of the San Juan Mountains. There have been several books and stories written about its history, while model layouts, along with a few pieces of preserved rolling stock (locomotives and cars), keep alive its memory.

When the Colorado Silver Boom struck in 1879, several railroads were projected to serve this lucrative industry. Many were never built for a variety of reasons, although the primary culprits were lack of funding and the difficulty in blasting a right-of-way through the San Juans. In addition, many that were struggled to survive after the boom collapsed in the early 1890s. A few gained the financial backing and proved successful enough to lay down more than 100 miles of trackage. Some of the names included the Denver & Rio Grande (later Denver & Rio Grande Western); Denver South Park & Pacific; and the Rio Grande Southern. The RGS was the vision of Otto Mears, who was an accomplished businessman in the local mining industry and had already started construction of the Silverton Railroad, a small system that would eventually extend from Silverton (and a connection with the D&RG) to Ironton/Albany, a distance of about 18 miles.

The narrow-gauge (3-foot) Rio Grande Southern was incorporated on November 5, 1889, and began construction south from Ridgway (where it connected with the D&RG) on March 19, 1890. Despite the difficulty of laying a grade through the rugged terrain, the RGS had completed 45 miles to Telluride by the end of the year. Construction continued on a relatively swift pace because the railroad was built in sections between Ridgway and Durango. As George Hilton notes in his book “American Narrow Gauge Railroads,” some segments were more difficult than others in an attempt to keep grades at least somewhat manageable. One of the most tortuous segments was at Lizard Head Pass at elevation 10,250 feet. The location’s most impressive engineering feature was the Ophir Loop, between Milepost 43 and 47, which used a tight horseshoe curve and nine different wooden trestles of various sizes to gain elevation to reach Matterhorn; here, grades were as steep as 3.5%. In the process, the line spanned the Lake Fork and Howard Fork of the San Miguel River.

Crews continued working to complete the Rio Grande Southern throughout 1891, and the first train ran the entire 162 miles between Ridgway and Durango on January 2, 1892. The railroad’s only significant branch was the 7 miles from Vance Junction to Telluride; its route roughly resembled a crooked “L.” It snaked its way southward from Ridgway, reaching small mining towns such as Placerville, Telluride, Ophir, and Rico before turning east from Dolores and terminating at Durango. In its first few years of operation, the RGS earned healthy profits from silver and gold ore from the numerous mines located along its system. It also handled other freight such as lumber, coal, livestock, and agriculture as well as passengers, mail, and various less-than-carload movements. Silver, in particular, became a stable source of traffic after the Sherman Silver Act of 1890 made it a profitable precious metal by increasing the amount the government was required to purchase monthly. Unfortunately, the oversupply resulted in the price of silver dropping sharply (and was one cause of the financial Panic of 1893), forcing then-President Grover Cleveland to repeal the act in 1893. This move seriously hurt the Rio Grande Southern, along with other railroads, and it entered receivership on August 2 that year.

The crash also caused Otto Mears to lose control of his railroad, and it would eventually become the property of the Denver & Rio Grande. The RGS struggled financially throughout much of the next half-century it remained in service. The railroad was extremely difficult to operate because of stiff grades, tight curves, and numerous bridges along its route. In addition, winters sometimes nearly shut down the railroad entirely, while flooding was seemingly always a threat. Incredibly, the RGS soldiered on through the 1920s when it continued hauling various ores and other remaining freight. The Great Depression resulted in a second bankruptcy on December 11, 1929. From here on, the company mostly limped along as an unwanted appendage of the then-Denver & Rio Grande Western. Its last bright spot occurred during World War II when the government was interested in the uranium ores and tailings mined in the region.

After the war, the RGS lost many of its remaining mining customers to trucks and was granted permission to suspend operations entirely on December 17, 1951. The unused tracks were later pulled up during the summer of 1952. Despite its closure, the Rio Grande Southern is fondly remembered for its breathtaking scenery with the slogan “Silver San Juan Scenic Line.” The views it afforded were so popular, the railroad often hosted special excursion trips for the public. And then there were the famous “Galloping Geese.” These interesting contraptions were the idea of RGS receiver Victor Miller who wanted to reduce operating costs by replacing passenger trains with a gasoline-powered railcar since by the early 1930s few folks still rode the railroad. They were somewhat similar to self-propelled railcars used on larger, standard-gauged railroads for the same purpose (such as the classic “Doodlebugs”). However, the “Galloping Geese” were custom-built from standard automobile sedans manufactured by either the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company or Buick.

The sedan section carried passengers, while a boxcar-like addition was attached to the rear for mail, express, and any other potential freight that might be available. The cars were painted silver with the stylized “Rio Grande Southern” name on their side. In all, seven units were manufactured between 1931 and 1936, and given #1 through #7. The “Galloping Geese” name derives from the back-and-forth swaying of the cars while traveling down the track as well as the “honking” sound of their horns. Today, six or the original seven are preserved.

Railroad attractions across Colorado include:

Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow-Gauge Railroad in Cripple Creek

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic in Antonito

Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge in Durango

Forney Museum of Transportation and Platte Valley Trolley in Denver

Fort Collins Municipal Railway in Fort Collins

Galloping Goose Historical Society in Dolores

Georgetown Loop Railroad in Georgetown

Greeley Freight Station Museum in Greeley

Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad in Leadville

Limon Heritage Museum & Railroad Park in Limon

Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig

Pike’s Peak Cog Railway in Manitou

Pueblo Railway Museum in Pueblo

Ridgway Railroad Museum in Ridgway

Rio Grande Scenic in Alamosa

Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Canon City

Tiny Town Railroad in Morrison (scale train rides)

Windsor Museum in Windsor, housed inside the town’s preserved Colorado & Southern depot

Do you have Historical Photos of the Galloping Goose Trail (CO)?
Share with TrailLink!

Nearby Trails

Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail

Colorado - 12.6 miles

The Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail will eventually link Delta with Ouray, a 65-mile route along the Uncompahgre River in southwestern Colorado. Currently,...

Animas River Trail

Colorado - 10.22 miles

Overview The Animas River Trail runs for 10.22 miles along the scenic Animas River in Durango, Colorado, and follows the Durango and Silverton...

Lower Loop Trail at Crested Butte

Colorado - 3.5 miles

Colorado's Lower Loop Trail offers a wonderful scenic route along the Slate River with views of snowcapped mountains and wildflowers. It connects the...


Colorado Riverfront Trail

Colorado - 22.1 miles

Running through western Colorado’s scenic Grand Valley, the Colorado Riverfront Trail provides an unparalleled biking and walking experience in Mesa...

Alpine Tunnel Trail

Colorado - 2.7 miles

Gorgeous scenery awaits those who hike the Alpine Tunnel Trail through the tall pine trees of Colorado's San Isabel National Forest. The trail has a...

Mill Creek Parkway

Utah - 2 miles

The hallmarks of Mill Creek Parkway are its ease and family-friendly pace. This is the trail you want to be on in Moab if you just want to take a...

Brush Creek Trail (CO)

Colorado - 5.5 miles

The paved Brush Creek Trail begins at Highway 82 and winds along its namesake creek, paralleling Brush Creek Road, for nearly 6 miles to Snowmass...

Moab Canyon Pathway

Utah - 12.7 miles

Overview Running along the southern border of Utah’s famed Arches National Park, the Moab Canyon Pathway offers plenty of “wow” moments. The nearly...

Crystal Valley Trail

Colorado - 6.8 miles

If you're looking for spectacular scenery, you've hit the jackpot with the Crystal Valley Trail (also known as the Crystal River Trail). The paved...

Aspen Airport Business Center Trail

Colorado - 1.7 miles

The Aspen Airport Business Center Trail, commonly referred to as the AABC Trail or ABC Trail, is a paved pathway, paralleling Highway 82, that leads...

Cemetery Lane Trail

Colorado - 1.2 miles

The Cemetery Lane Trail begins at Stein Park, tucked against the Roaring Fork River, and continues south along its namesake roadway to Highway 82....

Rio Grande Trail

Colorado - 42 miles

Colorado's Rio Grande Trail is built upon the Aspen Branch of the former rail corridor of Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW). Trains...

Explore by City

Explore by City

Explore by Activity

Explore by Activity

Log in to your account to:

  • View trail paths on the map
  • Save trails to your account
  • Add trails, edit descriptions
  • Share photos
  • Add reviews

Log in with Google

Log in with Apple


Register for free!

Join TrailLink (a non-profit) to view more than 40,000 miles of trail maps and more!

Register with Google

Register with Apple


Your account has been deleted.