Antonito, Colorado: Railroad History and Outdoor Adventures


In Colorado’s Antonito, visitors can explore historic train depots and ride rail bikes along active tracks to experience remnants of the town’s locomotive past.

Beyond its iconic railroad attractions, this small Colorado town in Conejos County serves as a gateway to diverse public lands with abundant hiking trails, hot springs, and wildlife. Annual cultural events like the San Luis Valley Potato Festival and historic landmarks like the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad add to the charm. Whether you’re a history buff, outdoor enthusiast, or somebody looking to unwind at a slower pace, Antonito has something for everyone.


  • Antonito is a historic railroad town in the United States with iconic train depots and rail biking.
  • Antonito has access to diverse public lands and provides access to trails and hot springs for hiking, soaking, and viewing wildlife.
  • This important railroad hub hosts annual cultural events like the Potato Festival
  • In the San Luis Valley, you can find a blend of locomotive history and natural beauty.

Antonito’s Railroad History

Antonito was established as a railroad town as early as 1880, first serving the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and later the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. Its strategic location made it a crucial junction for transporting cargo and passengers across regions. Remnants of this locomotive history add nostalgic ambiance and intrigue.

The San Luis Valley History Museum displays artifacts and photos from the glory days of rail, while visitors can take self-guided walking tours to see depots still in their original locations in town. For a truly unprecedented experience, you can ride a rail bike along active tracks through memorable mountain scenery.

Cultural Festivals and Events

Beyond its railroad locales, Antonito comes alive through various cultural festivals and events year-round. The San Luis Valley Potato Festival in September celebrates the region’s potato farming heritage with food, entertainment, contests, and more. Visitors can sample potato delicacies and learn about innovations in agriculture.

Train enthusiasts flock to the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad events, including specialty-themed rides around the fall harvest, winter polar express, or summer wildflower seasons. Riders journey along the historic route while costumed characters and musicians enhance the experience.

Adventures in the Great Outdoors

Surrounded by diverse public lands, Antonito provides a perfect home base to explore the natural beauty of the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande National Forest and Great Sand Dunes National Park are just a short drive away. Hikers can challenge themselves by summiting the region’s “fourteeners” with peaks over 14,000 feet. Less intense trails meander through vibrant wildflower meadows and aspens changing color in fall.

After walking the trails, travelers can enjoy soaking in the warm waters of Sand Dunes Hot Springs. The local favorite, Ute Hot Springs, offers stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from its mineral-rich pools as well.

For those eager to spot wildlife, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent opportunities to see elk, deer, coyotes, and over 200 species of birds. Parts of the refuge remain closed for conservation, making guided tours a memorable way to access the protected habitat.

Small Town Hospitality

Despite its small size, Antonito overflows with hospitality at its family-run motels and locally-owned eateries. Budget-conscious travelers can stay at one of several vintage motels that evoke the town’s throwback charm. Meanwhile, foodies can indulge in Mexican-inspired dishes and fresh, high-altitude-grown ingredients from the San Luis Valley.

No visit is complete without stopping for a burger and milkshake at the historic Frosty Freeze drive-in restaurant. Their juicy “green chili cheeseburgers” pay homage to the flavors of New Mexico, which is only a few miles away. Locals and tourists gather here on warm summer evenings to dine al fresco.

Travel Tips for Responsible Tourism

While Antonito extends a warm welcome to visitors, keep these responsible travel tips in mind:

  • Avoid peak summer months if seeking solitude, and spring and fall have milder weather.
  • Bring cash for local businesses, as ATMs have limited availability.
  • Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect dune ecosystems.
  • Purchase required permits for recreational activities on public lands.
  • Leave no trace and pack out all trash to preserve natural spaces.

Future Developments Focused on Historic Preservation

Exciting investments continue in Antonito to boost tourism while preserving its cultural heritage. Recently awarded grants will rehabilitate the historic Steel Hall and Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot to house a rail museum and visitor center. Other projects aim to repurpose vacant buildings into affordable artist housing and studio space.

As the town evolves, civic leaders actively engage local communities to ensure changes align with residents’ vision for Antonito’s future. By supporting locally-owned businesses and respecting traditions, visitors play an important role in sustaining this balance.


What is there to do in Antonito besides railroad attractions?

In addition to train depots and rail biking, Antonito provides access to diverse public lands for hiking, soaking in hot springs, wildlife viewing, and more. Don’t miss cultural events like the annual San Luis Valley Potato Festival.

When is the best time to visit Antonito?

Spring and fall have mild weather perfect for outdoor recreation. Summer events are popular, but also peak tourist season. For a magical winter trip, visit during the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express ride.

Where should I stay when visiting Antonito?

Downtown Antonito offers budget-friendly motels with vintage charm. For more amenities, consider lodges near public lands slightly outside town or short-term vacation rentals. The iconic Steam Train Hotel is also an excellent option.

What is there to eat in Antonito?

Local eateries serve classic fare, Mexican-inspired dishes, and ingredients fresh from the San Luis Valley. Don’t miss burger night at the legendary Frosty Freeze drive-in restaurant.

What is the Steam Train Hotel located near, and what is interesting about it?

Antonito’s Steam Train Hotel is neighbors with the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, which is a National Historic Landmark built in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande’s narrow gauge San Juan Extension. The hotel is also only six miles north of the New Mexico border on Highway 285. One thing that makes the hotel interesting is that certain rooms are supposedly haunted.

What is the population of Antonito?

According to the 2020 United States Census, only 647 people call Antonito home. Today, less than 800 people supposedly live there.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.