All Aboard! Exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon by Train

Copper Canyon Train Chihuahua Mexico

“El Chepe” The Copper Canyon Train

Chihuahua, Mexico

Join me for a scenic ride through Northern Mexico’s most rugged & beautiful landscapes on “El Chepe” — the Copper Canyon train.

“WOW.” That’s the most intelligent expression of awe that came from my mouth while standing on the edge of a 400 foot cliff overlooking Barranca del Cobre, also known as the Copper Canyon.

It’s difficult to find better words when you’re in the moment.

We’d been traveling by train through one of Mexico’s greatest natural treasures, and the scenery was spectacular. But the views here in the little town of Divisadero were my favorite by far.

Mexico’s Copper Canyon dominates the southern landscape of Chihuahua, the country’s largest state. You really can’t appreciate how vast and remote this area is until you see it in person.

Cowboy in Creel Mexico

Local Cowboy in Creel

The Copper Canyon Train

In fact the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona isn’t quite as “grand”. Mexico’s version is both bigger and deeper than it’s neighboring cousin in the US.

There is a first-class railroad that will take you through the rough wilderness too. Affectionately called “El Chepe”, this train journey was a highlight of my recent trip into Northern Mexico. It was both comfortable and safe.

Starting in the city of Chihuahua, we chugged along across the desert before slowly climbing into the towering Sierra Madre mountains. El Chepe stops at many small towns over the course of it’s itinerary.

One such town was Creel, the big tourism hub of the region.

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

Just One of 37 Bridges Along the Route

Tarahumara Indians

Creel has a whopping population of 5,000. It also marks the highest point of the train journey at just under 8,000 feet. Beginning it’s life as a logging town — these days Creel is full of colorful craft shops, small family-owned restaurants, local cowboys, and Tarahumara Indians trying to earn a meager living.

The Tarahumara (known locally as the Rarámuri) live throughout these canyons in small wooden shacks and natural caves. They currently number about 50,000 and most still practice a traditional semi-nomadic farming lifestyle.

Tarahumara women sell beautiful handmade baskets and other crafts to help support their families.

Both the men & women are famous for their superhuman long-distance running abilities, as described in Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book “Born to Run“.

Tarahumara Indian Woman Mexico

Indigenous Tarahumara: Carmen & Little Maria

Diverse Natural Landscapes

After a night in Creel, we jumped back onto El Chepe for some of the most breathtaking canyon scenery yet. From the train’s vestibules between cars you can lean out and breathe fresh mountain air. It’s surprising chilly at the higher elevations too. They get snow here in the winter.

Because I was traveling as part of a tour with Authentic Copper Canyon, we were always notified when the best views were approaching.

The train stopped in the town of Divisadero for 20 minutes so everyone could drink-in the most incredible view of the whole trip.

Next it was on to Bahuichivo, and then to Temoris. This leg of the journey entails even more mountain tunnels, thick forests, tall bridges, sheer drops, and a few waterfalls.

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

Copper Canyon Landscape at Divisadero

Train Travel in Northern Mexico

The people you encounter on this trip are a big part of it’s appeal. It’s the old ranchers on horseback, indigenous Tarahumara women in colorful dresses, and groups of waving local children that really made me smile.

We disembarked in the tiny village of Temoris and jumped in a truck to explore mountain roads — but the full train route continues another 130 miles to Los Mochis and the Pacific Ocean.

The complete 400 mile, 16 hour train journey from Chihuahua to Los Mochis boasts 37 bridges and 87 tunnels along a rugged landscape that makes you wonder how difficult it must have been to build a railroad track here in the first place!

A true marvel of engineering for the early 1900’s.

Riding El Chepe through northern Mexico’s beautiful Copper Canyon was easily the best train experience I’ve ever had. ★


What About You?

Do you enjoy train travel? Where is your favorite route?


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Details & Information:

Location: Chihuahua City, Mexico
Place to Stay: Hotel Mansión Tarahumara
Company: Chihuahua-Pacific Railway
Cost: $170 US (First-Class ticket to Los Mochis)
Notes: Price of the trip varies depending on how far you go. There is also a 2nd Class section that is plenty comfortable for the budget-minded traveler. Check the railroad’s website for more details. [/message]


*This journey was made possible with help from Authentic Copper Canyon & Chihuahua Tourism. However, as you probably know by now, all opinions & experiences are my own. Learn More..


THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 5 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions

60 Comments

  1. Mike F
    August 18, 2016

    My Buddy and I rode our 1200cc Harley’s through Mexico back in 2005. (All back roade) On the way back we stopped in El Fuerte (The Fort) to take the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Al Pacifico to Creel. Since we had these 550lb bikes, we took the “2nd class” train. Me and 4 other guys picked up the bikes and loaded them into a freight car. (After they siphoned out all the gas). Riding with the local was pretty amazing. My buddy speaks Spanish pretty well so we were able to get a lot of local infomation. When we arrived in Creel, they brought a donkey cart and a 2’X12′ board and we coasted the bikes down. Riding to and part way through the canyon was amazing!

    Reply
  2. Pam
    August 4, 2016

    We are planning our annual winter trip to Mexico. We drive down from Boise, Idaho and camp and love it! This year we plan on taking the Copper Canyon Train…My question is what to do with our sweet doggie? Would it be better to
    go separately on the trip and stay with the dog..so my husband goes and I stay with dog and then I go and he stays with dog. Or, is there another way..perhaps someone we could leave the dog with??? Seems like a long shot.
    Es un problema, amigo.
    Pam

    Reply
  3. verona pentony
    July 27, 2016

    Dear friend great blog
    I am a lady solo traveller from Ireland and I would like to take this spectacular journey. I will have 10 days. Where should I fly to as I would like to take the Train journey through the Copper Canyon it has been on my bucket list. Where should I start and where should I stop over. I also want to learn about native american indians healing /culture. In September what is the temperature ? or when is the rainy season as too hot weather or too wet may not suit.
    Thanks you so much I would really like to do this in September 2016 just decided
    Regards
    Verona

    Reply
    • Eduardo
      August 3, 2016

      Hi! I’m from Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua and had taken the train twice….this coming week I will do it with my wife and two kids….being from the state what can I say….is something that you have to do …..you can fly to El Paso Texas USA, take a 4 hours bus to Chihuahua, Chihuahua or fly directly to Chihuahua….

      Reply
  4. irene smith
    July 9, 2016

    we are two women in our 60’s who want to do the Copper Canyon TRain however we would need to leave from either mazatlan or puerto vallarta as we will be there in January; would you suggest a tour or attempting it on our own?
    Love your blogs; happy trails and safe home

    Reply
  5. Brian Salter
    May 22, 2016

    Hi Matthew
    After a wedding in Chihuahua city my wife and I will only have a couple days to see some sights. How far will we have to go on El Chepe to get to the nice parts of Copper Canyon? Would it be worth the tedious trip there and back?
    Thanks,
    Brian

    Reply
    • Eduardo
      August 3, 2016

      You can do a short trip in two days

      Reply
  6. Laura Sikes
    March 28, 2016

    Hi There!!

    I am going to Chihuahua in April with my 18 month old son, husband, and senior age in laws. We would like to ride El Chepe but I think going to El Fuerte with a toddler is just too long. Any suggestions? Posada Barrancas? Where are the worthwhile attractions and what stop are they located at? I have read to skip Creel. Our trip is 6 days long which allocates about 4 for Chepe. Everyone speaks Spanish except for me so no language issues. We don’t plan to take a tour. Thank you in advance.
    Laura

    Reply
  7. Andrea
    March 27, 2016

    Hello I am going to Mexico for 3 weeks at end of Aug. My husband is Mexican and we are dong the whole visiting family thing… however I said I have to spend some time doing the adventure/tourist thing (we are from uk). Part of my plan is to get on the train from Chihuaha and spend 3 to 4 days doing the Copper Canyon trip. In peoples opinions should I go all the way to Los Mochis (I have to go back to Chihuaha)…or should I maybe just go as far as Creel? And which stop should I dedicate a couple of nights to? Thankyou

    Reply
    • Eduardo
      August 3, 2016

      Go to Los mochis, in my opinion…the best chepe segment is Divisadero to El Fuerte

      Reply
  8. Joan
    May 15, 2015

    I live in Tucson, AZ. A friend and I want to take the train through Copper Canon. I have spent hours researching and, while there is lots of information on how great the trip is and how beautiful the canyon is, I have not been able to find any info on trips from Tucson. Do you have any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Eduardo
      August 3, 2016

      Drive to El Paso, cross the border and take a 4 hrs drive bus to Chihuahua….you can start your train ride in Chihuahua

      Reply
  9. David Scott
    April 10, 2015

    are there any worries about the cartels on the trip.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      April 10, 2015

      While the cartels are around, you probably won’t see them, unless you head way out in the middle of nowhere. Either way, they generally don’t mess with tourists, as that would draw increased attention to what they’re up to. I actually did run into cartel members while traveling on my own later, but not in an area tourists normally go. And they didn’t bother me.

      Reply
    • Eduardo
      August 3, 2016

      Not at all…,

      Reply
  10. S Garcia
    May 30, 2014

    can anyone tell me what is wajikichic? I wrote the name in a journal i kept during a copper canyon trip but can’t remember what it is…i think it is a place name. thanks for any info. SG

    Reply
  11. George Baranki
    January 28, 2014

    Do you organize trips to Copper Canyon for Semana Santa? I was many years ago to see Good Friday celebration in Norogachi. Now I would like to go to see celebration of Good Friday or Palm Sunday by Trahumara in other important place there.

    Reply
  12. Ariane
    September 12, 2013

    I’m about to embark on this journey, and looking at Los Mochis – Creel on the train. As I’m a female solo traveller, I think I will stay in Creel, and come back for activities from there (the waterfall, a hike, a horse-ride, and the adventure park). Is the 20 minute stop at Divisadero enough to take it in? Many thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      September 12, 2013

      Hi Ariane! You’ll love traveling on El Chepe. :D

      The 20 minute stop is enough to take a photo from the amazing cliffs nearby, and maybe buy a souvenir from the Tarahumara who are selling crafts. It would be nice for a bit more time, but really it’s enough. You don’t need a whole day there. My recommendation is to be ready to jump off the train quickly when that time comes though.

      Reply
      • Ariane
        September 25, 2013

        Hi Matthew,

        Thanks so much. Very helpful. One more question… do you know… from Topolobampo – is it easy to get to Los Mochis, or even El Fuerte by a safe bus? I can’t find any info online – I’m hoping it is so easy no-one needed to write about it! Your blog is a pleasure to read, I’m so excited to see all these exciting places. I’m reading Born to Run at this moment! Many thanks!

        Reply
        • Paty
          January 10, 2015

          Hi did you find transportation from topolobombo to El Fuerte. We plan to make the ferry fromLaPaz do walk on and off. Any info is appreciated. Paty

  13. Sarah Somewhere
    January 23, 2013

    Wonderful images, looks like a spectacular journey! And that book sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing it. Getting really excited about heading back to Mexico now!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 24, 2013

      Definitely pick up the book. One of the best reads I’ve had in a long time.

      Reply
  14. The Traveling Fool
    January 21, 2013

    Always wanted to take the Copper canyon Train trip the place looks amazing.

    Reply
  15. Lisa @chickybus
    January 12, 2013

    I’ve done this trip, too. I started in Los Mochis and ended in Creel. Cool/interesting ride–some great views! I do recall it being as hot as hell in Los Mochis and sort of muddy in Creel (due to traveling in the rainy season). Still, it was fun.

    Love the photo of the guy in the cowboy hat. Saw many men like that there! Feels very different than other parts of Mexico, I thought…

    Reply
  16. Clint
    January 11, 2013

    I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I read Born to Run and heard Caballo Blanco’s story. Great photos too!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      That’s a great book. I actually got to run with the Tarahumara while I was down here. In fact, with the best of them. Stay tuned for that story! :D

      Reply
      • Dave Hensleigh
        January 17, 2013

        It was so good to have you on the journey Matt — we just returned from a running trip with the Raramuri. This one included ultra runners from Colorado –great times running with the runners. More soon on http://authenticadventure.net/

        Reply
  17. Jeremy Branham
    January 10, 2013

    I had no idea this area was so beautiful. I would definitely take a train through here. Looks like my kind of place with the mountains and landscape.

    Reply
  18. Cole @ FourJandals.com
    January 10, 2013

    Not sure I can add any other exclamations to the comments… Stunning scenery!

    Reply
  19. Ian of Borderless Travels
    January 9, 2013

    This ride looks amazing!! I’ve been wanting to visit Mexico for a while and now I have one more reason to do so :)

    Reply
  20. The Curmudgeon
    January 9, 2013

    See, now this is a good trip. Great scenery, riding a nice train, no bugs. Riding on top of a chicken bus, hoping you brought enough Preparation H, fighting off chickens and other animals is another story. I used to say “wow” when in the moment, but then I hit my thumb with a hammer, now I’ve added more words. Try it.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      I almost made the return trip like a proper vagabond, hitching a ride on the cargo train. It’s legal in Mexico. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great that day, and hitched a ride back in a truck instead. An 9 hour trip!

      Reply
      • Xabi
        July 23, 2015

        Hi Matthew, thanks for this great post, it is definitely useful now that we are preparing a trip from north to south of Mexico. Quick question, is still hopping on cargo trains legal in Mexico?Is it safe?Any other link, info or person I could ask??
        thanks!

        Reply
  21. TammyOnTheMove
    January 9, 2013

    The scenery is breathtaking. I love the fact that you always write about things nobody else ever writes about. But what have you done to the poor kid? It looks a bit shocked. :-)

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 9, 2013

      Thanks Tammy! :D
      She probably thought I was an alien from Neptune, with the super white skin & bald head…

      Reply
  22. Laurence
    January 9, 2013

    Well, as the other commentators have said – wow is basically the word to use! The first shot of the bridge got me – there’s an amazing sense of scale with the train in shot. Great job!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      Thanks Laurence. Makes you feel pretty insignificant winding through those deep canyons.

      Reply
  23. Craig Zabransky
    January 8, 2013

    “Wow” indeed… I couldn’t agree more. The views were just that… “Wow.” This is really one of Mexico’s treasures and a train ride for the ages.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    Reply
  24. Red Hunt
    January 7, 2013

    Wow, 37 bridges? I’m surprised that this train ride ranks so high, but I have heard that the views in and around Copper Canyon are pretty amazing – as witnessed in some of your pictures. A part of Mexico I’d love to get to eventually.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      It’s a steep ride, with drop-offs, waterfalls, and rugged wilderness. Incredible that they could even build the route in the first place..

      Reply
  25. Paul Thomson
    January 7, 2013

    Some fantastic photos Matthew! Train ride looks AMAZING! I should be hitting Mexico in about 6-8 months and will make sure to check it out! Safe travels brother!

    Paul

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      That sounds great Paul! You should definitely check out the Copper Canyon while you’re there.

      Reply
  26. Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey
    January 7, 2013

    Agreed that the trip on El Chepe through Mexico’s Copper Canyon is a top train trip, for sure. And the adventures and food and personal encounters we had OFF the train when we explored the vast canyon system with Dave from Authentic Copper Canyon were thrilling as well. Some were downright challenging–like hiking to the bottom of one of the deepest canyons (and back up again) http://trans-americas.com/blog/2009/11/copper-canyon-4-hike/

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Hiking in the canyon can definitely be tough. I’ll be sharing another story about that in the future.
      TEASER: The story includes ancient human bones!

      Reply
  27. Stephen S.
    January 7, 2013

    I’ve heard of copper canyon, but never realized how vast it was. Through in the bonus that you get to hang out with old ranchers! This is a must see! Great post Matthew!

    Reply
  28. Ryan - Pause The Moment
    January 7, 2013

    Sounds like an awesome adventure! Looking forward to reading more about your travels to Mexico.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Northern Mexico was beautiful & interesting. I have a lot to share.

      Reply
  29. Geoff
    January 7, 2013

    I’ve done the whole Creel – Los Mochis journey, and it is absolutely spectacular, definitely the best train journey I’ve ever done.

    It’s worth noting that if you can’t afford the First Class train, it’s well worth going with the Second Class one – that’s what I did on my tight backpacking budget, and it’s easily comfortable enough.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Yup. We walked back to check out the 2nd class area, and if I was on my own, I’d have done that. Was plenty nice.

      Reply
  30. Maria
    January 7, 2013

    Now there’s some impressive scenery! Trains (above or under ground) – maybe because I’m in the US where train travel is not so popular/available or because as a child it was a common source of transport for my family but it always has a romantic quality.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      This train journey has me wanting to explore more of them in the future as well.

      Reply
  31. David Paul Krug
    January 7, 2013

    Simply an amazing train journey that I still need to do before I exit this great country.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      No worries David. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch some beautiful scenery go by.

      Reply

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