Completed in 1961, the El Chepe train line runs 400 miles, from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, barreling through the Sierra Madres over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels, all while hugging 3,000-foot cliff walls. It delivers you into a remote area of Mexico, full of dramatic hikes, swimming holes, and ancient haciendas, where the local Tarahumara still live as they did 500 years ago. The train sets you up for the perfect hop-on-hop-off itinerary, since it passes each town along the line once a day in both directions. While the area does sit between the narco hot spots of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, this adventure is actually one of the hidden pockets of tranquility in northern Mexico and still largely gringo-free. Here's a five-day itinerary.
Land in Los Mochis but take a taxi to El Fuerte. It's a nicer town to spend your first night, and there's kayaking on El Fuerte River.
Board El Chepe and grab a first-class seat on the south side of the train for the best views. Ascend through the desert into sweet-smelling pine forests and, six hours later, get out in Divisadero, on the continental divide. Stay at Hotel Mirador, perched on the edge of the canyon.
The train to Creel doesn't leave until the afternoon, so strap into Divisadero's one-mile zip line, hovering 1,000 feet above the canyon floor, or sip margaritas on the deck at Hotel Mirador until it's time to go. When you arrive in Creel, an old logging town nestled at 8,000 feet in the Cusárare forest, take a 30-minute taxi ride out of town, to the electricity-free Sierra Lodge. Here, Tarahumarans cook your meals and guide excursions into the surrounding mountains.
In the morning, hike to the Cusárare waterfalls or, for a longer day, go all the way to the Basirecota hot springs. Return to Sierra Lodge for a mezcal and sotol tasting and another night in front of the communal fireplace.
Batópilas, an old silver-mining town at the bottom of Copper Canyon, is a terrifying five-hour, $20 bus ride from Creel, but it's the highlight of the region, and this is the best way in and out. It's also possible to hike or bike a section of the winding downhill and board the bus along the way. In Batópilas, check into the Riverside Lodge, a 19th-century hacienda showered in bougainvilleas, and spend a couple of days here. They have a great library of books on the region and Martín, the innkeeper, is always up for giving a history lesson or helping arrange a hike to the lost cathedrals or hidden swimming holes nearby. For the return trip, make your way back to Creel, and then catch the train back to El Fuerte, or even Los Mochis, for your flight home.
More information: Fly to Los Mochis. Round-trip first-class tickets on El Chepe start at $125; chepe.com. The Hotel Mirador is $163 per night, hotelsbalderrama.com, Sierra Lodge is $77 and Riverside Lodge is $110; coppercanyonlodges.com.