Colorado's Switzerland Trail: A Brief History

The Switzerland Trail is a hiking, 4x4 and motorcycle trail/road located west of Boulder, Colorado. 

What is today known as the Switzerland Trail was first a narrow-gauge railway, which ran along branches from Boulder to Eldora, Gold Hill, and Ward, Colorado. Despite being a rail trail, the name "Switzerland Trail" actually dates back nearly as long as the railroad history of the route does.

The first bit of the trail dates back to 1883, when the Greeley Salt Lake and Pacific Railway began grading a right of way. In 1894, a significant flood destroyed the track work that had been done, and the company along with it.

In 1896, the project was completed by a new company, the Colorado and Northwestern Railroad. Many spur lines were completed by the CNWR, and it was them who coined the route as the "Switzerland Trail" in an attempt to attract tourists in 1898. 

"The railroad changed its focus from industrial use to tourism, taking passengers into the mountains to view wildflowers, sightsee, picnic, and celebrate holidays along with other activities." - Boulder County Open Space



This would prove to be quite the folly, as the extremely harsh weather meant tourists were restricted to visiting the area only about 2-4 months per year.

The Denver Boulder & Western Railway took over operations once the CNWR went bankrupt; but weren't much more successful at running the line profitably. In 1919, railroad operations were abandoned along the route.

William Henry Jackson photo of the Switzerland Trail, 1900.

In spite of the railroad no longer existing, the Trail was instrumental in providing transportation of bulk cargo to many mining camps and small towns that it served, and had far greater success as a surface road than a railroad. 

Today, the Switzerland Trail is maintained as a hiking/biking trail as part of the Boulder County road system.


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