When you think of Switzerland, you think of quaint little alpine towns nestled into valleys with soaring peaks on all sides, and perhaps a train chugging its way up into those high peaks. But did you know that the Rocky Mountains of Colorado have their own quaint railroad to transport tourists to mountain meadows with scenic vistas? Today I got a chance to walk and talk to some people about the Switzerland Trail of Colorado and its unique history.
The Switzerland Trail refers to a narrow gauge railroad that was built in the late 1800s to provide greater transportation for the mining industry that had boomed up in the Front Range mountains. Narrow gauge railroads as the name implies are narrower track widths and were quite common throughout the Rocky Mountains. The narrower track was cheaper to build but more importantly allowed for tighter radius curves, and important attribute for building through mountainous areas. At that time, transportation of supplies via wagon was long and slow via the curving, steep wagon roads that had been built. Rail transportation would allow them to move much greater loads of supplies and workers in a more efficient manner to the mining camps located in Ward, Nederland and Eldora. The railroad initially ran from Boulder to the end of the line at a town called Sunset, but then was eventually extended all the way to Ward and Eldora, a small village located just west of Nederland.
During its existence, the Switzerland Trail railroad was run by three different companies and threatened by several floods. After its initial purpose of transporting mining supplies was proved obsolete by the invention of the automobile, it turned to tourism — running excursion trains to bring visitors to the mountains to enjoy the vistas and wildflowers of the mountain meadows. Tourism proved quite popular and led to the naming of the railroad and its route as The Switzerland Trail. The scenic train continued to run until 1919, even though it was operating at a loss, until a catastrophic flood damaged the tracks and shut it down for good.
Though you can no longer ride the railroads of the Switzerland Trail, you can enjoy the scenery and wildflowers by making your own journey on the trail
. A 12.5 mile piece of this historic trail is still open to the public between Gold Hill and the town of Ward, and can be hiked or mountain biked. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy a scenic part of Boulder County that was so important to our history as well.