Rollins Pass West  
Maps/GPS:                    
USGS 7.5' Map: East Portal, Fraser
Statistics:
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 2 FR 149, CR80 13.3 8,990 to 11,680 ft. NA 3-4 hours
County: Grand
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Arapaho National Forest,
Sulphur Ranger District

Grand County

9 Ten Mile Drive, P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446

308 Byers Avenue
Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451
(970)887-4100


(970)725-3347

Summary: Rollins Pass, West, is the western half of the old Rollins Pass Railroad that climbs to the top of Rollins Pass. It passes the Rifflesite Notch Trestle.
Attractions: Railroad History
Seasonal
Closure:
Agency - Nov 16 to Jun 14
Best Time: June - Top may be snowed in
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows possible
Trail Heads
Accessed:
Rogers Pass, FT 93 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike
Broken Thumb, FT 60 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike, Motorcycle
Moffat, FT 71 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike
Forest Spur, FT 75 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike
Riflesight, FT 76 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike
Trestle, FT 77 - Hike, Horseback, Mountain Bike
Corona Lake, FT 8 - Hike, Horseback
Rollins Pass, FT 5 - Hike, Horseback
High Lonesome, FT 7 - Hike, Horseback
King Lake, FT 901 - Hike, Horseback
Bob and Betty, FT 810 - Hike, Horseback
Camping: There are some dispersed campsites along the lower section of the road.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp and explore the 4WD roads around Rollins Pass.
Fall Colors: Average - There are aspen along the lower section of the road.
Navigation: From Winter Park, CO. head southeast on Winter Park Drive toward Balsam Drive for 0.1 miles. Turn left onto Old Town Drive and go 0.2 miles. Sharp left onto US-40 W and then go 0.7 miles. Turn right onto County Road 80/Forest Road 149 to start the Rollins Pass West 4WD road.

From Fraser, CO. head southeast on US-40 E/Zerex Street toward Eisenhower Drive for 4.6 miles. Turn left onto County Road 80/Forest Road 149 to start the Rollins Pass West 4WD road.
History: Fawn Creek Pass
The South Fork of Ranch Creek use to be called Fawn Creek, giving the pass its name. There was a water tank and wye for the Rollins Pass Railroad line at this low pass.

Riflesight Notch
Riflesight Notch (spelled this way on topo maps) is a pass along the Rollins Pass Railroad line where a trestle and tunnel loop allowed the rail line to descend this area.
Riflesight Notch 1903

 


Rollins Pass
Rollins Pass (then known as Boulder Pass or Rollinsville Pass) is linked to the railroad that once crossed this Continental Divide crossing. The pass was used by Native Americans to connect the plains with the inner mountains. Captain John Fremont and his party crossed the pass in 1844. Two of his party are said to be buried on the east side of the pass. In the 1860s the Union Pacific Railroad looked at the pass as a possible route for a railroad, but decided against it after a hard blizzard. The first recorded use of the pass by a wagon train was in 1862, while Colorado was still a territory.

John Rollins received approval for his toll wagon road on Tuesday, February 6, 1866. The Council and House of Representatives of Colorado Territory passed an act signed by the governor approving the wagon road as the "Middle Park and South Boulder Wagon Road Company." Records reflect the incorporators as "John Q.A. Rollins, Perley Dodge, Frederic C. Weir." The "Rollins road" through Boulder Pass was not completed until the first half of August 1873. While the newspaper articles cited "wagons can now be taken over this route without the slightest trouble," other articles countered, "the trail ... is splendid for horses but fearful for wagons" and "the rocks, mud-holes, bogs, creeks, boulders and sidling ledges of that road, can only be appreciated by being seen, the only wonder is that a wagon can be taken over at all." Newspaper records reflect on Friday, June 12, 1874, James Harvey Crawford along with his wife, Margaret Emerine Bourn Crawford, made pioneer history as the first (nonindigenous) couple to cross Rollins Pass by wagons, and Mrs. Crawford is credited as the first woman to cross the pass. That day held many challenges, including a two-hour blizzard, "which was of terrific violence" and she remarked in a newspaper article, "the bumping was so hard I thought I was nearly dead." As there was no formal road constructed from "Yankee Doodle Camp on up, only an Indian trail, she and the children had been left behind while her husband took the wagon pulled by a pair of mules, a team of horses and a yoke of oxen on up and camped. Then he came back for her with the team and the running gear only of the wagon, and she had to hold the children on the running gear somehow, despite the dreadful bumping" with the "wagon almost standing on end."

The pass was used heavily in the latter half of the 19th century by settlers and at one time as many as 12,000 cattle at a time were driven over the pass. The wagon road had one tollgate and the following rate structure: "For each vehicle drawn by two animals, two dollars and fifty cents; for each additional two animals, twenty-five cents; each vehicle drawn by one animal, one dollar and fifty cents; horse and rider and pack animals, twenty-five cents; loose stock, five cents per head ... horse with rider, or pack animal with pack, ten cents." The cost for nonpayment of a toll was the same as causing intentional damage to the road: $25. In 1875 a mail contract was awarded for the area between Rollinsville and Hot Sulphur Springs, but traffic was starting to use the new Berthoud Pass road. By 1880 the road was falling into disrepair and was only being used by locals.

There were many efforts to build a railroad over Rollins Pass in the 19th century and all attempts were met with impassable engineering challenges, financing issues, or both: GHS, Jefferson, & Boulder County Railroad and Wagon Road (A.N. Rogers' line) in 1867; Union Pacific in 1866; Kansas Pacific in 1869; Colorado Railroad (B. & M. subsidiary) in 1884-two tunnels were located; Denver, Utah & Pacific in 1881 (construction started and a tunnel located). The remains of the latter tunneling attempt can still be seen on the northern slope of the rock wall at Yankee Doodle Lake and the debris from the attempted excavation of the tunnel was placed at the northernmost part of the lake where pulverized granite tailings can be seen rising out of the water.

In the early 20th century, David Moffat, a Denver banker, established the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway with the intention of building a railroad from Denver toward Salt Lake City, Utah by way of a tunnel under the Continental Divide. In April 1902 Moffat began surveys followed by construction in January 1903, starting from the east side of Rollins Pass. In the end the railway only reached from Denver to Craig, Colorado, known as the Moffat Road. The line included a 23-mile stretch over the top of the Continental Divide, at Rollins Pass, with a two to four percent grade and switchbacks along many sections. This was one of the highest standard-gauge railroads ever constructed in North America. The railroad over Rollins Pass was always intended to be temporary until what would later become the Moffat Tunnel was constructed and opened. Because it was temporary this over-mountain route was constructed with cost-effective materials like wooden trestles instead of iron bridges or high fills and wyes instead of turntables. Construction of this route was very dangerous and deadly. In a single day, 60 Swedish workers were killed when a powder charge exploded prematurely during the construction of the Needle's Eye Tunnel.

The route beyond Tolland had three tunnels, Tunnel #31 (at the second switchback), Tunnel #32 (The Needle's Eye Tunnel), and Tunnel #33 (the Loop Tunnel at Riflesight Notch). All three tunnels have caved in or have had multiple partial cave-ins. The most dramatic landmark on the route is the Riflesight Notch Loop, located at Spruce Mountain. It is a 1.5-mile spiral loop where trains crossed over a trestle, made a 90 degree gradual turn to descend 150 feet, and passed through Tunnel #33 underneath the trestle. A railroad station, Corona (Spanish for crown), was established at the summit of the pass, with a red brick and green roofed dining hall, weather station, power station, and lodging at the Top of the World hotel. In summers, the railroad advertised the train ride from Denver to Corona as a trip, "from sultry heat to Colorado's north pole" tourists could stand in snowdrifts in the middle of July or August. William Lininger built a hotel on top of Rollins Pass at Corona in 1907 to serve these tourists. He then sold the building to the railroad in 1917. Despite the fact that the tracks at Corona over the pass were enclosed in almost continuous snowsheds, trains were often stranded for several days (and in some cases up to 30-60 days) during heavy snowstorms because snow could fall or be blown through the wood planking of the sheds. Coal smoke and toxic gasses would collect in the snowsheds causing temporary blindness, loss of consciousness, and sometimes death. Workers on the Moffat Road had an adage: "There's winter and then there's August". Even with rotary plows on the front of the steam engines, it was these heavy snowstorms that weighed on the finances of the Moffat Road railroad, and drove the need for a permanent railroad tunnel through the Rocky Mountains under Rollins Pass and into Middle Park.

The single-track 6.4 mile long Moffat Tunnel opened just south of Rollins Pass on Sunday, February 26, 1928. The Moffat Tunnel eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature along the Rollins Pass route, it also resulted in considerable time savings and cost reductions, money that use to be spent for snow removal atop Rollins Pass. After the first year of operations through the Moffat Tunnel, the cost savings were dramatic. After the Moffat Tunnel opened, the tracks over Rollins Pass remained in place and were maintained at least as late as July 1929 as an emergency route. It was needed only once for a several day-long closure. On Thursday, July 25, 1929, dry rot of wooden timbers caused a collapse and 75 feet of rock caved-in and blocked the Moffat Tunnel near the East Portal. It took until Tuesday, July 30, 1929 for the tunnel to be cleared of debris. Permission to dismantle the rails on Rollins Pass was granted by the Interstate Commerce Commission on Saturday, May 18, 1935 and the rails were removed the following summer. The west side was cleared by Tuesday, August 11, 1936, and the east side 14 days later. The contractors worked non-stop, including overnight, to remove the rails and ties.

Plans to convert Rollins Pass into an historic automobile road were first published in November 1949. On Saturday, September 1, 1956, Colorado lieutenant governor, Steve McNichols, opened Rollins Pass as a non-vital and seasonal recreational road. From 1956 to 1979, Rollins Pass was a connecting road over Rollins Pass for automobiles. In 1979 a substantial rock fall inside the Needle's Eye Tunnel closed the road over Rollins Pass. In 1989, after several engineering studies and rock bolting to strengthen the Needle's Eye Tunnel, with the help of the Rollins Pass Restoration Association, the complete road was re-opened, but it closed permanently in 1990 after a rockfall injured a sightseer. Since July 1990 no motorized route connects across the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, effectively making each side a dead-end uphill route that must be traveled again.

Arrow
Arrow was incorporated in as Arrowhead in December 1904 as a municipality. It was once a prosperous boomtown along the Rollins Pass Railroad route. The population was said to be over 2,000 based on mail service. Arrow was a thriving business center with four sawmills, a train station and stockyards. The town also had eleven saloons, several hotels and restaurants, a couple general stores, and a school. Arrow also had the very first gaslights in Grand County which illuminated the business district at night. The demise of Arrow is attributed to the National Forest Service burning the buildings down due to them being a fire risk. This seems to inaccurate. In the early 1980s Dr. Gilbert Lininger, who grew up in Arrow, claimed that the town burned down in 1927 as a result of arson by the owner of the Arrow Caf´┐Ż, who had hit on hard times, set his place on fire and the entire town burned down with it. An article discovered on the front page of the Middle Park Times dated October 1, 1915 says the town of Arrow burned down in late September. The article with the headline, Arrow in Ashes, reported that the town was "was no longer in existence." The 1915 article reported that "the post office and telephone office were wholly consumed together with the entire business section of the town." Only the railroad buildings and a couple of homes remained. The town was never rebuild as the Moffat Railroad was expanding westward.
Arrow around 1908

 

Arrow postcard 1910

 


Helmuth, Ed & Gloria The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87108-841-X, 1994. Print.
Description:
Starting from US40 you will climb along a graded road through aspen trees. The road will follow the old railroad grade, for the most part, as it gradualy climbs into the forest.
Start of Rollins Pass West road. Looking back southeast.

photo by:
Adam M

The road will make some wide sweeping curves through the trees, passing a spur road on the right and a small parking area on the left side of the road. Just before you pass another old spur road on the right you will be leaving Forest Service lands. From here you are on County Road 80. The road will make a sweeping curve to the east after passing some more closed spur roads, then it will turn south and pass through a cut and then you will head into the forest again. The road will pass through a small grove of aspens and come out into the open before making a sweeping loop south and then north again. Here on the left side of the road on a rise in the aspen trees is a short spur road on the left that goes to some campsites. This is the site of the town of Arrow. From here the road will make a curve to the east and come to a large open intersection where the Aqueduct, FR128/CR81, crosses the Rollins Pass West road.
Rougher section after crossing Aqueduct Road

photo by:
Adam M

The road will now be a lane and a half wide and be rougher. The road will head into the trees, passing two dispersed campsites, before crossing back onto Forest Service lands. The road will cross a somewhat open ridge and then pass a dispersed campsite on the left in the trees. Further along where the road opens up out of the trees you will pass the Forest Spur, FT75, mountain bike trail on the left and them come to the top of a low saddle. This is Fawn Creek Pass.
Fawn Creek Pass looking east

photo by:
Adam M

Just a short distance ahead on the left is spur road FR149.5I, which heads down below the road to some dispersed campsites. This is the Morgan Spur where trains were pulled off the line to allow trains to pass each other. Continuing on the main road you will come to a curve across the South Fork of Ranch Creek. This was the site of the Ranch Creek Wye. The road will leave the railroad grade and make a sharp curve across the creek, then rejoin the railroad grade, your driving part of the wye here. You will pass the old railroad embankments where a short bridge use to be that crossed the creek. The road will now climb up the east side of the valley through the forest. When you reach a hairpin turn, where Riflesight Trail, FT76, continues from the hairpin turn, the old railroad grade followed the trail. You will now leave the railroad grade and climb further up the side of the valley back the other direction. When you reach a low saddle there will be a campsite on your left which is above the railroad grade. Following the road you will come into a more open area and pass another campsite on your right. Just around the corner from the campsite is the Trestle Trail, FT77, which is above the road over your left shoulder. There are some buck and rail fences here. This trail is the actual railroad grade that makes the loop and goes out to the Riflesight Notch Trestle. Continue down grade, as your on the old railroad grade now, and you will pass some old railroad ties sticking out from the rock debris.
Old railroad ties along the road

photo by:
Adam M

Next you will come to a wide area in the road where it crosses the head of the South Fork of Ranch Creek. In front of you will be the trestle and the fallen in railroad tunnel #33.
Riflesith Notch Trestle and collapsed tunnel

photo by:
Adam M

The road will leave the old railroad grade, cross the creek, and do a hairpin turn climbing up to the trestle, connecting back into the old railroad grade.
Riflesight Notch Trestle

photo by:
Adam M

Riflesight Notch Trestle

photo by:
Adam M

On the other side of the road from the trestle is the Rogers Pass, FT93, trail.
Road beyond the trestle

photo by:
Adam M

The road will now head out onto the gradual slope of the west side of the Continental Divide as it heads toward Rollins Pass. You will pass an un-mumbered spur road on your left and then come out above timberline with Mount Epworth ahead of you.
Lokking back at the trestle. Highway 40 is in the background.

photo by:
Adam M

Road above timberline

photo by:
Adam M

After coming around a ridge you will be above the Middle Fork of Ranch Creek in the valley below Mount Epworth. As you climb you will pass Deadman Lake in the valley below.
Looking back west at Winter Park Ski Resort above Deadman Lake

photo by:
Adam M

Further on you will pass the Corona Lake, FT8, trail above Pumphouse lake. As the road continues up to the pass you will notice large amounts of lumber along both sides of the road. These are the remains of the extensive showsheds that were build over the tracks. Just before the pass you will pass the Boulder Wagon Road, FR501.1, on your right. This road is mostly on the Boulder Ranger District and heads over to the east side of the pass. It ends near the Needles Eye Tunnel and does not continue down the east side. To access the east side of the pass you will have to drive the Rollins Pass East, FR149, road starting at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel. Just past this spur is the foundation of a building on the right and on the left are the grades for a wye. Just a bit further is the parking area at Rollins Pass. There is a kiosk with a short history of the pass and a map of the railroad line.
Rollins Pass kiosk

photo by:
Adam M

Rollins Pass kiosk

photo by:
Adam M

Past the parking area with the kiosk is another cabin foundation. To the left is a trail up a small rise to the north. This leads to the foundation of the Corona Hotel, or Top of the World Hotel. It was once a large well outfitted establishment.
Foundation of Top of the World Hotel

photo by:
Adam M

Foundation of Top of the World Hotel. Railroad grade in center distant.

photo by:
Adam M

From the parking area you will head back down the way you came.

Data updated - November 7, 2022     4WD Road driven - September 3, 2022     Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2022