Switzerland Trail  
USGS 7.5' Map: Ward, Gold Hill
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 1 Cnty93, Cnty120J, FR93 16.45 7,720 to 9,017 ft. None 3-4 hours
County: Boulder
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Roosevelt National Forest, Boulder Ranger District
Boulder County
2140 Yarmouth, Boulder, CO 80301
2525 13th St. Suite 203, Boulder, CO 80306
Summary: The Switzerland Trail follows the old Colorado & Northwestern railroad grade from Ward, Colorado to Nederland, Colorado. The main section winds down to Sunset from the west of Gold Hill or Sugarloaf Mountain.
Attractions: Railroad history
Natural - Closed by heavy snows.
Best Time: June - May be open unless heavey snows
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Best
Trail Heads

Camping: There are some dispersed camp sites on the north end near the Mount Alto Picnic Ground.
Base Camp: Good area to base camp with access to many 4WD roads at the south end of the Switzerland Trail.
Fall Colors: Good - There are groves of aspen trees all along the route.
Navigation: To connect to the middle of the Switzerland Trail start from Boulder, CO. head west on Colorado-119/Boulder Canyon Drive toward 9th Street. Continue to follow Colorado-119 for 5.1 miles. Turn right onto County Road 122/Sugarloaf Road and go 4.7 miles. Turn right onto Sugarloaf Mountain Road and go 0.8 miles to an open area above the private homes. This is the main connection into the middle of the Switzerland Trail 4WD road.

To start from the western end of the Switzerland Trail start from Nederland, CO. head west on West 2nd Street toward North Jefferson Street going 0.3 miles. Continue onto Colorado-72 W/Caribou Street and continue to follow Colorado-72 West for 5.5 miles. Turn right onto County Road 120J, this is the western end of the Switzerland Trail 4WD road.

To start from the northern end of the Switzerland Trail start from Boulder, CO. head north on Colorado-119/US-36 West. Continue to follow US-36 West/28th Street for 3.5 miles. Turn left onto Lee Hill Drive and go 1.6 miles Turn left to stay on Lee Hill Drive and go 3.7 miles. Turn left to stay on Lee Hill Drive and go 0.7 miles Turn left onto Lefthand Canyon Drive and go 8.9 miles. Turn left onto Sawmill Road and go 0.8 miles. Turn left onto a dirt road just before a private drive. You will follow the edge of the private property along a ridge and will drop down onto the railroad grade. This is the north end of the Switerland Trail 4WD road.
History: The Switzerland Trail railroad grade began in its middle at the town of Sunset. Sunset was the terminus for the Greeley, Salt Lake & Pacific narrow gauge railroad line that ran 13.2 miles up Four Mile Creek from Boulder. The line was completed in 1883, and Sunset, originaly known as Penn Gulch or Pennsylvania Gulch, was the end of the line. In 1894 a large flood damaged the tracks beyond repair and they were pulled up. In 1897 the Colorado & Northwestern built a second railroad over the same route, but moved the line to higher ground in places. Also in that same year the line was extended from Sunset up out of Four Mile Canyon along the north rim, around some low mountains, to the town of Ward, a distance of 12.8 miles. June 23, 1898 was the official passenger train over the tracks. On June 28th the formal opening to passenger traffic happened with officials and special guests from Denver riding the train. It was advertised as the "Formal opening of the Whiplash Route from the verdant valley of Boulder to the cloud kissed camp at Ward". The railroad crossed over Culbertson Pass, originally called Gold Hill Pass, just west of the famous Mount Alto area. The pass divides Lefthand Creek to the north and Four Mile Creek to the south and is located at the long curving cut in the hillside west of Mount Alto. In 1904 the second portion of the Switerland Trail line was completed from Sunset to Eldora, a distance of 20.1 miles. This section climbed up the south side of Four Mile Canyon to Sugarloaf Mountain and then headed west to Eldora. The line was also called the Whiplash Route due to the back and forth course of the tracks, similar to the whips used at the time by drivers of stages and wagons.

Near Sugarloaf Mountain, the town of Sugarloaf once existed. It started in the early 1860s when prospectors found gold ore and used an arrastra to crush the ore to free the gold. Once the surface ore was depleted the area was abandonded. In 1873 another boom took place when tellurium containing gold and silver was discovered. The Livingston Mine near Sugarloaf produced $300,000 worth of gold. After it closed a prospector named Miles discovered rich gold ore in 1902 in a potato patch close to the old mine. In a week Miles prospected $20,000 from the potato patch using a scraper. Of course the mine was named the Potato Patch. In 1915 the United States Gold Corporation constructed a large cyanide mill near Sugarloaf to process low-grade ore. By 1940 the mill was closed and during World War II the equipement in the mill was pulled during a scrap drive.

Because the Colorado & Northwestern could not make it on the revenue from hauling mine ore, it turned to tourists to finance the line. A 20x30 foot depot, sidings and a wye were installed at Sunset. The Columbine Hotel in Sunset put up the tourists and kept them fed in the large dining hall. In 1909, the Colorado & Northwestern Railroad was replaced by the Denver, Boulder & Western, often dubbed the "drink beer and wine" by its carefree passengers. In 1919 a flood washed out miles of track and took out some of the railroad bridges causing the line to shut down and the tracks pulled up leaving the rail road grade as a rough road. The demise of the line came from a variety of factors, including: the extremely harsh winter conditions in the Rocky Mountains, which limited the tourist trade to about four months per year, forced frequent line closures, and periodically killed train crews, plus the advent of the automobile and the closure of the surrounding mines.

Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 1, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 1998. Print.
Wolle, Muriel Sibell Stampede to Timberline, 2nd ed. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 1974. Print.
Helmuth, Ed and Gloria The Passes of Colorado, 1st ed. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing, 1994. Print.
Starting off of Hwy72 north of Nederland, the Switzerland Trail railroad grade heads east past Glacier Lake. At one time there was a tourist pavilion and railroad "Y" at Glacier Lake, today it is private property. This section of County Rd 120J has fencing and private property signs along the road. In about a mile you will be back on public lands. On the north side you will pass an intersection with County Rd 95J which heads down to Sunset. The road will follow a ridge eastward working its way along hills and the top of short gulches. For the most part the road is a two lane natural surface road with rocks and pot holes strewn along the way.

As you continue east you will pass the Gordon Gulch, FR233, road to the south. There are two spurs that tie into the Gordon Gulch area. Further along on the north side of the road will be the closed Bear Gulch, FR235, 4WD road. It was damaged in the 2013 flood, and was revegetated by the Forest Service in 2014. There are a few spurs up onto the flank of Bald Mountain and the Farewell Gulch, FR237, road newtwork on the south side of the road. Less than a mile past these side roads you will come to a large intersection. To the south is an access through private property to the Sugarloaf Road and County Rd 122. To the east is a closed road that use to go up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. When Boulder County took possession of Sugarloaf Mountian in 1994 they closed the old road. To the north is the continuation of the Switzerland Trail as County Rd 93.

From the saddle below Sugarloaf Mountain the railroad grade begins its descent down to Sunset, a small town in Four Mile Canyon below. There will be a few tight section along this part of the road where the railroad grade cuts through small hills and loops into gulches. The road will be a bit more rocky as you head down. In Sunset you will cross County Rd 118 and then head back up past some private homes. The Switzerland Trail will now climb up the north side of the valley. This section has more views to the south as a large part of the railroad grade is in more open terrain. The road will get narrower and there will be a few tight curves. There are only a few "cuts" into the hillsides for the railroad grade. After heading northeast making the ascent up to the top of Potato Gulch, the road will loop around and head back west toward Mount Alto Picnic Ground. All that remains of this once large pavilion, quartz fountain, and picnic area is the stone fireplace. There is a parking area with the old remains of the quartz fountain along its access road.

After you leave Mount Alto you will continue west. The road will become mainly a ledge road as it works its way toward County Rd 52, the Gold Hill Road. You will pass a road network on the north side of the Switzerland Trail, the Mount Alto network, FR456, that climbs up a steep hill and works its way through the forest to County Rd 52. The railroad grade will make a sweeping curve through a large "cut" in the mountain that opens onto a fill that crosses a small gulch. From here it is a short distance to County Rd 52.
Railroad cut near Mount Alto, Spetember 2000 (Culbertson Pass)

photo by:
Adam M

To continue on the Switzerland Trail, cross County Rd 52. This is now FR93. It will loop around a large hill passing an intersection with the Knob, FR458. Continue on FR93, the Switzerland Trail road. You will cross over a few more railroad fills as the grade works around the hills. Finally you will come to an intersction with Sawmill Cutoff, FR461. The railroad grade goes another 0.25 miles to where it ends as a road. Take the Sawmill Cutoff to the left and climb a hill to the top of the ridge. From here the Sawmill Cutoff road heads southwest to the Sawmill Road, County Rd 95. If you take County Rd 95 down hill to the north toward Ward you will cross a section of the railroad grade. This last part of the Switzerland Trail from where FR93 ends, is not drivable. It looped to the west around the wide valleys and came into Ward from the south following along Hwy72. Some of the railroad grade is still visible from Hwy 72 down in the gulches you cross.
Data updated - June 12, 2016       4WD Road driven - June 24, 2010       Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016