Switzerland Trail

Gold Hill, Colorado (Boulder County)
Last Updated: 02/23/2019
4.4/5 (5 reviews)
Information
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 2-2
(EASY)
Length: 14.3 miles
Highest Elevation: 9179 feet
Duration: About 2 hours 30 minutes
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Gold Hill
Nearest Town w/ Services: Boulder
Official Road Name: Switzerland Trail
Management Agency: Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests
District: Boulder Ranger District
Distance:
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Highlights

Highlight: Switzerland Trail

Switzerland Trail began life as a narrow-gauge railroad bed that now offers beginner off-road enthusiasts a place to get comfortable navigating their vehicle through a slightly rougher terrain while learning proper tire placement through various mild rocky areas. The seasoned driver will appreciate the close proximity to the Boulder and Longmont Front Range coupled with wonderful views throughout the trail, and would make the perfect road to introduce out of town guests to the sites and experiences of off-roading. The trail offers some wonderful views into the towns to the east, as well as the towering mountains above treeline further to the West. While the trail itself is not very challenging, there are areas which are a narrow, one-vehicle width sections on a shelf with little to no room to pass another vehicle. There is little to no maintenance on this trail so caution should be exercised if snow or wet conditions are present, however, if snow wheeling is your thing this would make a good trail for it due to the absence of any steep grades. You will find yourself traveling along the same route that early visitors and miners would have traveled along on the train, and through several areas which were once train depots and stops. Very little remains of any of the mining towns which once populated the area. The townsite of Sunset is one exception with several residents still living there today in newer houses which replaced the original buildings long ago. Any remnants of the original town of Sunset are on private property and not accessible. There are no visible remnants of the original railroad or it's stops and depots along the Switzerland Trail, other than the road itself, and some of the earthwork that had to be done to create the rail bed. Plenty of primitive camping and picnic opportunities are available all along the trail. More information on the history of the railraod can be found in the link below. http://switzerlandtrail.blogspot.com/

Weather

7 day forecast for Switzerland Trail

Route Information

Technical Rating: 2-2
(EASY)

Dirt and/or rocky road. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 8" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 9" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 12" inches. Good tire placement likely. Can be steep but with good traction.

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Description

The trail follows what used to be a railroad bed through the foothills and up into the mountains west of Boulder. There are no big obstacles or challenges and since it was once a railroad bed, no steep grades making a very good beginner trail for anyone new to off roading. The trail starts from CO HWY 72 and immediately becomes rocky and bumpy so airing down your tires to smooth out the ride is advisable. You drive along the top of a mountain ridge for the first couple miles and then onto a shelf road with some nice views of the plains to the East in some areas. You will also encounter several notches cut through the mountain with steep rock walls on both sides where it was necessary to keep a smooth grade for the railroad bed. Soon you will come to a big open dirt area and a Forest Service sign with information on hiking trails in the area and camping rules. This area is the site of the Sugarloaf Train Station. Nothing remains of it today, but you can almost feel the importance of this spot as travelers from other areas of the country would have stopped here for a break from the train ride on their way up higher into the hills. The trail makes a full half turn back around to the left and continues on from here. You're back in the forest now traveling mostly on hilltops, but occasionally over short sections of shelf road. Soon you will come to the town of Sunset. This is one of the only remaining towns from the time of the railroad, although almost all buildings and other remnants have been replaced with newer houses. Anything left to see is on private property and not accessible. From here you begin a long ascent, mostly on shelf roads, to the top of Mt. Alto where there is a large picnic area with tables and even a fireplace and chimney which is all that is left of a pavilion that was yet another stop along the railroad. From here the road climbs along more shelf road, through a little more forest area, until you come to an intersection with Gold Hill Road. This is the end of the Switzerland Trail.
This trail is open all year long, however, exercise caution when snowy conditions are present.

Waypoints

1. Trailhead

This is the road to turn onto from CO HWY 72, a.k.a. Peak To Peak HWY.

2. Early Trail

Examples of the early part of the trail.

3. Views From The Trail

Some of the views you will encounter along the way.

4. Sugarloaf Station Site

This is the site of the Sugarloaf station along the original railroad route. The Sugarloaf hiking trail begins from here as well.

5. Fork In The Road

Taking the fork to the right at this spot takes you up a small hill to a scenic overlook.

6. Shelf Roads

Some views of some of the shelf roads you will encounter along the way.

7. Notches

Here you see a few examples of notches cut through the mountainside to maintain a smooth grade for the railroad.

8. Mt. Alto Picnic Area

Here is the Mt. Alto Picnic Area. The fireplace and chimney here are remnants of a pavilion that was once a stop along the railroad. There's a large parking area and plenty of dispersed picnic tables as well as fire/BBQ pits to enjoy a break along your drive.

9. End Of The Trail

This is the end of the trail where it meets Gold Hill Road.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 40.017901, -105.509101
From Lyons go 15.5 miles on CO HWY 7 to CO HWY 72 a.k.a. Peak to Peak HWY and turn left onto HWY 72. Go 15.9 miles to CR 120J and turn left, this is the start of the Switzerland Trail. From Boulder go 16 miles on CO HWY 119 / Boulder Canyon Drive to the first roundabout in the Town of Nederland. Take the 2nd exit from the roundabout which is W 2nd street / CO HWY 72. Continue 5.8 miles to CR 120J and turn right onto the trailhead.

Camping

Dispersed

There is dispersed primitive camping throughout the trail with no water or restrooms are available. Practice responsible camping and take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

Camping: Switzerland Trail

Writer Information

Chad Horning

Mapping Crew - Colorado

Chad's family moved to Colorado in 1983 when he was just 6 years old. Aside from a one-year work stint in Phoenix he has lived on the Front Range ever since. Starting at a very young age he had a fascination with big trucks and all types of high performance, custom, or modified vehicles. At the age of 8, Santa brought him a Big Foot Monster truck toy for Christmas. That only further instilled his desire to have a big truck when he grew up. At age 12, he started getting subscriptions to "Peterson's 4Wheel and Off Road" and "Off Road" magazines and by 14 he started learning how to drive farm trucks during the summer in Nebraska. For years he continued to amass magazines and knowledge and at 17 he finally bought a '79 Ford Bronco. He was instantly hooked!! A life of dreaming had finally come to fruition. Through the years, he has owned 7 various Ford & Dodge off-road capable vehicles. As it happens, life caught up with him and he wasn't able to pursue his hobby to the extent he'd desired and it was quite a few years before he got his most recent 4x4 vehicle, a '96 Ford Explorer XLT. One trail was all it took to be bitten by the bug again. In his spare time, if he's not out exploring a new trail, then you'll find him researching trails and rig upgrades online, or working on the Explorer. Chad's favorite quote; "Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." ~Lou Holtz~

Community

Questions & Answers (3)

Q: Are ATVS allowed on this trail. I'm getting conflicting information.
–Jered (04/07/2018)
A: Just went out there today, not 100% along this road but all the side trails had the ATV symbol on them
–chris (04/10/2018)
Q: Map to the trail
–Truman (03/10/2018)
A: You can call the Boulder Ranger district , 303-541-2500, and ask them for a MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map). They will send you one for free when you give them your address. I have done this with several locations in Colorado and they always seem to be pleased you are asking for one.
–Joshua M Wells (05/06/2018)
A: Hi Truman, We are not sure what your question or statement is, but you can download the GPX file for navigation.
–Todd (03/24/2018)
Q: Do you think a 2011 Subaru Forester XT would have any problem on this trail?
–Angelo (09/21/2017)
A: This trail is stock Subaru friendly. The Offroading Subarus of Colorado adopted the trail late 2017. Plenty of trails and spurs to explore but please stay the trail.
–Joshua M Wells (05/06/2018)
A: I have seen Subarus up there before. It is a rocky and rough, so prepare to get bounced around, but other than that, you should be fine. Just stick to the main trail, some of the side trails can get a little rougher than I would try with a subaru.
–Chad Horning (09/24/2017)
A: I was on this trail last week and I ran across a Subaru Outback just north of sugarloaf station. It was a bit rocky there but he made it through. I believe the Forester has the same ground clearance as the Outback so if you take your time on the rocks you should be fine.
–Chad Kirkland (09/23/2017)

Trail Reviews (20)

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Followed the trail as written in this guide. Right away not far into the trail we hit a really soft, deep drift. A few of our rigs made it fine, but the last few were smaller and had to be pulled through after some shoveling as well. A little farther down, came across 2 vehicles that needed help getting unstuck and then it was smooth with only a few inches on the ground all the way to waypoint 6. We bailed out there and took Fourmile Canyon out. Although this guide has the GPS, there are many offshoots and intersections not marked. The views are really good and even with fresh snow this trail was busy with all kinds if vehicle and hiking traffic.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Drove Switzerland trail from Sugarloaf Station (waypoint 4) to waypoint 9. From Sugarloaf station to the Pennsylvania Gulch intersection, the trail varied with sections of less than 2 inches of snow to rutted snow pack roughly 4 - 8 inches deep. We were early enough in the day to be the first to experience 2 - 3 inches of fresh powder on the rutted sections from last Wednesday's storm. From Pennsylvania Gulch to Waypoint 9 the trail varied from about 3 inches of snow to exposed ground. A 2015 Jeep Rubicon hardbody, stock height with 255 75 R17 tires, and a 1999 Tacoma, 3 inch lift with 275 70 R17 (both are just over 32 inch diameter tires) had no issues getting through the snow in 4WD high. The ruts will move the vehicle away from the side of the rut the tire is trying to climb, which increases the pucker factor when the rut moves the vehicle towards the cliff edge. But - no worries the rut's other side will move the vehicle away from the cliff edge. Just drive straight and realize the ruts will slide the vehicle from side to side on the snow a little bit. Clearance was not an issue. If snow wheeling is your thing, right now is a good time to go and experience the wonderful scenery along Switzerland Trail.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Ran this trail yesterday and had a great time. We were looking for some good snow wheeling opportunities, and while there wasn't that much snow on the trail, we still enjoyed some awesome views and a fun trip. We didn't run the trail all the way to the end, as we took Pennsylvania Gulch back to the trailhead (which presented its own challenges!). Overall, a super fun and easy trail...until more snow falls!

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Snow

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Just went up this trail in my stock 2015 4Runner. I do have Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires on it though. The trail starts off through a narrow forest road with private land on each side that is very pretty. This goes on for a few miles then you hit a pretty wide open trail that has lots of rocks but not too big. Just a lot of them everywhere. This is a very bumpy trail throughout. Once you get through that section it becomes a one lane trail that hugs the side of the mountains continuously going up. There seamed to be a lot of pull off spots right after or before the tight one land areas so just look ahead before heading into those areas. There are many spots to get awesome views and lots of places to pull off to the side if you want to rest or hang out for a bit. At the top of one of the mountains there is a large picnic area with what looks like a chimney stack in the middle. Had fun. Took me about 3 hours to go the whole way through stopping for lunch at the top for a bit. Towards the end there is a open area that had a few vehicles, even a Prius parked up there, not sure how he got there lol. There were camping and hiking trails at this spot. I am definitely going to do this again. I used the GPS tracks on this site to keep me on the path as there is one section where it spits off and I realized because of the GPS I had gone the wrong way. It's at a spot in a valley with some houses. Make sure you pick the correct road as they are not labeled that well or at all. This is only my 3rd trail I have taken and would be fine for beginners if you go slow and steady. I only turned it into 4WD for a little at a spot with some deep ruts across the road with some larger rocks. Probably didn't need too but like to turn it on to lube it up. Never hot the undercarriage so stock clearance was good. Was a good trail. Have fun and stay safe.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
First, this site and info was really helpful - thank you! The trail was as described and although it was slightly cloudy we still got to take in some great views. We encountered a few other vehicles and a few motorcycles but had no issues getting everyone through safely as there is plenty of space most of the way...although there were a few spots that were 1 lane for a decent distance. Overall great trail for a beginner. We never put it in 4WD. 2018 Raptor.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Very grateful I found this site and had the GPX file, trail description, and trail reviews before heading out to Colorado. Being armed with information helped offset my inexperience off road. The trail was easy enough, had lots of fun puddles from overnight rain, and we did the whole thing in 2WD (stock 4Runner except for tires). Only came across a couple hikers and motorcycles, which I guess is expected for a quiet Monday morning. Excellent views and had a great time.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Good easy trail with wonderful views. The family had come to Colorado for the holidays and this was a nice, close excursion from Denver. Nothing technical; just a rocky dirt road. We even saw a Toyota Corolla on the trail... it was having some issues but made it nonetheless. Great time.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Some great views here, not very crowded, dry. The northern section between gold hill rd and the sugarloaf station has some chunky rock to it, enough to keep me paying attention on my adventure bike. Not sure I'd want to attempt this in a civic. Some puddles and less rocky heading to the peak to peak hgwy; made for a fun afternoon.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Did a trail clean up with the USFS. The trail has some puddles left over from the last rain/snow but nothing that isn't managable. 2wds can do this trail. Plenty of camping spots were cleaned up on both the north and south sections of the trail. Remember to keep this area open by packing out what you pack in and stay the trail please.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Muddy and snow patches

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Just a trip out to get the wheels dirty, not to mention the rest of the Jeep, and get into the hills. Met the others in Nederland and headed to the south trail head. Aired down to 18 psi for comfort and took off in heavy fresh snow that at the trail head was already driven on. We did find some unadulterated snow further up the trail but that didn't last long as the trail opened up. Temps were reasonably warm even though it was cloudy most of the day with intermittent sprinkles of rain. A few people shared the trail but seemed quiet for the most part. Enjoyed lunch and then tackled a quick obstacle. The only time I used 4Low with lockers after a couple of attempts with out. Maybe in dry conditions there may have been no need. Ended the day airing up at Mill Site Inn just north of Ward on Peak to Peak. One of my favorite spots to stop and have a "refreshing" beverage or two. They had a fire in the wood stove so that was the spot to sit and reflect the day and solve the worlds problems. Nice to get out of the city.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Calvary 4-Wheelers made our way to Switzerland Trail on Saturday, February 17, 2018. We had three rigs along for the trip, my lifted Cherokee, Karen's stock JK and Jon's lifted Cherokee. We went in through 4-Mile Canyon and entered the Switzerland Trail at Sunset (the town, not the time) so we only did the northern half of the trail and don't have a report on conditions on the northern half. From Sunset to the Gold Hill Trailhead conditions were mostly dry with an occasional short stretch of snow-packed or icy trail.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Nice and easy trail, sunny day, some wind. Found a geocache hidden in the rocks. Met another truck and had to pass each other on a ledge, thank goodness I had a spotter. Met a bike rider and a hiker with her dog as well, busy trail! Though it was a short hour and a half, definitely loved every minute up there.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Easy trail. Great views. Dry and clear. The fall colors are just starting to change. Some areas are rocky and there are some rutted spots. Some trip books and trip advisers state it's passable in a 2WD low clearance car. I would not recommend it. A basic stock 4WD with reasonable clearance should do fine this time of year.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Calvary 4-Wheelers ran Switzerland Trail on Saturday, April 22, 2017 as out Early Spring Warm-up trip. There had been rain in the Denver area the night before and, as we made our way to the trail, it was obvious there had been a light dusting of snow in the foothills. Most of it was already melting off by the time we turned off Highway 72 onto the trail but a little stuck out into the trail here and there in the shady places. It wasn’t enough to affect the driving conditions, though. Shortly after starting the trail we met a large herd of trail runners coming up the trail. The trail is wide enough in that section that we only had to slow down a little to get past them. From there we made our way down to the Sugarloaf Mountain trailhead without incident. We stopped for a short break at Sugarloaf before heading on down to Sunset. I was disappointed to see that many of the temporary closures of some of the side trails due to the floods of 2013 seem to have been made permanent. We passed through Sunset and started our way up toward Mt. Alto. Along the way we met a Jeep coming down at one of the few sections not wide enough to pass. She ended up backing up for about a quarter mile to a pull out to let us pass. From there it was on to Mt. Alto and lunch at the picnic ground. After lunch we finished the trail to the Gold Hill Road trailhead. From there we headed straight across Gold Hill Road and continued on the lesser known and not as well used last segment of Switzerland Trail. This last segment of Switzerland Trail dead ends at private property before reaching Ward (the terminus of the old railroad) but there is an escape route up FSR 461, over the ridge and on to Sawmill Road. I hope to go back in a few weeks to map out this route and add it to the database. On our way over to Sawmill Road, we encountered a pair of moose laying down in a meadow several hundred yards off the road. It was either a very large cow with a yearling calf, or a bull who had shed his antlers and a smaller cow. As I told the rest of the group: I didn’t want to go over and check underneath to be sure. Once we reached Sawmill Road, we called it a day and headed home.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
When in Rome... I was in the area and figured that the trail should be clear being that it is a popular trail, and hadn't snowed much in a while. I was wrong! When we did find existing ruts from maybe last weekend, there were also regular deep snow drifts covering the old tracks. Snow was fairly deep for most of the trail, and the biggest issues were the completely wet and packed snow as well as the ruts under the snow. A lot of the trail, especially towards the west end, was consistently deeper than a foot. The snow drifts were easily two feet deep and some of the ruts pulled you a little too close to the edges so you had to be careful about carrying too much speed. But the trail has now been traveled from waypoint 1-4. The trail starting at waypoint 5 appeared to have been well traveled but we did not venture down that side.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
I made an impromptu trail run on the evening of the 5th. I began from the west side of the trail, and after passing the last driveway, the snow quickly became deeper. There were recent ruts in the 12+ inches of snow that were on the trail. About 3/4 of a mile into the trail, I came upon the vehicle that made the tracks, which was now stuck. After a while of maneuvering and digging, I was able to lead the way and plow through the snow and they were able to follow me out. The snow continued being at least 12" deep for most of the trail with leftovers of ruts from the previous snow. Lifted vehicles with good snow tires should not have a problem with appropriate recovery gear.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Took a nice relaxing trip on Switzerland trail this past weekend. It was raining and there is some standing water on the road. The only snow left in the area includes a few drifts along the edge in the shaded areas. The trail is easily passible with any stock 4WD vehicle.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
We did a fun run with 18 Toyota FJ Cruisers and a few 4Runners. It was snowy in the shade but no major ice and it was sunny. It was a great day, and the trail conditions were very good. I'd recommend this trail highly for any 4x4. There was a great picnic spot towards the end of the trail that was able to accommodate our large group.