There’s a little bit of Europe tucked away within Colorado’s Front Range.
Okay, that’s admittedly misleading. You can blame the false advertisement on the C&N Railroad Company, who coined the name “Switzerland Trail” in 1898 in order to attract tourists to what was then a bustling, narrow-gauge train line. Fortunately for all but the most nostalgic rail enthusiasts, the tracks have long since been removed, leaving behind a rugged roadbed and spectacular mountain views that are are every bit as alluring as they were back in the 19th century.
Today’s Switzerland Trail runs for approximately 14 miles across the Four Mile Canyon northwest of Boulder. With a gentle, double-track slope that rarely exceeds 5%, there’s nothing technical about the ride – just a series of prolonged inclines and long, winding descents that offer plenty of time to savor the surrounding Rocky Mountain scenery.
Just be on the lookout for mountain lions, who have been known to make cameo appearances from time to time.
Find the Perfect Ride for Cycling the Switzerland Trail:
To get to the northernmost trailhead, you’ll have to huff your way up Sunshine Canyon to the historic mining town of Gold Hill. Here you’ll find a general store (convenient for anyone who needs to rehydrate), as well as 3-room schoolhouse dating back to 1873. For the record, yes, it’s still in operation.
The Switzerland Trail intersects with Gold Hill Road just west of town, kicking off a nearly 5-mile descent into the canyon. It’s here where both the isolation and majesty of the Front Range come into full view. Once you cross the eponymous Four Mile Canyon Drive, a gradual 700-ft climb begins up the northern edge of Bald Mountain.
The southern end of the Switzerland Trail technically stretches to Glacier Lake just north of Nederland, however most cyclists will finish up their ride (or begin it, depending on which direction they’re headed) on Sugarloaf Mountain. From here, it’s just a straight downhill shot on Sugarloaf Road and Boulder Canyon Drive back into town.
Like all rides around this part of Colorado, you’ll need to pace yourself with regard to the elevation. The trail tops out at just under 8,600 ft above sea level – that’s a solid 3,200 ft higher than downtown Boulder. Be prepared to lose your breath, as much from the workout as from the incredible vistas that give this historic trail its name.