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Tunnel District
Rollins Pass
Moffat Tunnel
Hot Sulphur Springs
Steamboat Springs

Royal Gorge
Moffat Route
Tennessee Pass
Marshall Pass
La Veta Pass
San Juan Area
San Luis Branch
Santa Fe Branch



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Moffat Route
Denver to Craig



The Moffat Route is one of the best known and most loved railroads in America. Named after its founder, David Moffat, this line was made famous in the photography of L.C. McClure in the 1900's, and achieved world acclaim with the construction of Moffat tunnel in the 1920's.

David Moffat began the Moffat Route, originally named the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific (DNW&P), in 1902 with the intent to build a line directly west out of Denver that connected with Salt Lake City and then the west coast. He dreamed of a road that was owned and operated by the people of Colorado, instead of eastern railroad barons who only acted in their own best interests, and often against Colorado.

The tracks move west out of the plains of Denver and immediately begin the long climb over the continental divide of the Rockies by traversing the Front Range rock escarpments. Along this section, the rails wind through the foothills and into the mountains by going through 27 different tunnels cut into the rocks along the way. Known as the Tunnel District, this reach has miles of twisting turns curving in and out of the canyons, often requiring a tunnel at the points.

There are no settlements of significant size until the tracks reach Tolland, near Moffat Tunnel. Here the original railroad began a series of switchbacks, loops and crossovers known as "Giant's Ladder", in order to gain elevation and reach the top of Rollins Pass at 11,660 feet. This was a fantastic scenic route and an engineering marvel. Unfortunately, it was also a nightmare in the winter months, which lasted from October to May. Keeping the tracks clear of snow was a full time task most of the winter and this expense often ate up all other profits made by the railroad. 

After struggling to stay afloat for years, the heart of the line, David Moffat, passed away in 1911. This along with other difficulties caused the railroad to close down. However, it was reorganized and re-energized a few years later and opened again as the Denver and Salt Lake (D&SL). In the 1920's, public funds were allocated to build the Moffat Tunnel. This project would bore a hole through 6 miles of the mountain crest and eliminate the troublesome tracks over Rollins Pass.

From Rollins Pass and the Moffat Tunnel, the railroad route continues westward, down into Middle Park. This wide valley is totally surrounded by towering mountain peaks. On the west side of the valley the train reaches Hot Sulphur Springs, another resort town built around bubbling pools of hot water at the base of the mountains. 

Next the railroad travels into Byers and Gore Canyons. These huge crevasses were carved across the Gore Range by the Colorado River. Upon leaving the gorges, the line reaches Orestod, a cutoff point where the original tracks diverged northerly to Steamboat Springs, and then were to continue west to Salt Lake. Unfortunately, Craig was as far as the railroad got. Because of an unfavorable financial environment, mostly due to interventions of the Union Pacific railroad, funding was never raised to continue the route to its planned destination. Instead, a new plan was conceived to connect the Moffat Route with the Denver and Rio Grande. A cutoff was created from Orestod on the Moffat line to Dotsero on the Rio Grande tracks. In this way the transcontinental trains could now travel directly west from Denver, connect with the Rio Grande tracks to Grand Junction and on to the west coast. Eventually the D&SL was absorbed by the D&RGW, and it carried most of the transcontinental traffic through Colorado.


References: 2, 14, 15, 16, 17


moffat tunnel 6 view to plains pc.jpg (93770 bytes)
Tunnel 6 c1900


moffat DN&P loop trestle tunnel mr pc.jpg (78594 bytes)
Rifle Sight Notch Trestle c1900


yankee doodle lake loop snow shed pc.jpg (114987 bytes)
Yankee Doodle Lake c1900


moffat tunnel east portal jprpc.jpg (47340 bytes)
Moffat Tunnel East Portal c1930


gore canon tunnel DN&P mr pc.jpg (95626 bytes)
Gore Canyon c1900


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