A History of Berthoud Pass

Before I get into the detail and tell you why it was so notable, a little history is in order. Wikipedia describes Berthoud Pass, elevation 11,307 ft, as a mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado – located west of Denver, and provides a high route between upper Clear Creek Canyon and the upper valley of the Fraser River in Middle Park to the north. The pass is named for Edward L. Berthoud, the chief surveyor of the Colorado Central Railroad during the 1870s, who discovered the pass in July 1861 while surveying a possible route for the railroad. Berthoud reported that the pass was suitable as a wagon road, but not as a railroad. View old photos of the pass at FraserColorado.com

The pass today is currently the route of U.S. Highway 40, and carrying some 7,000 vehicles per day, provides the most convenient road access to Winter Park and Steamboat Springs from Denver and the Colorado Front Range. So what was “opened”?

In 1996, the Berthoud Pass Mountain Access Project was one of the state’s 28 high priority Strategic Projects across Colorado, and which was fast-tracked by bonds as a result of a voter-passed referendum in 1999. The Project, in three phases improved the road to make it wider and less intimidating as it had long been regarded as one of the most notoriously difficult passes in Colorado for motorists based on its elevation gain, tight curves, steep switchbacks and narrow pavement. Old highway cuts from past years were eroding, causing rock and mudslides in the summer and icy spots in the winter.

Highway 40 effectively was to go from two lanes to three, from Berthoud Falls to the top of the pass (and the watershed that is the Continental Divide), mirroring the three lanes on the west side of the pass.

Continued reading:

  • Berthoud Pass Mountain Access Project
  • A History of Berthoud Pass
  • Berthoud Pass a Grand Prix Track?
  • Conclusions
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