Winter Park History & Museums: Moffat Tunnel, Colorado Railroad

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Moffat Tunnel

The Moffat Tunnel, a 6.2 mile underground passage through James Peak and the Continental Divide, was instrumental in opening up the Winter Park area to homesteaders, visitors, and commerce. Read More

  • The Moffat Tunnel is a railroad passageway that also acts as a water tunnel, carrying precious water from the Pacific watershed to Colorado's Front Range.  
  • Skiers, tourists and thousands of other passengers continue to ride the rails through the Moffat Tunnel, heading to explore the Rocky Mountains.


The Moffat Tunnel is a railroad passageway and water tunnel spanning 6.2 miles at over 9,200 ft. above sea level, buried underneath the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Its completion in 1928 was a testament to man's ingenuity and is still considered an engineering feat today. Though thousands of passengers have traveled through the tunnel via the California Zephyr and other trains, the Moffat Tunnel's main purpose is to carry water to Denver and the Front Range from the Western Slope Fraser Basin, and to give coal and freight trains a direct route to major industry destinations.

The tunnel was a necessity for progress, given that the original tracks on Rollins Pass were hard to maintain because of the rocky terrain and snow loads, which made travel dangerous and unprofitable. The tunnel was named after its visionary; David Moffat, a wealthy businessman, knew that Denver should be a stop on the transcontinental railroad so it could compete in the future of commerce, and to provide a shorter route to Salt Lake City. Though he died before his brainchild was set into motion, his efforts helped to create the Moffat Tunnel through James Peak and the Continental Divide, laying the tracks through Grand County and continuing west. The subsequent railroad traffic is what drove settlers to the Winter Park area to take advantage of logging, agriculture and livestock opportunities, and its use as a water tunnel is also attributed to Denver and the Front Range's ability to grow and thrive.


The East Portal is located ten miles west of Rollinsville and the West Portal is near the Winter Park Ski area. The portals are protected from foot traffic; the tunnel is very easy to see from the Winter Park Ski Resort Base.


The tunnel is used for railroad traffic year-round.

More Info

If you're interested in traveling via rail and through the Moffat Tunnel, check for a schedule and rates with Amtrak.  The California Zephyr train can be boarded in Denver and it takes approximately two hours before it arrives at the Fraser depot (just two miles from Winter Park).