Outdoor Federation

Guide to Understanding Switchbacks on The Trail

A switchback, also known as a scenic drive is when a road turns around to go in the opposite direction. The turn is typically several hundred feet after the point where the original descent began. The purpose of this feature is to add variety to a downhill journey, provide a quick way to return to the upper reaches of a valley without going over the same ground you just descended, and also can help avoid problems with vehicle exhaust exposure on long downhill grades.

Hikers Love Switchback

As a means of experiencing more on the trail, many hikers enjoy taking on challenges that are often referred to as switchbacks. This is when one hike or trail loops back on itself in some way to give the hiker the opportunity to enjoy different views and terrain.

For example, if you are hiking through a mountainous area, you might come across a switchback where the footpath changes direction while ascending or descending slowly up or down towards your destination.

Why Built a Switchback?

The idea of a switchback is to create a trail with a steep slope, but without the need for steps. This allows the hiker to go up and down the side of a mountain instead of straight up.

In an effort to make this project as sustainable as possible, the switchbacks that are being installed will consist of sandstone from our own quarry. All work that is done will be done by volunteers and all material donations are welcome.

History of Switchback

In the late 1800’s, when miners were in search of the best way to get from Silverton to Ouray, their solution was a switchback. This is a series of turns in alternating directions to help slow down a vehicle going up a steep hill.

Fun Outdoor Quiz

The switchback in Silverton started as a wood-based railroad with stones and gravel put in to make it safe for automobiles.

Switchback in Silverton Image: hippostcard.com

Switchback Vs. Direct Hike

The switchback hike is a more difficult and long trek than the direct hike. The switchback hike follows a zig-zag pattern, doubling back on itself to ascend the slope gradually. The zig-zag pattern allows hikers to catch their breath and take in the view before starting up again.

Hikers who choose this route will not be able to see the bottom of the slope or where they are going and will thus need to use their map and compass carefully.

Pros and Cons of Switchback Trail

The switchback is an arduous stretch of uphill hiking, but it leads to a more enjoyable view for hikers with its changing perspectives and refreshing views of the mountainside. Hikers also have the opportunity to explore many different types of terrain and receive information about the surrounding environment.

However, people who are new to hiking and unprepared for the impact of a difficult hike may find switchback hike is not the best choice. This type of hike has you going up and down in a zigzag pattern, which is difficult for beginners and leaves them with soreness in their quadriceps. There is also very little shade on this hike which can make it quite hot during the summer months.

Tips on Hiking A Switchback

Get the Right Shoes!

Switchbacks are a hikers worst nightmare. When hiking down a ridge, eventually you have to turn back up the other side, and switchbacking is the only way to do it. If you wear running shoes or sneakers, you run the risk of sliding down the switchback as your feet slip on loose dirt or rocks. In order to avoid that, go for a pair of sturdy boots with good traction on the soles.

Bring a Map!

Hiking in unfamiliar territory can be difficult without a map, especially when hiking on terrain with twists and turns. Switchbacks are common in mountainous regions, so hiking steep hills can be treacherous.

Keep an Eye on The Distance Traveled and How Much More You Have to Go

The most important thing to remember is to always pay attention to how far you’ve traveled and how much more you have to go. It’s easy to forget the first time you take the trail, so before hitting the trail, set your map up so it can be visible without too much effort.

Stay Hydrated!

Hiking is a great activity for people of all ages and abilities, but it can lead to dehydration if hikers don’t drink enough water. Hikers should be sure to pack at least one liter of water per person every day, and stay alert for signs like increased thirst, headache or dizziness that might indicate they need more fluids.

conserve water

Look for Markers or Signs that May Be Helpful

The beauty of the scenic views and the excitement that come with exploring a new area and overcoming obstacles can be frustrating when you get lost. Hiking a switchback, while it may take longer than other routes, leaves no doubt in your mind about which way to go.

Markers or signs should always be taken as helpful information for hikers. It is also helpful to use landmarks such as streams, slopes or peaks to find your way back during an emergency.


In conclusion, the switchback hike is an intense workout that will leave hikers feeling accomplished and refreshed. The switchback hike is an intense workout that will leave hikers feeling accomplished and refreshed.

It’s best to go with someone who has done the hike before because it can be very easy to get lost or hurt. Hikers should make sure to take water, food, sunscreen, and proper footwear with them when hiking the switchback trail.

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