a highway, as in a mountainous area, having many hairpin curves.
Railroads. a zigzag track arrangement for climbing a steep grade.
British. roller coaster.

verb (used without object)

(of a road, railroad track, etc.) to progress through a series of hairpin curves; zigzag: The road switchbacks up the mountain.

Origin of switchback

An Americanism dating back to 1860–65; switch + back2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for switchback

Historical Examples of switchback

  • Alexander remarked as they rounded another turn on the switchback path.

    The Lani People

    J. F. Bone

  • I felt as if once again I were strapped in the car on the switchback railway.

    Marie Tarnowska

    Annie Vivanti

  • The car on the switchback rushes, whirls, plungesfalls with me to destruction.

    Marie Tarnowska

    Annie Vivanti

  • But he was a strong horse, and on a trail up a switchback—do you know what a switchback is?

    Through Glacier Park

    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Before the tunnel was built you crossed in the open air by a switchback line.

    From Sea to Sea

    Rudyard Kipling

British Dictionary definitions for switchback



a mountain road, railway, or track which rises and falls sharply many times or a sharp rise and fall on such a road, railway, or track
another word (esp Brit) for big dipper
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for switchback

reference to zig-zag railways, 1863, from switch (v.) + back (adv.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper