Though the narrow gauge Utah & Pleasant Valley Railway was constructed through here in 1878, Thistle wasn't established until the Denver & Rio Grande Western took over ownership of that line and began working on a new grade over Soldier Summit in 1882. In 1890, when preparations were made to standard gauge the D&RGW, facilities were built at Thistle and upon completion, helper engines were stationed here to assist with the steep climb. At this time, a branch line to Marysvale was also constructed, further increasing Thistle's importance to the railroad.

Thistle reached its peak around 1917, by which time it had a population of around 600, a two-story brick schoolhouse (built 1911), post office, stores, numerous businesses, and railroad facilities including a five-stall roundhouse, depot, and engine house. By the 1950s, however, diesel engines began replacing steam locomotives and Thistle's importance waned. The town began to decline, and by 1972 the depot was torn down. By the early 1980s, only a few families remained.

Thistle's final blow came in early 1983. Though land movement was noted earlier, little was done aside from repairs. An extremely wet winter of 1982-83, however, left the mountainside saturated. By April 13, the railroad tracks were out of alignment, and two days later the highway became fractured and impassible. On April 16, the tracks were buried and voluntary evacuation orders were issued for the town of Thistle. Due to the landslide damming the Spanish Fork River, attempts were made to allow the river to continue to flow. After a final failed attempt on April 17, the evacuation orders became mandatory. Plans were immediately made to re-route the railroad and highway to higher ground, and Thistle was abandoned as waters backed up behind the landslide - now a dam. Tunnels were completed in the fall to route the waters of the now 200-feet-deep lake back to the Spanish Fork River, but Thistle was largely destroyed. Both the railroad and highway's new alignments were completed by the end of 1983, but the Marysvale Branch was permanently abandoned. Today, the waters have receded but only a few scattered remnants are left at Thistle.