Famous Trails

World Renowned Off-Road Trails

It’s no surprise that five of our local trails have been awarded Jeep’s Badge of Honor status. With the perfect combination of topography, history and trail maintenance, the mountains around Ouray offer unique backcountry adventures for your Jeep, 4x4, dirt bike or OHV. Below is info about some of our favorite trails. Be sure to check in with our local tour and rental shops for the current trail conditions.

website callout adventure

alpine loop
Photo Courtesy of Eric Funk

The Alpine Loop: Scenic & Historic Back Country Byway
Seventy-five miles of rugged dirt roads and trails carve through the breathtaking San Juan Mountains. The Alpine Loop follows historic routes worn by Native Americans traversing the region as they returned to traditional summer camps and the mining roads that connected the booming mining towns of Silverton, Lake City, Telluride and Ouray. Along this route, you’ll encounter skeletons of old mining towns and mills that once promised great hope and prosperity.

It’s best to begin your Alpine Loop journey out of Ouray southbound on Highway 550. The posted mileage for the “loop” can be deceiving - a trip out and back to Ouray exceeds 100 miles and will easily take an entire day to explore. Even better, break it into a multi-day adventure!

The recommended route for the tour between Ouray, Silverton and Lake City is to start at Corkscrew Gulch, eight miles south of Ouray. At the beginning of your trip, you will see the iconic Red Mountains #1, #2 and #3, which get their color from the high concentrations of iron oxide in the soil and contrast dramatically with the yellow mineral-rich dirt around the historic mine sites. Travel over California Gulch, north of Silverton, and spend some time at the amazingly preserved ghost town of Animas Forks. Connect with Cinnamon Pass and travel to Lake City, where you can explore the charming Victorian mining town. Return via Engineer Pass, making sure to stop at Rose’s Cabin and Mineral Point. You can also return via California and Corkscrew Gulches for an easier route home.

The Alpine Loop rises above tree line at most of its passes, both Cinnamon and Engineer top out well above 12,000 feet. Up here, the weather is easily 20 degrees colder than at lower elevations; be sure to bring a jacket and warm clothes. While driving the Alpine Loop, you’ll see a number of routes that take off from the main road. Many of these historic trails are blocked with rocks, logs, gates, dirt berms, or other barriers. These routes are not open to motorized travel and the barriers are used to protect private property, prevent vehicle damage to fragile meadows or tundra, or prevent vehicle access to Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas as required by law. The routes also intersect at many points, so pick up a more detailed map before your actual adventure.

 

yankee boy basin
Photo Courtesy of Kane Scheidegger

Yankee Boy Basin
This easier trail is especially sought out by photographers for its spectacular explosion of wildflowers in the late spring and early summer season, and for its serene waterfalls. Follow Camp Bird Road (CR 361) 10 miles, taking the right fork to Yankee Boy Basin. After stopping to enjoy Twin Falls, follow the trail into the basin just below Mt. Sneffels. The last two miles may be very steep and rough; you can choose to park and hike the remaining distance to the base of Mt. Sneffels. This is a one-lane road in many places with a lot of traffic, including heavy equipment, large trucks, hikers, bikers, and motorcycles. Please pay attention, share the road and always spot your nearest pullout.

 

imogene pass
Photo Courtesy of Eric Funk

Imogene Pass
Imogene Pass is one of the more difficult drives through the San Juan Mountains, but the steep and loose slopes are worth it for the 13,000 foot pass and sweeping views. Follow Camp Bird Road (County Road 361) five miles to the Camp Bird Mine. Here, the road turns left over Canyon Creek, climbing along cliffs and looking down over Camp Bird Mine. The ascent to Imogene Basin is rough and steep but boasts spectacular wildflower displays in the mid-summer months. The descent into the Tomboy Mine area and Telluride is more gradual. If you’re looking for a full day adventure, consider coming back to the east side of the mountains via Ophir Pass, for a moderate, but equally beautiful drive.

 

Corkscrew Gulch
This popular moderate drive branches east off Hwy 550 in Ironton Park, eight miles south of Ouray. Corkscrew is especially beautiful in the fall when you can overlook the spectacular stands of aspen in the Ironton valley. Don’t forget to look down, too – Corkscrew Gulch is a local’s favorite for mushroom hunting. The road climbs numerous switchbacks (the last few are steep and narrow) to the red soil summit at 12,000 feet. This soil is the same kind you see on the famous Red Mountains to the south. If you continue north to Hurricane Pass, your view of Lake Como is worth the trip, and a side trip to one of the many ghost towns in the area is a must.

 

engineer pass
Photo Courtesy of Eric Funk

Engineer Pass
A phenomenal and technical off-road experience! Follow Engineer Pass all the way to Lake City or cut off at Animas Forks and head towards Silverton. The main entrance to Engineer Pass is four miles south of Ouray along Highway 550, marked by a cascading waterfall and a staging area. The easier entrance is via Corkscrew Gulch. In Animas Forks, stay on the Engineer Pass trail to the left. Stay left at Poughkeespie Gulch to continue up to Engineer Pass at 12,850 feet. From here, you can return or continue to Lake City. Poughkeepsie Gulch is an extremely dangerous trail and not recommended. No rental vehicles are permitted on Poughkeepsie Gulch.

 

Brooklyn Road
This is a beautiful, easy trail with incredible panoramic views of the infamous Black Bear Pass route, Bullion King Basin and Red Mountains, as well as many areas with mining remnants, including the Brooklyn Mine site. The route starts at the top of Red Mountain Pass (County Road 14), 13 miles south of Ouray. The trail leads you past the St. Paul Lodge for backcountry skiers and along a winding ledge on the west side of the mountains. Use caution if it’s been raining, it can be very slippery and mucky.

 

black bear pass
Photo Courtesy of Eric Funk

Black Bear Pass
Enjoy the thrill of true rugged four-wheeling in the San Juans! This is a heart-stopping and breath taking alpine trail to Telluride passing by the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls. For experienced drivers only: the road is extremely narrow and short wheel base vehicles are preferred. Make sure you go with a partner vehicle. Consider letting one of Ouray's tour operators do the driving as there are many 3-4 point switchbacks.

 

Last Dollar Road
Last Dollar Road was originally an early supply route from Ouray to Telluride. This extremely easy road traverses through picturesque ranches, passes through beautiful aspen forests, and provides scenic views of the San Miguel canyon as you wind your way to Telluride. The drive is especially beautiful in the fall with its amber colored aspen stands.

 

Ophir Pass
One of our easier, but very popular mountain passes, Ophir takes you to the Telluride side of the San Juan Range. This one is spectacular during the fall season. Drive south of Ouray on Highway 550 for 18.1 miles to the “National Forest Access Ophir Pass” turnoff on your right. The pass road will eventually link up to Highway 145 in the small town of Ophir. Turn right to continue to Telluride and Ridgway.

 

ouray colorado logo