Offroading 101

Offroading 101, Offroad etiquette, offroading in Colorado

Make sure to yield to uphill traffic

I get questions all the time about what to bring when offroading in Colorado, what the rules of etiquette are, and how often there are bathrooms along the way (the answer is not often)! A lot of you out-of-staters ask what you need to know about driving offroad in Colorado and I answer some of your questions here…

What to Bring

This will differ depending on your experience level, but I usually take:

  1. A 4WD with good tire tread!
  2. Maps. I don’t care how well you think you know the area, take a map; Sometimes you may accidentally take a secondary road off the main road and need to be able to find your way out.
  3. Snacks! You never know how long you will take, so pack a lunch or some Power Bars.
  4. Camera or videocamera. There are photo opps everywhere!
  5. First aid kit with bandaids and ointment. Also, if you have one, pack an ankle support brace; sometimes you twist your ankles exploring.
  6. Rain poncho
  7. Toilet paper! Always pack it out or use the biodegradable ones.
  8. Pocket knife
  9. Lighter
  10. Folding shovel for those times when you get stuck.
  11. Flashlight


  1. If you are traveling uphill, you have the right-of-way. So, that means when you are going downhill, you have to yield to the driver driving uphill toward you. This is because it is easier to see to back up if you are going downhill.
  2. Drive very slowly around blind curves. If you reach a shelf road or one-lane part of the trail, stop and get out to look for vehicles that may be approaching before heading across. Sometimes it’s impossible to pass or very dangerous to back up, so avoid having to do either if possible!
  3. Don’t pick the wildflowers and don’t drive or walk on alpine tundra.ย  It can take 10 years for a tiny plant to grow back.
  4. Tread Lightly and pack out all trash!

How to Drive a 4WD in the Mountains

Many people in non-mountainous states (we call them Flatlanders in Colorado) have never used the low gear of their SUV except to push through mud. Back in Texas we would go mudding and that’s the only time I ever saw a $wd put to good use. Here in Colorado it’s a bit different!

When to Use Low Gear (Granny Low)

  1. You are heading up a steep incline and need that extra gear
  2. You are going down a sttep incline and need to control your speed
  3. You are going over very rocky terrain or moguls. The lower gear will keep you from slipping around.

Things Not to Do

  1. Don’t straddle a large boulder, it might take out your differentials.
  2. Don’t attempt to cross a stream that’s moving too swiftly.
  3. Don’t attempt to cross a stream whose depth you are not sure.
  4. Don’t get high-centered. Ruts or large rocks can cause this. Use common sense when placing your tires and you’ll be fine!
  5. Do not let yourself get sideways on a steep hill because you could roll.ย  Approach steep inclines or declines straight on.
  6. Don’t get a late start; if you plan on driving above timberline, don’t start your ascent past noon or you might risk getting caught in a thunderstorm, which brings us to…

Weather in Colorado

Colorado weather can be unpredictable. In the summer months, thunderstorms can occur every day, even when you have blue skies in the morning. They often occur around mid afternoon, like between 2 pm and 3 pm. Don’t be above timberline when they hit!

Be Smart

A lot of this is just plain common sense, so just drive cautiously and have fun!



  1. Kevin  March 7, 2010

    Hello Jeepstergal,
    I just happened across your youtube of last dollar road. Great video and awesome music. Could you please tell me who is performing the music? Maybe you could have a link to purchase the music on your site. I am in California, just moved here from Arizona. I am very curious as to how your site is working.

    Thanks for the great video.

  2. admin  March 8, 2010

    Hello! It’s “Great Spirit” off the album “Native Spirit” by Dan Gibson.๏ปฟ Great album! And your idea to link to the music on my You Tube videos is a terrific idea! Thanks for that! I will work on getting that added to my site. Thanks for watching and writing!

  3. Brenda White  March 9, 2010

    HI, When are you headed to the San Juans this year?

  4. admin  March 12, 2010

    That’s a bit up in the air, as my traveling companion and video helper is starting a new job and is not sure about vacation time…it may not be until September…I like to go the last week of September to see the autumn colors. If we can swing a long weekend trip on a 3-day weekend before then, depending on her schedule, we’ll do that too probably.

  5. Brenda White  March 12, 2010

    Thanks… We are new to off roading. We do have a jeep cherokee, but my husband just bought a Polaris Ranger 800 XP side x side. He is headed to Moab in April. He and I want to head to Colorado maybe in August. Any words of wisdom for us newbies? We are going to be doing all the easy trails especially if I am riding along. I am not a very good car passenger let alone on a narrow ridge in the mountains in a little UTV. Many thanks to you for the great videos.

  6. admin  March 15, 2010

    Hi Brenda!

    Wow, a Polaris Ranger would be a BLAST! I would do Clear Lake Trail, Last Dollar Road, Ophir Pass, Owl Creek Pass, and Red Mountain Mining District, for sure. Those are easy and would be fun on a Polaris! Jealous! Have fun!

  7. Brenda White  March 17, 2010

    Thanks for the info. Those are the ones I had picked out also. Watching your videos helped decide what looked like the less frightful trails. LOL Keep those vidoes coming!!

  8. Kendall  April 25, 2010

    We will be staying in the Divide Colorado area the first week of August. This will be our first time driving our Jeep Wranger to Colorado and would like some information about the “milder” 4WD trails in that area. We are interested in seeing the sights but also want to drive our jeep back to Iowa. Any information you can provide would be appreciated.

  9. Joseph  April 25, 2010

    Hello Jeepstergal,
    I just happened across your youtube of last dollar road. Great video and awesome music. Could you please tell me who is performing the music? Maybe you could have a link to purchase the music on your site. I am in California, just moved here from Arizona. I am very curious as to how your site is working.

    Thanks for the great video.

  10. Matt  April 26, 2010

    Thanks for the info. Those are the ones I had picked out also. Watching your videos helped decide what looked like the less frightful trails. LOL Keep those vidoes coming!!

  11. admin  April 26, 2010

    Haha, glad I could help!

  12. admin  April 26, 2010

    Sure! I live about 45 minutes from Divide. The great trails in the Colorado Springs region are Gold Camp Road (between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs), Phantom Canyon Road (between Canon City and Cripple Creek), and Shelf Road (between Canon City and Cripple Creek). Of course, there are others, but those are very popular, scenic and easy! I would be happy to take a day trip with you and show you the trails!

  13. Brenda White  July 8, 2010

    I know somewhere I read where you told the type of camcorder/camera you use, but I can’t find it. Can you please tell me what it is or what you recommend? We are not going to be attaching it to the ranger. Thanks

  14. admin  July 8, 2010

    Well, I can highly recommend Canon, because that’s all I’ve ever used. I’ve borrowed a Panasonic and it was great too, but I’m partial to Canon. the camera I use is probably not even sold anymore, it’s the Canon HV20, which uses HDV so it does film in high-def. That is my usual camera but NOT the one I strap to the Jeep! LOL My cameras are older and use MiniDV tapes, which I prefer to the Hard drive based cameras these days…but I highly recommend Canon as a brand. Everything I own is Canon, scanner, 5 cameras, including a digital SLR, a point and shoot, etc.

  15. Brenda White  July 11, 2010

    Thanks. After much research, Canon is where I am headed. Just 3 more weeks and we will be in Silverton. Can’t wait!

  16. Mark  July 26, 2010

    You have a great site. Very informative. I will be heading to Ouray in early August for my honeymoon. I’ve all ready reserved my Jeep for only one day. Is it possible to take Last Dollar Road, have lunch in Telluride and take Ophir Pass and back to Ouray in time to return the Jeep before they close at 6pm? I would love to take Imogene but its probably out of my league, being a flatlander ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks your help will be appreciated.

  17. admin  July 27, 2010

    Thank you for writing AND visiting! YES on all counts! Plenty of time for Last Dollar and Ophir before 6pm. Lots of amazing places to eat in Telluride, too! Baked in Telluride and the Smuggler are terrific. Imogene is a great road…but I would definitely suggest getting a few more roads under your belt before you attempt a moderate-rated road like Engineer, Cinnamon, Imogene, Corkscrew, etc. A Jeep for only one day? LOL. Awww, you’re missing out on a lot of 4×4 fun…but then again it IS your honeymoon. LOL. Have a great time!

  18. Kieran O'Hagan  July 30, 2010

    Just curious…what is the elevation at Engineer and Cinnamon passes? I have to ask the MD if I can go as high as I think they are! Thanks!

  19. admin  July 30, 2010

    Hey thanks for writing. Engineer is 12,795 feet and Cinnamon is 12,615 feet.

  20. Mike  August 26, 2010

    Hey, Recently retired at age 55 and look forwart to visiting Silverton area next fall after my wife retires. Your videos are great and your info, very, very helpful. If I can ge my wife to agree to it I am gonna get a 4 dr. rubicon. Gotta keep my 4 x 4 truck though!!!! Keep up the great work.

  21. admin  August 27, 2010

    Congrats on your retirement! Glad you enjoy the videos! That’s awesome you’re going to get a Rubicon! I love them! Wish I had one! Maybe after my Cherokee gives up the ghost ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great trip there next year and let me know how it goes!

  22. Mike  August 27, 2010

    Thanks, Had a Grand Cherokee a few years back and have regretted getting rid of it ever since. I found an 06 unlimited rubicon last month but talked myself out of it Go figure!! I was in Co. years ago a couple of times and have always wanted to go back. Also want to travel to Moab, Arizona, and several other western states before I get to old. Keep those videos coming so I know where to go when I get there.

  23. Brenda White  November 22, 2010

    Have you been to Taylor Park and if so, what is your opinion of the offroading there? We are headed back to Colorado next year and have already done Silverton twice this year, so we are looking for some other good areas.
    Thanks again for all your information and great videos.

  24. David  May 8, 2011

    I quit my job about 9 months ago and have just been traveling and surfing around living in my van. Im taking a huge road trip this summer through New Mex, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Northern Cali for about 2.5 months.

    This will be a first for me in these states and Im very excited about this. I havent done much preliminary research so asking might be stupid but most of the land in your videos is BLM land correct? How is the free camping out here and at some of the trails? Im fully contained in my van with water, solar and stove so that wont be an issue. The van is sitting high on Yokohama Geolander AT-S all-terrains and has served me well in Mexico and beaches. Is camping allowed in some of these places? Im plan to spend 99% of my time camped and moving. Most of these trails look passable in my van with 2wd, any advice? Ive done a bit of offroad driving here in Texas (no mud, just offroad) and I enjoy pushing 2wd vehicles where they shouldnt go. Im carrying some recovery gear for getting stuck (several 20ft straps, 2.5ton come-along, ground augers to grip, tree savers for tree tying) and I hope that will be sufficient.

    Thanks for all the info and sorry about all the questions! Im highly enjoying your site, great work

  25. admin  May 9, 2011

    Land is usually BLM or National Forest, yes. Not sure which trails you are referring to, but no, they are not all accessible with 2WD. You could do Last Dollar Road, Owl Creek Pass and most of Yankee Boy Basin without 4WD but the others, such as Engineer, Cinnamon, Corkscrew, Hurricane. California Gulch, Governors Basin, Black Bear, Clear Lake, Imogene, Tincup, etc…those will require 4WD with a nice low gear. Thanks for visiting and be safe!

  26. Mike  May 31, 2011

    Hey there again. I commented in Aug. last year about wanting to get a Rubicon and visit Silverton area!!!
    Finally found it!!! Its a Blue unlimited with only 16,000 mi. Is early Sept a good time to go or has it started snowing by then?

  27. Scott  June 19, 2011

    Wanted to take a moment and thank you for your videos and ask a couple questions. We moved to the springs in December 2009 and until I saw your videos had no idea of the many roads and trips — thanks so much.

    Q1: I have a Nissan XTerra Off-road edition and would like to do some mild offroading with my kids to give them the experience. Where’s a good place to go near the springs which does NOT have steep drop-offs as my kids hate that. Tried it once and they dug their claws into the arm-rests ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Q2: On your Gold Camp Road Cheyenne Canyon video you list the music as: “Deep Breakfast” by Harry Roberts. I’ve searched high and low and cannot find this track. I found one reference that lists the track on an album called “Horizon” but as for finding where to buy the music I’m totally stumped. It’s not on Rhapsody and Google isn’t helping. Any help tracking down the CD would be most appreciated as it’s beautiful. If you wouldn’t mind dropping me an email that would be great and thanks again!

  28. Deepu  July 5, 2011

    You website and videos have been helpful and inspiring!! We are planning to head to Ouray, Silverton area this weekend. I was planning to hit Last dollar, Clear lake, Ophir pass and Yankee boy basin. I was wondering whether my SUV (BMW X5) will be able to handle these trails or should I rent a Jeep in Ouray?

    Thank you!

  29. admin  July 5, 2011

    Those are some of the easier trails…Last Dollar and Yankee Boy are easy…Clear Lake is also pretty easy and a normal dirt road for most the way. Ophir doesn’t have any terribly rough spots but near the summit it is a narrow shelf road. I think you should be fine for those roads. If you do Engineer, Cinnamon, Corkscrew, Caliifornia, Hurricane, I would recommend a Jeep. Owl Creek Pass outside Ridgway is also an easy and very scenic road (where True Grit was filmed). Also fantastic easy roads are East and West Dallas Creek roads near the Dallas Divide between Ridgway and Telluride. Easy dirt roads but OH so scenic! Also, be sure to take the road out of Silverton to Animas Forks ghost town, it’s easy as well. Have fun!

  30. Deepu  July 5, 2011

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Have you been out to the area this year? Do you know whether the wild flowers are at the peak yet?

  31. admin  July 5, 2011

    I haven’t been out this year. But the peak time is usually the week of or around July15th. Yankee Boy Basin is phenomenal at that time, as is American Basin, which is off Cinnamon Pass on the Lake City side. You could call the Ouray Visitor center to ask, though, because it does differ depending on rainfall, etc. Their number is 800-228-1876.

  32. Deepu  July 6, 2011

    I emailed them and this is what they came back with: “Because of the late season snow, it will most likely be around the end of July.”

    I think I might postpone my trip to end of July.

  33. Mike  July 10, 2011

    Hey, It’s mike again. Looks like we will be in Ouray/Silverton area around Aug 10 instead of Sept. Our daughter will be able to join us then. When are you going to get to go again?

  34. admin  July 14, 2011

    I know you will have a great time. I don’t know for sure when I will make it back down there…things have been too crazy for a trip! If I make it down there it will most likely be in late September now…

  35. Mike  July 17, 2011

    Thats the way things go when you have to work for a living!!! HaHA!!! I read somewhere there is a free lift ride somewhere in the area but now I cant remember where!! (Thats what happens when you get OLD!! HaHa!!) Do you know or was I thinkin of somewhere else?

  36. admin  July 18, 2011

    If you mean a free gondola ride, that is in Telluride. You can ride the gondola all the way up to Mountain Village, which gives you an amazing view of the town of Telluride and the surrounding mountain ranges. Also lots of great trails to hike back down if you wish, and dogs can ride too.

  37. Mike  July 18, 2011

    Thanks, thats what I saw but I thought it was Silverton. I would like to take my dog but I cant imagine 10 -12 days with a Jack (very hyper) Russel. She’s a beautiful dog n I love her to death but we took her to B’ham Al once n thats only 4 – 5 hrs. I said never again!!! Plus she gets car sick!!! Have you ever been to Moab? I would like to do that some day but we’ll see how this trip goes. It’s gonna take us 2 days to get there and 3 to return down through Az, Tex, etc We are all getting Excited to go!!

  38. admin  July 18, 2011

    Yes, I’ve been to Moab but it was so hot we left sooner than we had planned! Beautiful but we ended up escaping to the coolness of Telluride instead…

  39. Mike  August 2, 2011

    We’ve been trying. to decide what clothes to pack. National weather service says low 40’s at nite to mid 70’s during days in Silverton next week. I keep tellin the girls jeans n jackets!!

  40. mike  August 18, 2011

    Hey there!! Well we made it there n’ back. Loved the trails round Ouray n silverton Hated the highway coming down to Ouray. It was more scarey than the trails. Just didnt have as much time as I would have liked. Maybe sometime in the future we can get back out there. The trip from Ouray to Silverton through the mountain passes and Animas Forks was a blast. The weather was great also. Hope you get to get back there this year. Thanks for all your advice and your videos that inspired me to go. We traveled bout 4000 miles, and 9 states in 12 days. If I had known how great Ouray can be I would have scheduled more time in that area. Telluride was beautiful too. But we didnt attempt Black Bear!!! Thanks again!!

  41. admin  August 23, 2011

    So glad you had a great time! 4000 miles is a long way, but if anyplace is worth it, it’s southwest Colorado and the San Juan Mountains!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. Travis Barton  March 2, 2012

    I have been researching the areas around Silverton and came across you website. Myself and six other guys are going to be staying in a cabin outside of Silverton Memorial Day weekend this year for a getaway. We all own ATV’s and I was wondering if it would be worth dragging them up there that early in the season. I’ve been getting conflicting answers. Most say the Alpine Loop will not be fully open but there should be plenty of other trails to ride in the area. What has your experience been in late May?

  43. admin  March 19, 2012

    I would agree the Alpine Loop will not be open. I would bet most of the major roads will be closed but you could still do some ATVing around the Silverton Area. Also, Owl Creek Pass outside Ridgway would probably be open, as would Last Dollar (maybe). Near Silverton you could probably make it partially up Stony Pass, Minnie Gulch, Kendall Mountain…I doubt you’ll reach the summit of ANYTHING at that time of year, but you could do the low altitude ones part way….I would say it’s worth it to take them.

  44. Suvo  May 13, 2012

    I was wondering if it is safe to drive a 12-seater passenger van with 4WD to the Yankee Boy Basin, Ouray. We are a group of 9 people and am renting a 12 seater van from Denver to Ouray. Thinking should this passenger van be fine with the trail or should we rent a jeep. Suggestions would be appreciated. We are not too expert drivers in these terrain, but have driven to Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak, Rockies.

  45. admin  May 15, 2012

    Well, a passenger car CAN make it up to Twin Falls in Yankee Boy Basin, but you really need more ground clearance to go any further than that. The length of the van might be a problem, but the tour Jeeps are often quite long too. I personally would rent a Jeep, but you might want to drive the van a bit down the road to see how you feel with it. Lots of switchbacks, etc. Have fun and be safe!

  46. Mike  June 7, 2012

    Hey, How have you been? I was in the middle of sending you this message when something went hay-wire so if you get 2 you will know I’m not crazy yet!! Your help, info. and web site were very helpful in our Ouray trip last Aug. We really enjoyed it and will probably do it again in the future. Have you been able to get to Ouray lately? We are planning a trip to Moab in Oct. and plan on coming back thru Telluride, Ophir, Ouray, etc to Pikes Peak. My question to you is do you think there will be a problem with snow in Ophir Pass the second week in October? I have looked and looked and I find that the area has snow in late October but it doesnt mention early Oct. Any info that you can give will be greatly appreciated as usual. Thanks, Mike

  47. txsjpstr  August 18, 2012

    Hi there JeepsterGal, am hoping to get back to the San Juan’s next Somme n my new Wrangler. So, couple of questions I”m pretty sure you can assist with. 1. Can you tent camp on these public lands? Can you have a campfire? Are permits required for either of those or to offroad?

    2. How would you set up a new jeep to best enjoy he San Juan’s?

    3. Would you care to recommend any pet friendly places to stay in Silverton?

  48. txsjpstr  August 19, 2012

    Hi there JeepsterGal, am hoping to get back to the San Juan’s next Summer n my new Wrangler. So, couple of questions I”m pretty sure you can assist with. 1. Can you tent camp on these public lands? Can you have a campfire? Are permits required for either of those or to offroad?

    2. How would you set up a new jeep to best enjoy the San Juan’s?

    3. Would you care to recommend any pet friendly places to stay in Silverton?

  49. admin  August 21, 2012

    Yes, you can tent camp on public lands…you will sometimes cross sections that are posted as private property, so just watch for the signs. You can indeed have a campfire, as long as Colorado is not under Fire Restrictions due to lack of rain. No permits are required, no. There are some places, such as Yankee Boy Basin, where there are designated campgrounds and you can’t camp outside of those campgrounds…but there will be signs indicating that.

    As far as a new Jeep, I’m not sure if you mean “modifications” to the Jeep, or simply “what to take.” I drive a stock 1999 Jeep Cherokee, so unless you plan to do the more difficult trails like Black Bear or Poughkeepsie Gulch, you really don’t need any modifications. Now, as far as what to take…if you have a winch, that would be good on certain trails if it’s been rainy…otherwise, something to put under your wheels for traction if you get stuck, plenty of water and food in case you get stranded, etc. Prepare for a rain shower at higher elevations nearly every day.

    Silverton is a tough town, in my opinion, to find a place to stay for offroaders, much less for offroaders with pets. I have a dog traveling with me at all times and I’ve found Silverton a hard place to find a place to stay. I stay at the Riverside Inn in Ouray with my dog. They have camper cabins that allow dogs, as well as hotel rooms, if you prefer something more sophisticated. There is also another campground with camper cabins that allow dogs, just down the street from Riverside, but I’ve been staying at Riverside for 12 years because it’s on the river and they are so friendly.

    Hope that helps!

  50. txsjpstr  August 21, 2012

    Thanks a bunch for the response. Plan to add a winch and oversize off road tires. Maybe later for Black Bear.

Add a Comment