Offroad Day Trips for Ouray and Silverton

I get a lot of questions about which trails to take when exploring the San Juan Mountains around Ouray and Silverton. So, I’ve put together a few day’s trips worth of offroading. Later this week I will publish day trips you can take without a 4×4 vehicle. Hope you find this info useful!

Trip #1

Engineer PassYou can’t miss the Alpine Loop. From Silverton, head toward the ghost town of Animas Forks (plan on poking around here for a while too, lots of photo opps). Follow Engineer Pass signs to the summit. Before you reach the summit, youll see a road that curves off to your left, called Oh Point! This is a must see! Follow it a very short distance for an amazing, nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding Fourteeners. After that, continue to the summit, just a few hundred feet further. Continue down the other side into Lake City (be sure to stop in Capitol City before you reach the paved road; its a great little ghost town with more photo opps) and enjoy Lake City for lunch before following the signs to Cinnamon Pass. You start out going around Lake San Cristobal, and the road ends up right there at Animas Forks again. Right before you reach the summit and begin to drop down into Animas Forks, please DO NOT MISS the short cutoff on your left to American Basin. You will be SO happy you took the time to drive into American Basin, as it is one of the most beautiful spots in the Sanb Juans. So scenic, with flowers and a stream. Amazing! Dont miss it! It will take you half an hour to follow it and tool around, so no matter what you do, don’t miss this little gem! Complete your journey by heading back into Silverton.

Please Note: This route actually cuts out the most technically challenging and ‘scary’ parts of Engineer Pass Road, as the road actually begins off Hwy. 550, just a few miles outside Ouray. It is very steep and treacherous, but beautiful, and eventually hooks up to the route you will take from out of Animas Forks. (I tell you this in case you think to yourself, “Wow, Engineer was not scary at all, I don’t know what people are talking about.” That’s because the worst and most technical part of the road begins back off the highway and you avoid it by taking the route I describe).

Trip#2

 

Imogene PassHead to Telluride via Ophir Pass and Imogene Pass. I’ve driven them from both directions, and both ways are great. I’ll describe from Ouray to Telluride here. Take Hwy. 550 to Ouray and right before you wind all the way down and into Ouray, the cut off for Camp Bird Road (Yankee Boy Basin) is on your left. Follow Yankee Boy Basin to the Imogene Pass cutoff (and if you have time, please take Camp Bird Road all the way to the Twin Waterfalls and beyond. The road finally ends WAY up the basin at the Blue Lakes Trailhead, which will take you to the summit of Mount Sneffels). The Imogene cutoff will be on your left. This is a great road! At the summit there is an old shack and you can drive along the ridgeline if you desire. After you drop down into Savage Basin on the Telluride side, you will encounter the Tomboy Mine remains (to read an amazing book about living at the Tomboy Mine, get the Tomboy Bride by Harriet Fish Backus. Another great mine hanging off the side of the road into the canyon is the Smuggler Mine. Lots of photo opps on this road! Follow this road into Telluride and as you drop into town, look back over to the left at the amazing switchbacks of the infamous Black Bear Road across the basin. They are very visible on the mountainside. Once inTelluride, eat at the Smuggler or have coffee and amazing scones at the Steaming Bean!

The gondola in Telluride is FREE and you can take it to the top and see amazing vistas on both sides of the ridgeline and you can even trace the road you just came into town on from the top. You can clearly see Imogene Pass Road as it crosses the San Sophia Ridgeline and drops down into town. The gondola is awesome! If you have dogs, take them to the Telluride Town Park where the San Miguel River cuts through; it’s a popular spot for doggies and humans alike!

From Telluride, take the highway back out of town and follow the signs to Ophir. Ophir is a small community of modern houses but the old homesteads of OLD Ophir are hidden in the trees and across the mountainside. Take Ophir Pass Road back over to Silverton. It dumps you out on Hwy. 550 about 5 miles outside of Silverton.

Trip #3

Red MountainCorkscrew Gulch and Red Mountain Mining District and the Forest Service Road (US Basin). From Silverton, head toward the Silverton Ski Area and youll see the cutoff for Corkscrew Gulch. It exits the road on your left and immediately takes a very steep and sharp switchback and you are quickly on your way up and down the famous Corkscrew! This is a beautiful drive! There’s a porta potty near the summit, by the way. Follow Corkscrew back out to Hwy. 550 and you’ll be about halfway between Silverton and Ouray on the highway. You are in the Red Mountain Mining District. Take your time to explore the ghost town of Ironton, which is right there as you finish Corkscrew. The road into Ironton runs parallel to the highway and there are lots of old houses to explore. The Colorado Boy Trailhead begins there and there’s a GREAT stream to have a picnic by. Keep following that little dirt road that runs parallel to the highway, as there are several clusters of houses back there. Youll know when to turn around because the dirt road becomes too narrow to continue. It can get very swampy back there, too, by the way, if there has been rain.

National Belle MineNext, the Red Mountain Mining District. From Ironton, get back on the highway (the entire area of Ironton is literally just 20 yards from the highway, you are just exploring parallel to the highway). Take the highway back toward Silverton and you’ll see many small roads shooting off the highway to your left. Red Mountain Mining District follows C.R. 31. C.R. 31 goes off to the left, runs you all around the Red Mountain Mining District and dumps you back out on the highway farther down the highway, so if you miss one exit for C. R. 31, you can take the next one and just go the other direction on the road. But, if you can manage not to pass it, take the first exit for C.R. 31 after Ironton. You’ll go over what looks to be a rickety little bridge, but its fine, no worries! This road will wind you all through the Red Mountain Mining District. There are tons of little roads you can drive or hike down. This was a huge bustling mining town in the late 1800s and takes up a huge area back there. Don’t be in a big hurry here, there is LOTS to see! The Yankee Girl Mine is the most famous of the mines; you’ll know it when you round the corner and see it. It’s a huge, tall headframe and looks like a postcard. You can explore any of these old mines, just be careful! Continue on the road and you’ll dump out at the National Belle Mine (crumbled ruins along a mountainside). Be sure to poke around near here off the road, as there are tunnels and the remnants of the old jail. Shortly from the National Belle you will dump back out onto the highway again.

Forest Service RoadWait, you’re not finished yet! U.S. Basin Forest Road 825 is next. Continue toward Silverton on Hwy. 550  and exit left at Forest Road 825. You will travel through forest for a while but when it opens up and you get above timberline you will not believe the views! Amazing 180-degree views! This road runs parallel to the highway as well, but way up in the mountains above timberline. You will be able to look down and see the highway and the little ant cars as they travel. This road takes you past the old Brooklyn Mine before dumping you back onto the highway again. Now you are only a few miles outside of Silverton, so just follow the highway back into town.

Trip #4

Clear Lake, SilvertonHang around Silverton because there’s lots of offroading within just a few miles of downtown. Start with Clear Lake Road, which only takes about 35 minutes one way. Outside Silverton, begin by taking Hwy. 550 toward Ouray and watch for the exit for South Mineral Campground (literally just a few miles out of town on the highway). Exit left and follow the wide dirt road to the South Mineral Campground. You’ll see a road exit up toward the right and that’s Clear Lake Trail. Its an easy but extremely scenic drive and the lake at the end is the stuff posters are made of! A great place for a picnic. You have to come back the way you came.

PicayneOther great trails in the Silverton area that do not take long to do are Hurricane/California Pass, Placer and Picayne Gulches, and Stony Pass. There are oodles of mines in the Silverton area and you can just follow roads everywhere to explore what the area has to offer. As you drive toward Animas Forks from Silverton, there are tons of roads off to the left and right, take any of these (you won’t get lost, as they are either up-and-back trails, or loops that dump you right back out where you began).
Of course, an entire day could be spent just on the Million Dollar Highway (Hwy. 550). Lots of little roads come off it (the infamous Black Bear Road begins from the summit of the highway at Red Mountain Pass). Another great trail is King Bullion Lake Trail, which takes you up the mountainside to multiple small waterfalls. You get WAY up there and can look down on the highway. Very nice trail.

So there’s four days of offroading trips in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado!

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Comments

  1. George Atwood  July 1, 2010

    You are making some nice videos, I am planning to do something similar for vacation movies next year.
    my wife Gail and I are planning to spend a few days around Ouary and you have given us a lot of ideas for day trips in the mountains.
    I want to run the camera directly to my laptop,to watch and record to hard drive at the same time,
    and that brings up a point,
    We are from Kentucky and I have a question for you if you don’t mind.
    I have been trying to find an answer to this,
    my laptop manual states maximum elevation 9300 feet,
    I can not find anyone here that can tell me if it will or will not work above that.
    do you use a laptop or have you used one above that elevation?
    Thank you for your time and videos.
    George Atwood
    ggatwood@gmail.com

  2. admin  July 8, 2010

    Well, I certainly HAVE experienced problems with my iPod at higher elevations, so that might be a valid concern for the laptop as well. I use a portable DVD player to run my video from the camera on the Jeep roof down inside the Jeep so I can see what I’m filming. You can pick one up for under $100 or so these days. Maybe that would work for you? It’s a great setup for me. Thanks for watching and writing!

  3. Kristie Sims  July 25, 2010

    Hi, I enjoy watching your videos. You do a great job. We have been to Ouray a couple of times and going back in a week. We have never been to American Basin and I was wondering if there is an easier way to reach it than to go over Engineer Pass.
    Thanks for any info.

  4. admin  July 26, 2010

    There sure is! You go over Cinnamon Pass to reach American Basin! Go to Silverton, then take the dirt road to Animas Forks. In Animas, follow the signs for Cinnamon Pass…it’s a very short drive to the top (probably 15 minutes?) from Animas Forks. Then, go OVER the pass and continue for a bit until you see a sign for the cutoff for American Basin (on your right). As soon as you take the cutoff you are IN American Basin. One of my fave places down there. Was just there for a week and didn’t make it to American Basin this time but met up with some people who were there and saw a mama moose and two babies…so cool! Have fun!

  5. Lisa  August 1, 2010

    Hey there…I have been checking out your site….very nice and informative. My husband and I are coming to Ouray/Silverton area the last week of August. We have an FJ Cruiser and we are trailering our motorcycle. We are also thinking of bringing our dog. Any suggestions on a place to stay that is pet friendly? Also, what is the weather like this time of year. I am leaning towards to bringing the bike after looking at all your videos and pics. I think I want to spend all my time 4 wheeling. Any suggestions would be appreciated.Thanks!

  6. Lisa  August 1, 2010

    I meant not bringing the bike!!

  7. admin  August 3, 2010

    Hey and thanks for writing! My fave place to stay is Riverside Inn, Ouray. (www.ourayriversideinn.com) they have nice pet-friendly room, as well as pet-friendly camper cabins, which is where I always stay. Reasonable prices, IMO.

    Weather this time of year is HOT! It was 96 degrees some of the days I was down there 2 weeks ago, but then the rain came in and cooled things down. It will be pleasant on top of the passes though and July is hotter than August down there…would definitely some time tooling around Silverton. Take a look at my blog post about San Juan day trips and you’ll get an idea of what to do..start out on easy trails if you haven’t offroaded down there and work your way up to the moderate trails like Engineer and Imogene.

    You’ll have a great time!!

  8. Lynn  August 7, 2010

    Just got back from our quad trip and had a blast! Thank you so much for your recommendations; we took your advice and did the Clear Lake Trail one day and the Engineer / Cinnamon pass the next. I would highly recommend these day trips as we had a fantastic time and saw the most beautiful country!

    Thanks again!!

  9. admin  August 8, 2010

    So glad you had a great time. Isn’t Clear Lake amazing? That was just a great surprise, getting up there and that turquoise lake slowing creeping into view…so beautiful!

  10. Charlie  October 26, 2010

    Thank you for your videos…..I have 2 jeeps!! LOL Checkout my videos youtube.com redneckdadnco — btw Im also from Texas!!! Keep me posted on your trips. Thank you,Charlie

  11. admin  October 29, 2010

    I’ll check them out! I was coveting an extended cab Rubicon downtown this morning…the next thing I’ll buy when my 199 Cherokee gives up the ghost! Thanks for watching!

  12. Sally O.  July 9, 2011

    I just watched your Black Bear Road Video- You were SO BRAVE !
    I noticed near the end as the ATV was negotiating around the very tight narrow turn that
    there was a very aqua blue lake way down below in the valley. I also noticed a lake like
    this in your video when you were at the Power Station, again way down below. Do you know the
    name of this lake and if there’s a way to drive near it ? Thanks for all your artistry. You’ve made this
    NJ girl very homesick for southwest Colorado !
    Happy Trails, Sally O.

  13. Steve Bingham  July 14, 2011

    Love your web site! My problems is I am a pretty dedicated photographer that fails to take notes!!!!! Crazy, no?

    In any case these two photos were taken in the Red Mountain mining district (or close), but I haven’t a clue what to call them! Perhaps you can help. We are leaving for your area this Saturday (from Payson, Arizona. Plan to stay in Ouray Monday-Tuesday-?? Any help you can give me on these two photos would be greatly appreciated! I believe one is of the old buildings from the Molas Mining Company? Perhaps you might also be available as a guide? ($$)

    http://ghost-town-photography.com/Colorado-mine-1.jpg
    http://ghost-town-photography.com/Hiding-in-Public-2a.jpg (CD album)

    Steve Bingham 928-474-1849

  14. admin  July 14, 2011

    I don’t recognize either of those places, but I bet you could get your answers from one of the Jeep Rental places down there, like Switzerland of America in Ouray. I actually, sadly, don’t live in the area, I live in Colorado Springs, about 5.5 hours away (I WISH I lived there, though!). Have a fantastic trip!!

  15. admin  July 15, 2011

    Thank you for watching! I got out to walk and film on the more difficult places! LOL. I do not know the name of that lake…I found a topo map that shows a Silver Lake up there, but I think you referring to the lake that was right near the bottom, right? Thanks again for watching; I have a lot of fun with these videos, I only wish I had more time to spend on them!

  16. Paul Goodman  August 9, 2011

    JeepsterGal, Thank you for all the great videos, we Live in San Antonio, and August is un bearable we ar goin to Durango on mon and have been living only by your videos and can’t wait alot planned in 6 days 2 night’s in durango train, rafting, driving to silverton in rental car then thr rent a jeep for 1 day and thought of clear lake then Ophir then last dollar is that to much for 1 day couldnt get a room for fri so was going to Mancos for fri Night for Mesa Verde sat morn before reluctant Plane out sat at 4:26 wish I had 2-4 months
    Thank’s for the great site too.

  17. admin  August 10, 2011

    Clear Lake does not take that much time to get to if you begin in Silverton, but if you start early enough, you could do it with Ophir and back Last Dollar in one day (if your base camp was Silverton, that is). I would hate to have to drive back to Durango after all that, but if you’re staying in Silverton it would be doable. Glad you enjoy the videos, I hope you have a great time!

  18. Paul Goodman  August 11, 2011

    JeepsterGal, thanks Wensday and Thursday night we are staying in silverton and Silver Summit jeep rentals is letting me pick up the jeep wensday 1 hour early at 5:30pm so will go to clear lake that evening before dark for an earlier start on ophir on thur am. When we get to ophir and 145 do we go to teluride or left for last dollar and how long does the tram take and do we back track lastdollar and ophir back to silverton they give 100 miles free with rental then .45 per mile plus jeep has to be back thur at 5:30pm..I wish I could do two days and stay in silverton fri night also, and see Mesa Verde next time I think I will sell my honda insight and buy a jeep for next time keep looking at the 05-06 liberty diesel’s but still out of my range, thanks Paul
    Oh I need to find a place for fri ninight as it sits we will have to drive to mancos after 5 pm on thur night
    if I can then we will rent jeep on fri too and go to mining districk and us bassin road the decent looked hairy though, thanks can’t wait Paul

  19. Paul Caldwell  January 11, 2012

    This is more of a question.

    I am trying to determine, where the exact turn around point on Black Bear road is. I have read that you have to turn around at the summit of the pass if you don’t want to take on the switchbacks, but others say you can drive over the pass to near the top of the steps and then turn around.

    I have a lot of experience driving on the 4- wheeler roads in CO, but also know I don’t wish to tackle the switchbacks of Black Bear in a vehicle. Instead I was hoping to be able to drive to the top of the steps, park and hike down a ways to view the area.

    Is this possible? or do you have to turn around at the summit of the pass.

    I have also considered driving to the base of Bridalveil falls to the end of 2 way road and hiking up.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Sincerely
    Paul Caldwell

  20. Steve W  July 1, 2012

    We are going to be in Ouray later this month and would like to explore the Red Mining District. Is C.R. 31 clearly marked? Has anyone been on C.R. 31 and C.R. 14 lately that can provide info on trail conditions?

  21. admin  July 2, 2012

    CR31 is clearly marked on the Million Dollar Highway. It is just a short loop that begins and ends on Hwy 550 (Million Dollar Highway). Whatever the conditions on the highway are, will be the conditions on that trail, as it never strays more than 200 yards or so from the highway. You can see the trail from the highway, in fact.

  22. Rex Walker  August 25, 2012

    Well it Is almost time to catch the Aspens in there golden glory. I will be
    in Ouray on September 22 staying in the same place. Hope to see you
    there. You may not remember I came over to talk when you arrived last year..

  23. admin  September 17, 2012

    Hey Rex, I do remember you! I will be there one week later than you but will be staying with new friends in the area. Have a great time! I’m hoping to film a new trail while I’m there!

  24. Bob Kausch  November 30, 2012

    I have been photographing the Ridgway, Ouray, Owl Creek, Dallas Divide, area for the past 10-15 years, but never knew all of the places where True Grit was filmed… your video is fantastic. I was there in Sept this year for several days and found wonderful aspen colors this year, but was thrilled when I realized that one of my shots was actually in the same place along the creek in Deb’s Meadow that you filmed. While shooting, I knew there was something special about that location, but didn’t realize that John Wayne and Kim Darby, et al., had actually stood in the same places… no wonder it felt so good! Keep up your spectacular videos and photos…We have a lot to share in Colorado, and your work helps show off the best of what we have!

  25. admin  November 30, 2012

    Thanks for your nice note. Deb’s Meadow is a beautiful area, isn’t it? Very special, with the clearing, the boulders, the view of Courthouse Mountain, the stream where they camped. I love it there and have camped there many times. Thanks again for writing!

  26. Quinton P. Young III  December 25, 2012

    Your Videos are Awesome. Thanx so much for sharing. I am planning on the big move to Colorado soon. I was thinking of the following, Lake City, Teluride, Silverton. My goal is to buy as many mnt acres as my budget allows and build my off grid cabin. What’s your take on those 3 areas or perhaps three areas to look at. Thnxx again.

    Q

  27. MattOKC  January 2, 2013

    More! I’ve subscribed to site updates, but there haven’t been any since 2010!

  28. admin  January 8, 2013

    I know! My apologies! I’ve gotten so busy!I will try to do some updates soon! I have tons of new photos 🙂

  29. admin  January 8, 2013

    Hi there! Congrats on your move. Totally depends on your budget. Telluride is highly expensive to buy land, especially for acreage. Silverton is not much cheaper, but if you’re looking for Off the Grid, then it might be doable, as there are old mining claims available for $15,000+ that are decidely off the grid. LOL. That would be hard to find in Telluride, but easier in Silverton. Tons of acreage in Silverton for building off the grid. Lake City id probably about the same as Silverton, perhaps marginally less expensive. Silverton and Lake City do have mining claims for sale you could buy and build on, but they would probably not be accessible year-round…but if you’re looking for a place to build a cabin you want to only use in summer months, that is certainly doable. Hope that helps.

  30. vincent heying  April 3, 2013

    In the first paragraph of this article you say, “Later this week I will publish day trips you can take without a 4X4 vehicle.” Was this article ever published and where is it available?

  31. Steve Kilpatrick  April 6, 2013

    Great info you have posted!!! We plan on taking some of these trips in the future; thanks to your finding out where these destinations are. The True Grit ‘Now and Then’ was superb and I really liked it. I plan on looking through your other videos as well. You do great work and it’s a pleasure to watch them.
    Take care and have a great week,
    Steve K

  32. Dave S  June 21, 2013

    Your photos seem to show only short-wheel-based vehicles. Can longer (e.g., Chevy pickup size) trucks navigate the roads to Cinnamon and Engineer Passes? We do have 4-WD.

    Thanks.

  33. MattOKC  July 3, 2013

    Please post new photo updates! Still waiting for three years!

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  35. Jay Dillon  January 7, 2015

    Hi Jeepstergal, Really enjoyed your videos and share in your love and passion of the Colorado especially the San Juan Mountains. I hope to follow you exploring of the mountains and would interested in any dvds you publish. I used to live in Colorado but am back now am back in my home state of Ohio now. Being a model railroader I am currently building The Silverton Branch and the three short lines that Otto Mears once operated. My feelings are, ” if I can’t be close to the place I love, I my as well try to recreate part of the San Juan Mountains, their railroads and mining districts”. So your videos on You Tube give me inspiration and rekindles my love of Southwest Colorado. Glad you purchased a Go-Pro too. I will forward your website to many of my friends and enjoys following your adventures. Jay.

  36. Marion Z  January 7, 2015

    Wow thanks for your message. The model railroad sounds amazing! Are you going to mimic the landscape as well? That would be very cool and I would love to see photos sometime. I’m hoping to get more active with the GoPro this year. I still have videos I haven’t had time to edit, but need to get busy 🙂 Thanks again for writing.

  37. Jay  March 28, 2015

    Planning a trip to Silverton the last week of Aug.
    will be riding side x sides .
    As a beginner which trails should I start with
    Jay

  38. Eve Becker-Doyle  May 14, 2015

    Are the scenes you show in your then and now video presented in the order they appear in the movie? Tks ebd

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