Black Bear Road
Location: San Juan Mountains
Directions: 13 miles outside Ouray on Hwy. 550
Time: Approximately 2-3 hours, one-way. 12 miles.
The infamous Black Bear Pass is one of the most difficult mountain passes in Colorado. When you start the final descent into Telluride, it turns into a one-way trail, so once you pass that point of no return, it’s do or die time! I’ve only driven the road to that point and then turned around (didn’t have good enough tread on my tires).
UPDATE: On July 19, 2010, I finally made it down Black Bear Road, thanks to my friends, the Boyers, who drove their ATVs and let me hang on for dear life on back. We strapped the camera mount onto the front of the ATV and had great success!
The trail begins at the summit of Red Mountain Pass and is actually a nice and easy trail to the summit of Black Bear Pass. The views of the San Juan Mountains at the summit are amazing! Heading down the summit it’s still a 2-way road for a while. The road is not too bad, narrow in places, rocky in places and slippery. There is a high shelf road that is very narrow. Many side roads will take you to old mine ruins and alpine lakes.
Just above Telluride, near the beginning of Ingram Falls, there is a sign that declares the road is one-way from that point forward. This is where you need to turn around if you don’t feel comfortable starting down the most difficult part of the trail.
Quickly, after passing the Point of No Return sign, you begin down “The Steps.” No video or photos can really do justice to this part of the trail. With Ingram Falls roaring down the mountain on your left, you begin to traverse a relatively steep portion of the trail. The entire width of the trail is covered in large slabs of rock with 12-to-18-inch drop off in places. Loose shale covers the rocks and it becomes very rocky and slippery. Even with ATVs and a very short wheel base, it was intense. Larger vehicles, even standard Jeep Wranglers, often get off-camber in this spot and one or more wheels will leave the ground.
At the end of “The Steps” the trail banks hard to the right (Adios Curve) and if you are not in control of your vehicle when it banks, you will tumble 1000 feet down. In 2004 an entire family of four went over the side, killing the parents. The children and their dog survived. Photos and video can’t show how treacherous this road can be.
After “The Steps” you have the infamous switchbacks to conquer. there are four very tight switchbacks that require a 3-point turn or at least one “back up” in order to make the hairpin turns. We made them easily in the ATVs but the last one, especially, was very tight. I can’t imagine being in a Jeep and hanging off the edge on that one!
Once you clear the four switchbacks, you are at The Power Station, which used to power the Smuggler-Union Mine. Although it is now a private residence, it still provides 25% of Telluride’s electricity! Below the Power Station is the longest waterfall in the state of Colorado, Bridal Veil Falls. At 365-feet in length, it cascades down into Tellruide.
Black Bear Road was a blast to finally experience. I definitely purchased a “I survived Black Bear Road” t-shirt and will wear it proudly. I’d love to do it in a Jeep Rubicon to really experience it again.
If you would be interested in purchasing a DVD of this trail, please comment in the comment section below. I edited the video for length that you see here but do have a full-length version from Start to Finish. If you are interested, please comment below and when the DVD is complete, I will contact each person. DVD will include the full-length video fro the Summit to the Power Station, plus a slideshow of images.