Off Roading Ouray Silverton and Telluride Colorado
Updated June 27, 2008
Before I go into this I want to say one thing. SAFETY FIRST. Always be aware of where you are and the road conditions. Don't drive beyond your skill limit. While many of these trails are rated fairly easy, conditions change in a heartbeat that can turn a fun day off roading into a disaster. If you're not sure what to do stop, get out and check out the situation.
POSTED: 6:39 am MDT August 9, 2004 DENVER -- A Colorado Springs couple was killed and two young boys were seriously injured in a weekend accident on a narrow mountain road. Daniel Gluklick, 50, and his wife Jeanine, 47, died after their Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled at least 800 feet down a mountain at Imogene Pass on Saturday, said Sgt. Lawrence Oletski said. The pass near Telluride is at 12,000 feet. Their son Cole Gluklick, 11, and friend Ian Nordstrom, 7, were injured. No one was wearing a seat belt and all four were thrown from the vehicle. The Jeep had pulled over to let another car pass. When it attempted to get back on the road, the Jeep drove on some rocks which lifted one side of the vehicle. The Jeep then rolled off the embankment. "There was just too much of a shift to one side," Oletski said.
What I do is reserve a spot in the Amphitheater Campground out of Ouray. This is a great place. It's 5 minutes out of town. The guy that ran it built spots for tents that are raised up so if it rains the tent stays dry. You can take showers at the hot springs pool down in town but it will cost you. This campground is great and it's near to all the trails. To reserve spots in the US forest service camps call 800-280-2267. This is a popular place and I would reserve a spot especially on a weekend. I remember seeing a campground right at the edge of Telluride next to the public park. Otherwise there are loads of motels in Ouray and at least two RV parks.
I’m going to assume we’re based out of Ouray. The first place to go to get warmed up and see some beautiful scenery is Yankee Boy & Governor Basin. You can do this whole area in as short as 3 or 4 hours or you can take your time exploring and site seeing for a day. It’s a nice easy trip that’s 20 minutes out of Ouray. You drive South down the main street of Ouray which is Highway 550. It will turn into a paved highway that switchbacks up the mountain. Right as you leave town and get a little ways up there’s a turn off on the right onto a wide gravel road. You’ll know you’re there because there is a work shed for state snowplows located there. Take this road for about 3 to 4 miles. Most of it’s easy driving that a normal car can do. You’ll come to a commercial mine site by a small bridge, this is Camp Bird Mine and Mill. You will see a large white slurry pit with danger quicksand signs posted. Stay right and you’ll be entering Yankee Boy Basin.
As you drive along there are some little hills and cabins on the right. One is the site of the town of Sneffels. A couple hundred yards up on the left is the remains of a really large mill which I think is the Revenue Mill. You can ford Sneffels Creek a small stream and drive up to the mill site. You can get out and hike up the hill to the mill. It’s a real walk in the high atmosphere. There are remains of a stamp mill crusher and tram cables laying all over. There are old electrical insulators on the walls of the old rooms. If you poke around you can see where they stored the explosives.
A little ways down is another commercial mining site called Ruby Trust. Make a left turn and you can travel down a trail that leads through the woods and switch backs up the mountainside. In August the whole place is full of wild flowers and columbine. This trail goes almost up to the top of the mountain for some great views of the valley. We had lunch at the top and then drove back down to where we turned.
Now just go left and continue down the original trail. You will weave up through a meadow full of flowers with a triple waterfall on the left. Park and walk over to the falls and the fast running water. They said that this is the place that Coors filmed a commercial. As you continue you can take a couple of turns off to the left where there are some mine sites. If you take the main trail to the end you will travel up some steep rocks that could be wet. I had to use a little throttle modulation at this point. Otherwise it’s not too difficult. The trail ends above timberline on a pile of rocks where there is a bunch of snow to play in. You can hike from here to the top of the mountain if you are in good enough shape.
When you entered this area by Campbird there is a marked trail that leads to Imogene Pass. Imogene Pass leads you into Telluride. Imogene will be snowed until the end of July or beginning or August. You will travel through the woods till you get to another mine site on the left, which I think is the Yellow Rose mine. This area has a nice stream running through that you can easily ford. There are remains of buildings, trestles and mines. Up at the end of the site is a beautiful waterfall. Further up the road is Upper Campbird which is not much to see. At this point you are getting pretty high up and will probably hit snow. In August you can continue up and over Imogene pass and proceed down into the Tomboy mining area. This is probably the largest area of old houses and mine ruins around and is worth seeing. Private owners have left the town standing for all to see. The remains of a very large processing plant with old smelters and cable cars are scattered all around. If Imogene is closed you can get up there from Telluride.
If you're in Silverton you can drive out to Animas Forks. There are side trails that lead to many mine sites off this road. You can just explore. This is more a dirt - gravel road but is worth the ride. Animas Forks is the most intact mining town in the area. There are many old houses and a couple of mills. From Animas there are a couple of trails that lead back over to the Ouray area. The one I took was California Gulch to Lake Como. Lake Como is one of the most beautiful sights you'll see. You will now be entering Poughkeepsie Gulch. All the 4wheel drive maps I picked up in the area have Poughkeepsie Gulch crossed out as being too difficult. I think they want the rental jeepsters to stay away. For a Hummer this is the most fun off road place in the whole area. There are no steep drop offs, just a lot of hilly obstacles. At the end you have to descend to the trail which leads back to Ouray. There are two ways down. One is a nice hill of loose stone and dirt which is a blast to go up and down on. The other way down is over some large Moab style rocks. You need to use BTM at this point. The only problem point to watch out for is a couple of sharp rocks when you exit the gulch. I call these the Lathe. If you don't go real slow and watch your sides it will literally shave aluminum off of your rocker panel protection. Every year I swear that I'm going to bring a sledgehammer and wack that sharp point off the rock. Last year (Aug 96) on the trail down from Poughkeepsie we came upon an area that looked like a bomb had hit it. There were about 10 acres of trees scattered around like toothpicks. I found out that this was the result of a landslide the previous winter.
Another low pass that is a very pleasant ride is Ophir. This takes you from 550 out of Silverton (not far from Red Mountain and Black Bear trail heads) to the Telluride area. It's a very scenic ride that ends up in an old small town of Ophir. Because Ophir is close to Telluride there is a lot of new houses being built in the area. Ophir has a neat little post office that just begs to be photographed. When you leave Ophir and hit the highway turn right toward Telluride. A mile or so up the road on the right is the trail to Alta. Alta is another mining town that is in very good shape and well worth seeing. The boarding house the miners stayed in is still up as well as a few of the houses that the owners and managers lived in. You can ride up and see the two Alta lakes from here. At this point you are only about 1/2 hour from Telluride.
The only pass that’s very tight for a hummer is Black Bear. Black Bear doesn’t take any special skill, just guts. You can only travel one way on Black Bear road, which is a relatively short trail into Telluride. You access the trail off of 550 half way between Ouray and Silverton at the top of Red Mountain pass. The drive to Black Bear is really easy until you come to the ledge. The ledge is barely wide enough for a Hummer. To you right is a vertical wall of rock and the drop off look like a 500-foot vertical drop. I drove around it my head watching my front right tire keeping it on the edge of the road. After the ledge are a series of very sharp white-knuckle switchbacks with shear drops. It took at least 5 to 8 backups to make the hardest turns. You finally come to Bridal Falls which is a spectacular vertical cascading waterfall. Couples come up to the falls to get married. Near the bottom of the falls is an old electric generating station. This is one of the first commercial A/C generators run in the United States.
A nice day trip out of Ouray is Engineer pass over to Lake City, back over Cinnamon Pass into Animas Forks. You pickup Engineer out of Ouray on 550. You pass the road to Yankee boy and drive about 5 miles until you go under a large concrete structure. This was constructed to keep snow slides from sweeping cars off the highway. A number of years ago a snowplow driver died at this spot. There’s a memorial just past the structure on the left. Keep looking to the left and you will see a sign on the left for Engineer Pass.
You drive 5 miles or so up a rocky road until you come to a fork. Off to the right is Mineral Point which is great mine and mill site. You’ll see the remains of large settling tanks and a stamp mill. You can continue up the road and see the mine with vertical shafts on top. This road will lead you to Animas Forks. You can retrace your steps back to the fork and continue on up to Engineer pass. You go over the pass and start your descent down to Rose’s cabin which was once a stagecoach stop. This is a great place for lunch. The trail becomes a gravel road with a beautiful creek (Henson Creek) running along the right. You go through a small town, Capital City and come upon another mine and mill operation, The Fanny Fern mine which is down on the right beyond a dam that has been dynamited. If you pull over you can see the hole in the dam and the mine operation. Last I was through there it looked like it was occupied. You proceed into Lake City which is a small town where you can get fuel and snacks. You follow the Alpine trail signs which will lead you around to the road to Cinnamon Pass. You will pass a resort area and a large lake (Lake San Cristobol).
Not far from the lake is a four mile long side road to the left that will take you to another great ghost town Carson. The road up to Carson is a great 4 wheel drive trail through the woods. Carson is a big settlement with some restored buildings and a very large mining site. You can take the road all the way to the top and get a spectacular view of the whole area. One of the roads on the top leads back down to the highway that's just outside of Lake city back on the East side of the mountain.
If you retrace your steps back to the road to Cinnamon pass you will go through an area with some small camp grounds and finally an old settlement. As you ascend Cinnamon pass look out for herds of sheep (depending on the time of year). Cinnamon is a easy drive for a Hummer. You will come out on a road that overlooks Animas Forks. You can return via Silverton and highway 550 or a couple of trails such as California Gulch to Poughkeepsie Gulch up and over back to Ouray.
Corkscrew is another nice ride. You take 550 out of Ouray toward Silverton. The highway will come into a long flat valley. At the end of the valley on the left is a bridge and what looks like a construction site. There was a Keep out sign up but it was for the construction site. You exit the highway, go over the bridge and you will find the trail head. Once you get up high the view of Red mountain is fantastic. This whole area has many mine sites to explore. This will bring you up and over the mountain to the Lake Como area and down to Animas Forks or back to Silverton via another gravel state road.
Another area that is fun to explore is Red Mountain. You take 550 out of Ouray toward Silverton. You go past the Corkscrew trail head. You travel beyond the highway switchbacks and the Idarado mine. You’ll arrive at Red mountain pass. On the left you will see some old buildings. On the right side of the highway is the trailhead for Black Bear. You drive in on the left. You can drive in to this area and explore old mine sites and 4 wheel up mountain trails and over old tailings. This is a big area and you can probably spend the good part of a day here. The last time we were there we explored going North and had lunch at the top at a mine site overlooking the Idarado mill. You can follow the road down and it lets you out back on 550.