Four Wheel Drive Trails and Scenic Byways beckon as Fall Colors Begin in Southwest Colorado!
The new season is beginning. Everywhere you look, the aspens are beginning to turn from a vibrant green to the yellows and oranges of Fall. With just a tiny bit of snow in the high country a couple of weeks ago, it seems Mother Nature has decided to grant us a long and beautiful season of colors and adventures.
Imogene Pass, Ophir and Yankee Boy Basin are teeming with activity as explorers traverse the trails and photographers pause at every switchback for that unforgettable shot.
Black Bear Pass, one of the most difficult, closed for a couple of days a week or so ago, but only for rock removal and to make the trail safer. Adrenaline junkies are yet again traversing the tight switchbacks and breathtaking drops. Unless the weather changes drastically from the forcast, Black Bear, as well as every other high country pass, should remain open for at least a couple more weeks and adventurers far and wide can continue exploring.
September is an amazing time to journey the passes. Wildflowers are still in bloom, complimented by the beginning transformation of the foliage as nature prepares for a long winters nap. It is almost as if the countryside is rebelling against the inevitable approach of Winter.
Like the grand finale of a fireworks display, the San Juans will enter into the time of ice climbing and skiing with a final explosion of color and life.
As the evenings become more chilly, and the mornings more brisk, the weather forcast still promises days of warm sunshine and spectacular hiking and jeeping conditions. The streets are a little more quiet in town, perfect for a liesurely evening of shopping and dining, followed by a long soak in the hsoothing waters of our all natural mineral hot spring tubs.
Of course, the best part about this time of year is how very quickly everything can change. Every day is an adventure just by being. Tomorrow could be entirely different. The weather could change and completely alter the direction the season is going. Suddenly, fall will be in full bloom, with the colors peaking in every corner of the Uncompahgres. Perhaps one of the most incredible things about the Fall season in Colorado is winning the gamble, and getting here at the right time.
As always, at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, our goal is to help our guest decide when they might catch the best of the Fall colors. Every year, we scour the websites and check with our guests and take scenic drives ourselves in order to provide the most up to date information on the conditions of the four wheel drive trails, hiking trails, wildflowers and fall foliage.
The San Juan National Forest has published their first update on the colors. It looks as if Red Mountain Pass is the best bet right now to catch the beginnings of the leaves:
Estimated Percentage of Current Fall Foliage:
Durango – 5%
Molas Pass - 10%
Silverton/Red Mountain Pass – 35% aspens
Pagosa – 5%
Dolores/Rico – 10%
Mancos – 10%
Areas with Greatest Amount of Color / Recommended Viewing Areas:
Color reported from the north aspects around Silverton and around Ouray.
Estimated Peak Viewing Period:
High country maybe the weekend of the 20th getting well started.
The majority of areas should be the week after.
Viewing Suggestions / Tips:
4WD in Silverton and the Alpine Loop. Lake City to Creede. Ouray.
The Alpine loop is always a popular jeep adventure. You can do the entire loop, or just portions around Silverton to catch the best colors this weekend. Corkscrew, Animas Forks, Engineer, Cinnamon, Engineer, all promise to be spectacular this week, and even better next week.
Last Dollar Road, one of my favorites for viewing the Fall colors, will be a little later in the season, due to its lower altitude. The Million Dollar Highway should provide some awesome views as the week progresses, and is accessible all season.
Hiking in the fall is a marvelous way to catch early changes not visible from the roads and jeep trails. A short drive up Highway 550 to the Ghost Town of Ironton is a great way to see quite a bit. Take a picnic with you, and enjoy an afternoon surrounded by nature and all of her beauty as you explore the remains of this once prosperous mining town.
An excellent way to experience the San Juans with both hands and eyes free is to take advantage of a jeep tour. Each of our tour companies in and around Ouray are staffed by experienced, proffessional drivers with up to the minute knowledge of road conditions and ideal wildlife and color viewing. A tour in the high country in the fall promises you will never miss anything!
Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help to create the perfect getaway for you. From the best spots for fall colors, to up to date 4-wheel drive road conditions, to the best spot for a quiet dinner, we are here to make your stay memorable.
Ouray Colorado is the Jeeping Capitol Of The World!
Boasting access to over 500 miles of 4-wheel drive trails, Ouray County and the surrounding area has truly earned the title of Jeeping Capitol of the world.
Off roading enthusiasts from all walks of life and all over the country come to this tiny little area in Southwest Colorado specifically for the adventure of the high country trails.
Whether you are an experienced off roader, or this is your first time to explore these high country trails, there is a jeep road just for you! Time and again visitors travel from Lake City to Ouray over Engineer Pass, or to Telluride and back via Ophir, Imogene or Black Bear Pass. High country lakes, seasonal waterfalls, wildlife of every shape and size. Wildflowers in the spring and summer, and colorful aspens in the fall. Every trip along one of these trails is a new experience, dotted with new and exciting stories with opportunities for spectacular photographs around literally every bend.
Every jeep tour and rental company is eager to help guests to find the perfect route most suited to their comfort levels and experience. The idea is for everyone to enjoy this amazing place we are fortunate enough to call home. Of course, one of the most important unspoken rules of off roading is to always stop and lend a helping hand to your fellow adventurers, and Colorado is nothing if not a friendly, helpful state!
With so many trails to choose from, there is no one in particular that is more spectacular than the other, however there are three ( ranging in levels of difficulty) which seem to draw the most interest:
Last Dollar Road (level 1 experience - easy)
This is indeed one of the most incredible drives in the fall. Travelling from just outside of Ridgway (10 miles from Ouray) to the outskirts of Telluride, the road travels through long tunnels of aspen trees, creating a surreal drive that virtually feels like a painting. The sunlight becomes a little less intense, and leaves of every color drift around your vehicle. Places to pull off abound, and the area is populated with photographers catching frame after frame.
To access, travel past Ridgway toward Telluride on Highway 62 to the top of Dallas Divide. Last Dollar Road is on the left, and marked. Six miles down the road, you will come to a fork giving the option of a shorter route which exits at the town of Sawpit on the right, or left to travel along Hastings Mesa to Highway 145 just past the Telluride airport.
If you have a decent amount of clearance on your vehicle, take the left turn. This is a little more steep and curvy, but the views of the Sneffels Range are truly awesome!
Yankee Boy Basin (level 2 experience - moderate)
Yankee Boy Basin is known best for the vivid wildflowers in the late spring and early summer which blanket the fields with a rainbow of Mother Natures most incredible creations. With a twin waterfall flowing through the colorful vista, this is truly a magical place!
Adventurers drive along this well travelled road along the Uncompahgre Gorge, past abandoned as well as operating mines. Gazing at the cliffs across the way, it is hard to believe that once over a thousan people lived and worked here - summer, winter, spring and fall. If you look closely, you can still maybe find the ruins of an old bunk house on the side of the mountain, accessed by an ingenious lift system to get the miners from the top of the hill to the mine entrances below.
To access this trail, head south out of Ouray toward Silverton. At the first switchback, turn right onto Camp Bird Road. About ten miles up the road, take the right fork to Yankee Boy Basin. The last two miles of this track are quite steep and narrow, so a number of vehicles will park where the road is still a little more traversible and walk the rest of the way. Because it is a narrow two way road, in this instance, whoever has the most space is required to back up and make way for the other driver.
Corkscrew Gulch ( level 3 - moderate to difficult)
Quite possiblly my personal favorite, Corkscrew Gulch is one of the most fun for people who want a little daring, but not so much they can't handle it. Starting about 10 miles from Ouray, take a left at the turn off for Brown Mountain, Corkscrew and Ironton Park. Stay to the right as you head up the hill, and the fun begins almost immediately!
Travelling up switchbacks not so tight to be scary, the view through the forested road above the Million Dollar Highway is amazing. It is also the best way to guage exactly how much you are climbing, as every glimpse of the highway becomes even more distant until reaching timberline, at which point it is difficult to decide where to look.
At the summit, it is as if you are standing at the top of the world. High above timberline, at 12,217 feet, the views are phenominal.
The eastern descent offers access to either south to Silverton, or north over Hurricane Pass and California Gulch, connecting to the road to the ghost town Animas Forks. Be sure if you take this route to watch for the trailhead to Poughkeepsie Gulch, which is a level 5 trail, and prohibited by most rental companies.
Obviously, there are more than three trails to explore on your adventure in the high country. From Last Dollar to Black Bear, each offers a variety of visual candy and an entire world of adventure. Exploring the trails, I often wind up taking random side trails, and find the most amazing valleys and mountain lakes. Just be sure to remember that if the road looks doubtful, follow your instinct. If unsure, get out and walk a little way to see what is up ahead. Be aware of road condidtions. The weather can change drastically in a very short period of time. Don't be caught off guard. Never go cross country. Not only does this do irreperable damage to the tundra, it is illegal. Be aware of your own level of comfort and experience, and above all, bring your camera and be prepared to stop. A lot.
If you prefer, a jeep tour is an awesome way to experience the high country. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery as a seasoned driver shows you all of the sights you may have missed otherwise. Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to plan the perfect adventure for you!
Over 500 Miles of Four Wheel Drive Trails Provide a Glimpse into the History of Southwest Colorado Mining History.
It is hard to believe as we put our jeep into four low and ascend the side of a mountain, high above timberline that once hardy men and women made this journey in the dead of winter an foot and with mule carts heavily laden with gold, silver, and other precious metals.
Driving along the narrow trails and gazing to the side of a 200 foot drop, a jeep tour driver will share stories of how these tough men and women would have to choose between the team of animals or the wagon they were pulling. Sadly, the gold won out much more often than the hardworking donkeys.
At an elevation of over 11,000 feet, the tiny town of Animas Forks began with just one small cabin in 1873, and within three years, boasted over 450 residents. With a post office, jail, general store hotel, and of course, a saloon, the town prospered for a few years during the mining boom. In 1997 and 1998, a grant to San Juan County served to preserve and stabilize the last few buildings of the once bountiful town. Now part of the Alpine Loop scenic byway, Animas Forks is a small window into life in the San Juans in the early 1900's.
Parking at the base of the remaining buildings, one is somewhat haunted by the overwhelming beauty of the area. Only the foundation remains of what was once a boarding house that served as a resting place to over 150 miners. Gazing out of what must have been a basement window, the spectacular views almost make up for the harsh life they must have had.
The Gustavson House was once lauded for its indoor toilet (a glorified outhouse connected by a hallway). The family lived here year round, unlike many of their neighbors who left to winter in Silverton at the first signs of snow.
The Duncan House was built in 1879, and is often mistakenly referred to as the Walsh House, although Tom Walsh never lived there. Its beautiful bay windows look across to the river and the Columbus Mine which sits the the fork of the Animas River.
With work always in progress to maintain the stability of these buildings, one can wander through these old homes and marvel at the tiny rooms, narrow staircases, the incredible views and the "modern conveniences". Glass still covers the windows, and it is easy to be taken away to a different time, as you imagine the hustle and bustle of the streets below less than a hundred years ago.
Animas Forks can be reached either by traveling the Alpine Loop, accessing the town either by Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass or California Pass. If you are not looking to spend the day on the jeep trails, you can get there by taking County Road 2 out of Silverton. The first half of the drive is along a well maintained dirt road, eventually becoming a bit more rough. Although I did see some two wheel drive vehicles on the trail, something with a little more clearance might feel more comfortable, and allow for more exploring on the numerous little side trails.
Let the staff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to map out your next adventure in the high country! A perfect base camp for all of your four wheel drive fantasies, our knowledgeable staff will male sure you get everything and more from your visit, not to mention the inviting natural hot spring tubs just outside your door to soak away the dust of the road.
Adventure Awaits in the High Country all around Ouray!
June almost over, and July is waiting for us in the distance. Soon, all of the passes will be open for the adventurer to explore and experience The days are long and liesurely. Snow melt in the high country creates roaring rivers and seasonal waterfalls at every turn. One needs just to look up to be overwheled by the beauty and majesty of the Uncompahgres.
Wildlife looks on as if we are the ones on display, and wildflowers dot the countryside in a rainbow of colors. Travelling the four wheel drive trasls this time of year is both challenging and immensely thrilling. It is like travelling back in time. Every twist and turn is filled with wonder at the springtime beauty of a world awakening from a long winter nap. Adrenaline pumps through your veins as you wonder whether the mountain will permit passage.
The weather can change in a heart beat. One minute, cruising with the top down and wondering if you put enough sunblock on, and the next pulling on sweaters and raincoats as mother nature teases with rain or snow.
Passes are opening in record time, and by the end of the month will be so well travelled, it will seem like old hat.
Four Wheel Drive Road Conditions as of June 27, 2014:
Alpine Loop - Open Animas Forks - Open Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Closed
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Open
Cinnamon Pass - Clear to Lake City
Clear Lake - Open
Corkscrew - Open
County Road 2 to Animas Forks - Open
County Road 9 - Open
Cow Creek - Open
Engineer Pass - Open **Please Note! The Trail is Extremely Rough.
Fall Creek Road (to Woods Lake) - Closed
Governors Basin - One mile of Governors Basin is clear
Hastings Mesa - Open
Horsefly - Closed
Howardsville/Cunningham Gulch to Highland Mary Trail - open Hurricane/California - Closed Imogene - Closed - started clearing 6/9 to Richmond Basin and Silver Basin Iron Springs (Hwy 145 through to Hwy 62)- Closed
Last Dollar Road - Open - High clearance vehicles only; expect mud snow and ice
Little Cone Road (CR G49) - Closed
Maggie/Minnie - Closed
Miniehaha (CR 51) - Closed
Old Lime Creek - Closed
Ophir - Open
Owl Creek Pass - Maintained to Vista Point - Open to West fork Intersection. Gunnison County will open their section by mid June **Please note! There is still deep snow.
Pittsburgh Mine Road - Closed
Placer - Open
Poughkeepsie - Closed
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Closed
Skyline - Closed
South Mineral Campground road -Open to Bandora Lane
County road 7 - Open
Stony Pass - Open over the top to Pole Creek. ***Please note: Travel through Pole Creek is not reccomended
Yankee Boy - Open
Whether this is your first time, or you have been driving these roads for years, comsider taking a tour! The experienced drivers with all of our tour companies take the work out of experiencing the high country! Even if you brought your own vehicle, taking a half day tour is a wonderful way to get a feel for the road conditions and difficulty levels you are comfortable driving yourself. Not to mention the fact that when someone else is driving, you get to focus on the scenery, and getting the perfect shot with your camera!
If you are renting a jeep, or bringing your wn four wheel drive vehicle, please always remember to be safe! Check road conditions prior to setting out, and know the limits of your vehicle, as well as your own comfort levels. Let the satff at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs help you to map out the perfect itinerary. They have the most up to date information at their fingertips, and are eager to help you plan an adventure that you will enjoy. Remember to let the staff know when you return, and update us on how the roads are!
Don't forget that every one of these roads is taking you over 9,000 feet. Weather conditions in the high country can change in moments! You are also a lot closer to the sun up there, so please remember sunscreen. Even if it doesn't seem hot or even sunny, take my advice on this one! Sun burns hurt, and make the rest of your dream vacation uncomfortable. Bring layers. In just a few feet, the weather can change from warm and sunny to a wintry snow storm, on into hail, followed by freezing rain, then back to seventy degrees again. If you come to a spot of trail that you are unsure of, scout ahead on foot before attempting. There is no shame in turning around and finding a trail you feel safer on.
Respect your fellow adventurers! Remember, ettiquette on four wheel drive trails allows right of way to up hill drivers, however, often due to the width of the roads, it is appropriate to trade off depending on who has more room. Don't try to pull offf without a comfortable space for your vehicle, and please remember the tundra is extremely fragile, so stay on the designated trails.
Above all, HAVE FUN!!!!!
The majesty of the high country is unbelievable. Bring your cameras, and be sure there is plenty of memory. Every turn holds new wonders to behold, and opportunities to capture just a taste of the San Juans!
Take a Journey into History, While Experiencing the Majesty of Southwest Colorado on a Jeep Tour!
Have you ever wondered what all of the fuss is about when people talk about four wheeling in the San Juans? Whether it is your first visit, or your hundredth, regardless of your off road experience, taking a ride with one of the knowledgeable guides in Ouray is well worth it.
From the moment we boarded the twelve passenger tour jeep, everyone knew this was going to be a day of fun. Greg, owner of San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours picked us up promptly at 8:30, and immediately set a mood of adventure with his friendly, professional manner.
We jumped on Highway 550, and began our tour with a quick stop at the Bear Creek pull off. This section of the Million Dollar Highway was just recently expanded and offers a spectacular view of the Uncompahgre Gorge. A plaque honoring Otto Mears stands testament to the fact that this section of road was built and maintained by hardworking people. Photos of the highway and toll booth when it was fist built, remind us of how times have changed.
Another quick stop to walk around in the town of Ironton was a fascinating journey into the history of the Uncompahgres. It is hard to believe that once there were over a thousand residents where now there are only a few buildings still standing. You cannot help but marvel at how quickly Mother Nature takes back an entire town.
Just past the Summit of Red Mountain Pass, the real adventure began, as we turned off onto a county road, which would lead us to the Highway to Heaven. San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours is the only tour company with permission to drive this road, so there were no other vehicles as we unlocked the gate and began the ride.
Wildflowers dot the countryside as the road climbs in altitude, past abandoned mines and falling down houses on the deceptively smooth road. Perhaps ten minutes after the gate, the real ride began. Greg stopped and told us some history of the area, then gestured beyond to the beginning of the Highway to Heaven. The grade was daunting, and the tour truck immediately geared into four low as we began the ascent. Looking to the side, there is very little shoulder, and the countryside opens in a breathtaking panorama. Sitting in the far back seat, it was fun to look forward and see nothing but sky past the heads of my co travelers.
As we reached the top of the road, clouds obscured our view for a moment, and we all got out of the vehicle to stand at the edge, where no one questioned whether we truly had risen as far as the name of the tour proclaimed. A light breeze pushed aside the clouds, and we found ourselves gazing down at the Million Dollar Highway from what seemed like a thousand miles above.
Some of us tried to get our picture taken with a finger in the lake below, but our aim was a little off.
The ride back down was amusing. some folks with weak stomachs opted to walk as opposed to riding back down the steepest part of the road. Greg just chuckled when asked if his feelings were hurt. The drivers on these tours have traveled these roads so often, it is old hat to them. We caught up with them quickly enough, and the ride down the hill was not nearly as frightening as everyone thought it would be.
Shortly after, we found ourselves in the tiny town of Silverton. A quick stop at the courthouse to use the restrooms, then we headed to Handlebars for lunch. This little restaurant is a popular spot for lunch, between the atmosphere, friendly service and great food its no wonder!
Heading home, we took Corkscrew Pass. This four wheel drive road is full of twists and turns, but not overly treacherous. It takes you up above timberline again, and we all got out to look across the way at the mountaintop we had just been to.
Once back at the hotel, everyone was truly satisfied, and perhaps a little tired. There is nothing like spending an entire day travelling the back roads around Ouray. It always seems as if there is something more magnificent to see beyond every switchback, and it is hard to leave, but once the day was over, everyone was glad to relax and download all the pictures, or soak in the mineral hot spring tubs.
Let us help you decide on the perfect jeep tour for your visit! At the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs, our team makes it a point to know what will best suit your party. Whether you are looking for bumpy roads and heart pounding adventure, or a scenic ride to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, we can help create the perfect adventure for you.
See you Soon!
Last Dollar Road Provides a Stunning Backdrop for Photographers Year Round and Springtime is no Exception.
The Original "True Grit" starring John Wayne was filmed on several locations in Ouray County including the town of Ridgway, in the Ouray County Courthouse, and up on Owl Creek Pass. However, the Ross Ranch was actually just outside of Ouray County on Last Dollar Road.
In Ridgway head west on Colorado Highway 62 up and over the Dallas Divide and then turn left on Last Dollar Road (marked with a brown Forest Service Sign) about 2 miles west of the summit. The initial stretches of road (4-5 miles) are easily accessible by a passenger car.
The Ross Ranch is private property, so, it is best to obey the signs, but, it is right alongside the road so pictures are easy. This building has fallen into further disrepair but, from this angle, it is still recognizable. The purple lupine flower in early June on Last Dollar Road.
These buildings are right there too.
Just beyond the Ross Ranch, amazing scenic vistas of ranchland as far as the eye can see and the amazing yellow flowers are dandelions.
Part of Last Dollar Road is a wonderfully scenic drive with a passenger car for the first few miles and easily past the Ross Ranch. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, you can continue to Telluride on this road, but, if you are in a passenger vehicle, there will be some spots that are not passable. Last Dollar Road is a fairly easy road for a 4WD enthusiast, however, if the road is wet, it can be trechourous.
If you are lucky, you may even enjoy some wildlife viewing as Elk and Deer are prevalent in the area.
We offer more information on True Grit locations in Ouray Colorado, just let us know how to help you. If you stay with us, we have created a self guided tour of many locations that we will share.
There are several locations in and around Ouray County that are sure to spark recognition and a sense of the Old West. Not much has changed in these little towns since the days the movie was filed, and it is easy to slip into the past.
Let us arrange a special advwenture centered around exploring the silm site of this classic film! We will take care of all of the details, so all you need to do is show up ready to begin your adventure. Check in at the Box Canyon, then head out to pick up your rental jeep. Enjoy a nice long soak in our mineral hot spring tubs, then settle in for the night to enjoy your True Grit dvd. In the morning, head on out with the coordinates and information for a day exploring, then back to Ouray for dinner at the Outlaw Restaurant. Know as The Pick in 1969, this little saloon was a favorite of the entire cast. Pictures and memorabilia decorate every wall, and if you ask nicely and are very gentle, they may let you hold Juhn Waynes hat!
We can't wait to help you with a fantastic adventure!
See you soon!
As the last leaves fall, Southwest Colorado prepares for Winter Activities.
We have seen a spectacular season of fall this year, with colors still hanging on for the time being, however the high country has seen some winter storms, and soon will welcome the first snow of the season. Granted, there is no way to truly know when that will happen, and until then, the jeep trails are still open, but it is important to remember the weather can change in a heartbeat.
There have been some temporary closures of the more extreme jeep trails, and the local tour companies are no longer taking groups up, but if you have your own vehicle, we have compiled a list of the jeep road status as provided by Ouray County, San Juan County and San Miguel County. Happy travels, and please be safe!
Alta Lakes - Open
Black Bear Pass - Open ***PLEASE NOTE THAT IT IS ONE-WAY FROM INGRAM FALLS INTO TELLURIDE.***
Blue Lakes Trailhead - Open
Brown Mountain - Open
Cinnamon Pass - Open
Clear Lake - Open
County Road 2 to Animas Forks - Open
County Road 9 - Open
Cow Creek - Open
Engineer Pass -Open
Fall Creek Road to Woods Lake - Open
Gladstone - Open
Governors Basin - Open
Hastings Mesa (Hwy 62 to Hwy 145- Top of Dallas to Sawpit) - Open
Horsefly (From Montrose County to Montrose) - Open
Hurricane/California - Open
Imogene - Has been plowed and re-opened. ***please use extreme caution
Iron Springs (Hwy 145 through to Hwy 62)- Open
Last Dollar Road - Open
Little Cone Road (CR G49) - Open
Maggie/Minnie - Open
Miniehaha (CR 51) - Open
Old Lime Creek - Open
Ophir - Cloed on 9/25/2012, however, the trail has been re-opened. ***Please use extreme caution.
Owl Creek Pass - Maintained to Vista Point
Picayune - Open
Pittsburgh Mine Road - open
Placer - Open
Poughkeepsie - REQUIRES EXPERIENCE AND SPECIAL VEHICLE EQUIPMENT.
Red Mountain Town - Open
Shrine Road (CR 6) - Open
Skyline - Open
South Mineral Campground road - County road 7 - Open
Yankee Boy - Open
Stony Pass - Open
Each county and all of the jeep tour companies agree to use extreme caution in the high country this time of year. When in doubt, it is always best to turn around and try a lower altitude pass. As the weather changes from rain to snow, road conditions can become icy and slick very quickly. There are still several passes which are regularly used and provide some of the most photographed scenery in the country any time of year.
With the jeep trails beginning to close, this just means we have winter activities to look forward to! There are some amazing hiking trails, scenic drives that do not require 4WD, and ice climbing season is just around the corner! Late October and November are ideal times to visit and enjoy a quiet, relaxing escape as the hurried season comes to a close, and before the busy Holidays begin.
Needless to say, a long soak in the mineral hot springs is a rejuvenating experience in the peaceful atmosphere of the San Juan Mountains.
With over 500 miles of accessible 4WD trails at our doorstep, is it any wonder Ouray is know as the Jeeping Capitol of the World?
When driving to Telluride in the winter, or in a sedan, or if you're in a hurry, it is a circular route down Highway 550 to Ridgway, turn on to Highway 62, then a few miles further down the road, turn onto Highway 145 which takes you to a town very similar to Ouray, but a mountain range away. The entire drive is forty-seven miles and takes about an hour.
Of course, thats not the only way to Telluride, just the fastest. Imogene, Black Bear, Ophir and Last Dollar are some other options, but not for the faint of heart (except perhaps for Last Dollar).
Black Bear Pass is the shortest in miles, but takes alot longer than the highway. A short twelve miles of sharp twists and narrow turns, this level five trail is not for the faint of heart. In fact, most rental companies strictly forbid the use of their vehicles on this one. Definately take a tour though!
Imogene is a level four jeep trail traversing 17 miles of spectacular scenery. This is propably the second most popular trail in the area, taking drivers over rough terrain to the summit of 13,100 feet. Both of these typically open around July Fourth so the early opening of these roads is exciting indeed! Perhaps I will let someone drive me over them this year!
Ophir Pass is considered one of the easier four wheel drive roads in the area. Summiting at a little over 11,000 feet, this level three trail travels past waterfalls, and a mountain lake as it eventually drops you into the small town of Ophir, a few miles away from Telluride. As you enter into the 'city limits' of Ophir, you are greeted with a welcome sign which proclaims the population down to house pets. Super cute!
Are you a John Wayne fan? Last Dollar Road takes travellers past the Ross Ranch, one of several film locations from True Grit in and around Ouray County. Accessed about 10 miles outside of Ridgway, at the top of Dallas Divide, this level one trail gives drivers a sense of the majesty of the back country without the extreme switchbacks and sheer drops of some of the more difficult roads.
Do them all, perhaps not in one day, but each road is its own adventure and well worth the drive. After that, no worries! Take a drive to Silverton over Corkscrew or head on over to Lake City on Engineer, or explore some ghost towns in Red Mountain Town.
Off the Beaten Path 4WD and Motorcycle Roads in Ouray County Colorado for Wildflower Viewing and Fall Foliage
Ouray County Roads 2 and 4 are often overlooked by visitors who want to climb to dizzying heights in the San Juan mountains. Now don’t get me wrong, because I love doing the same thing. But close to home are two readily-accessible roads that offer access to Billy Creek State Wildlife Area, along with spectacular views and wildflowers. The roads, shown in the GPS track below, are easily reached from US Hwy 550, just north of the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground at Ridgway State Park. This post tells you how to find these great roads and gives you a sample of the views and wildflowers I captured on camera on a mid June afternoon.
Let’s suppose you’re renting a Jeep, but that’s tomorrow. What to do today? If you have a conventional 2-wheel-drive sedan, you can easily travel up County Road 2 and also up to the top of the ridge on County Road 4B, enjoy the incredible views, then turn around and retrace your steps. The road is a bit rutted, but time will knock the ruts down even more. Now, let’s suppose that while you’re waiting for that Jeep you have your SUV or pickup truck. You can easily add County Road 4 to your itinerary and see even more. Pay attention to where there are some rocks embedded in the road surface and you’ll be fine—I don’t recommend it for low-clearance highway vehicles like our Prius. If you take your dual-sport or dirt motorcycle, note that there is some scree. Also note that parts of CR 4 border private property, so please obey the “no trespassing” signs and stay on the road. Also please note that vehicles going uphill have the right of way (but use common sense).
From Ouray, drive north to Ridgway. Keep on going, about nine miles. You’ll pass the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground—in another half mile you’ll find the turn onto County Road 4. If you’d prefer the tamer County Road 2, travel a couple miles further north on US Hwy 550 and you’ll see this sign on the east side of the road near a small collection of homes and the big metal maintenance building for Billy Creek.
Before looking at the wildflowers, let’s take a look at the GPS track below that highlights both roads. You may want to print this map and take it with you.
Note there are primitive campsites near the intersection of CR 2 and CR 4A. Observe the signs. If you’re bringing ATVs along, this is where you’ll want to park and unload.
Above: The view from the parking area at the easternmost end of CR 2. In the fall this field is dotted with hay rolls and is gorgeous. It's quiet here and there's plenty of room to park, plus a trail to go further into Billy Creek on foot or horseback.
When I was up there yesterday evening, I found wildflowers everywhere, especially up toward the intersection of CR 4A and CR 4. I stopped to take a picture of one and ended up spending quite a bit of time capturing pictures of others.
So, there you go! A low key, straightforward ride through some beautiful areas with gorgeous views. This is one of my favorite rides!
Below: Pinion Pines Biome on County Road 4.
About the Author: Dave Casler is an avid motorcycle rider (both dirt and street) and lives in Ouray County. He has the very best website documenting the roads of Ouray County for motor enthusiasts. He also has information on routes in Montrose County as well as San Juan County (Silverton), Hinsdale (Lake City) and San Miguel County (Telluride). All 4WD enthusiasts will appreciate his GPS maps and documentation of routes although he specializes in motorcycles.
Current Status: October 18, 2011
Due to the recent snowfall in the upper country, all four wheel drive trails above 10,000 feet are snow packed and icy. Fall colors are still in bloom in much of the lower country although many of the aspen have begun to shed their leaves in preparation for winter. Trails like Last Dollar are especially beautiful this time of year, however please remember to use caution, as muddy trails can be quite hazardous.
For information on Fall Color, look at these other articles:
Yankee Boy - Open to the restrooms only
Gladstone - Open
Last Dollar Road - Open Fall colors are still fantastic in this area!
Old Lime Creek - Open
Imogene - CLOSED
Governors Basin - CLOSED
Clear Lake - CLOSED
Alta Lakes - Open
Hurricane/California - CLOSED
Maggie/Minnie - CLOSED
Stony Pass - CLOSED
Black Bear Pass - CLOSED
Engineer Pass -CLOSED
Picayune - CLOSED
Placer - CLOSED
Ophir - CLOSED
Skyline - CLOSED
Although most passes are now closed, there is much to see from the lower altitude trails. As always, use caution on all trails this time of year, and dont forget your camera!