Three Favorite Four Wheel Drive Trails Around Ouray
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!