General Information About Four-wheeling
Four-wheeling is a wonderful means of experiencing the magnificent mountains surrounding Ouray. Bring along your four-wheel drive vehicle, rent a Jeep® locally or enjoy the convenience of a tour with knowledgeable, experienced drivers. Ouray is known as the “Jeep® Capital of America” and with very good reason!
In the immediate vicinity there are limitless opportunities for four-wheelers, from easy scenic drives to rugged challenges, from trails the miners built to passes that climb to spectacular heights. All of these have one factor in common: they traverse some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Choose from delicate alpine tundra abundant with wildflowers, ghost towns, abandoned mines, animal life and breathtaking vistas.
If you are not used to mountain driving, take the less challenging trips first. When preparing to take a four-wheel drive trip, remember the following safety and courtesy tips.
The four-wheel drive trails and roads in this guide are rated according to relative difficulty: Following are these classes:
Class 1 – Easy Class 2 – Moderately Difficult Class 3 – Difficult
Class 4 – Very Difficult Class 5 – Use Extreme Caution.(Additional equipt. req.)
There are many more four-wheel drive trails in the San Juan region than what is listed in this brochure. Typographical maps and/or books giving more detail on the various trails are available in many of Ouray’s shops. Some of the better books are: Guide to Colorado Background & 4-Wheel Drive Trails by Charles A. Wells, Mountain Mysteries by Gregory Smith, The Best of Colorado 4-Wheel Drive Roads by Outdoor Books & Maps, and 4-WD Trails Southwest Colorado, by Peter Massey & Jeanne Wilson.
Yankee Boy Basin (Class 2.5)
Follow the Camp Bird Road southwest of Ouray past the mine 10 miles up on the left. Continue on the four-wheel drive road through the remains of the old Sneffels townsite, taking the right fork, and past Twin Falls to the end of this road into the basin just below the 14,000 foot peek of Mt. Sneffels. The last two miles may be very steep and rough, so you may want to park and hike the remaining distance.
Yankee Boy Basin is an ideal area for viewing vast meadows of wildflowers in mid-summer.
Governor Basin (Class 4.5)
Following the above directions to Yankee Boy Basin, from the Flats above Sneffels townsite, follow the old wagon road branching left (south) past the Ruby Trust Mine.
The trail climbs easily up the east side of the basin through pine forests, then begins a series of switchbacks. There are several extremely steep, narrow rock sections that should only be attempted by an experienced four-wheeler. Once you level out, the trail forks. The left fork goes to Sydney Basin and the remains of the famous Virginius Mine. If you follow the trail straight ahead you will get to the Mountain Top Mine. The Mountain Top Mine was built against an enormous granite boulder to protect it against the numerous avalanches that occur in the area. Above to the southwest are the impressive spires of the St. Sophia Ridge.
Corkscrew Gulch (Class 3.5)
This popular four-wheel drive road branches east of Hwy 550 in Ironton Park eight miles south of Ouray. It climbs via numerous switchbacks, the last few of which are steep and narrow. The summit (at 12,217 ft.) is the red soil of the famous Red Mountains 1, 2 & 3 visible to the south.
The eastern descent into the Cement Creek drainage gives access either to Silverton (to the south) or up the north ridges over Hurricane Pass and down into California Gulch, connecting to the road to Animas Forks. This is all beautiful above-timberline country. Your view of Lake Como, alone, at the top of Hurricane Pass is worth the trip.
The southern trail head into Poughkeepsie Gulch is by Lake Como. It is an extremely dangerous four-wheel drive trail and is not recommended. Do not attempt Poughkeepsie Gulch unless you have your own vehicle and are an experienced four-wheel drive enthusiast. If you do Poughkeepsie Gulch, plan to descend from Lake Como rather than going up the extremely steep grade from the Engineer Pass road.
Brown Mountain (Class 2)
The trail up Brown Mountain splits off from the Corkscrew Gulch trail described above. The trail is not difficult but steep in some places. You’ll encounter several abandoned mine sites along the way.
The basin high on the side of Brown Mountain is a fun, short trip with incredible views and a great place for a picnic. You have some awesome views of Ironton Park, the Hayden Range and the Red Mountain area.
Imogene pass (Class 4.5)
Imogene Pass is one of the more difficult four-wheel drive roads between Ouray and Telluride to our west. You must follow the Yankee Boy Basin trail description up Camp Bird Road 5 miles. The road turns off to the left over Canyon Creek, climbing along the cliffs and looking down over the famous Camp Bird Mine. The ascent up to the Upper Camp Bird Mine area and Imogene Basin is rough and steep. You will find spectacular wildflower displays in this basin during the mid-summer months.
The views from Imogene Pass, at 13,114 feet, are extremely impressive. Be sure to stop and look off both to the west toward the mountains surrounding Telluride and to the east towards the beautiful red mountains, the historic town of Red Mountain Town and numerous 13,000-plus peaks. You’ll need a jacket at the top; it can be cold and sometimes windy.
The descent into the Tomboy Mine area and into Telluride is more gradual. Total distance from Ouray to Telluride is 18 miles and takes about three to four hours. This road is the route of the Imogene Pass Mountain Run held each year in September.
Last Dollar Road (Class 1)
Last Dollar Road is one of the easier trails in the San Juan region and one of several that you can take from Ouray to Telluride. Some of this trail can be driven in a passenger vehicle. Much of it, however, can be made significantly more difficult if the terrain is wet.
After turning onto Colorado Hwy 62 at Ridgway, drive 10 miles to the sign indicating Last Dollar Road on your left (south). Just over six miles, after tuning onto Last Dollar, the trail forks. Taking the right fork leads you to the town of Sawpit on Hwy 145. Following the left fork takes you along the top of Hastings Mesa, with great views of the west end of the Sneffels Range. It eventually joins CO Hwy 145 just past the Telluride Airport. This is an especially beautiful drive in the fall-color season
Ophir Pass (Class 2)
Ophir Pass is another one of the easier passes in the San Juans and one that will take you to the Telluride side of the mountains. It was originally a wagon road between the mines in Ophir, Telluride and Silverton.
Drive south of Ouray on Hwy 550 for 18.1 miles to the “National Forest Access, Ophir Pass” turnoff on your right. The ascent is gradual to the top, winding through aspen forests and past beautiful mountain wildflowers, to an elevation of 11,789. The views at the top are spectacular.
The descending trail from Ophir Pass is a narrow, shelf-like road. There’s one sharp switchback just over the pass, followed by an easy road to the bottom through some beautiful forested areas.
Beyond Old Ophir is the intersection of CO Hwy 145. Turn right (north) onto 145 and follow the highway where it turns right to Telluride or left to return to Ouray over Hwy 62. If you want to return to Ouray via a four-wheel drive road, your choices are Last Dollar Road (Class 1) or Imogene Pass (Class 4/5)
Clear Lake (Class 2)
The route to Clear Lake, just north of Silverton, is another easy, short trail you can do if you have a limited amount of time. You will encounter beautiful wildflowers during the season, pass some abandoned mine sites and dead end at a spectacular mountain lake. From there you must return the way you came.
To get to the Clear Lake road, drive south on Hwy 550 for 22 miles to the Mineral Creek Campground turnoff on the west side of the highway. Follow this dirt road past several camping areas to the trailhead going off at a steep grade to your right.
Cinnamon Pass (Class 3)
Going west to Lake City over this pass, you would reach the four-wheel drive trail head by driving to Silverton on Hwy 550 and taking CR 110 to the right, following this very easy dirt road through Eureka to Animas Forks.
The eastern descent down to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River past beautiful Lake San Cristobal to Lake City is smoother and on a better grade. Cinnamon Pass is often linked with Engineer Pass to form a long, one-day loop trip from Ouray to Lake City (the Alpine Loop). Be sure to note the interpretive signs in place along the route.
Engineer Pass (Class 4.5)
Although Engineer Pass is not as technically difficult as Black Bear and Imogene, Engineer does demand more skill than other four-wheel drive trails in the San Juans.
Engineer Pass begins four miles south of Ouray off CO Hwy 550. The first two miles are the most rugged and difficult; portions of the road are extremely rocky. Novice four-wheelers should proceed cautiously.
At the sign for Poughkeepsie Gulch, continue LEFT. Although it looks benign, it is far from it. Poughkeesie Gulch is one of the more difficult trails in the San Juans and should be left to only the most experienced four-wheelers. If you are renting a Jeep® from a local Ouray agency, your contract states that this road is prohibited.
Several miles past the Poughkeepsie Gulch turnoff, there is a sign at a “Y” in the road. Left (east) continues to climb up to Engineer Pass at 12,850 feet, from which you can turn around and return or continue over to Lake City. A right turn at the “Y” will take you to the old townsite of Animas Forks and up over Cinnamon Pass (the southern route to Lake City) or to Silverton.
Black Bear Pass (Class 5)
We do not allow our jeeps on this trail.
This is not for inexperienced four-wheelers or for the “light of heart”. If you want to say you have done this trail, go with one of the local tour companies.
Black Bear originates at the top of Red Mountain Pass turning west off of Hwy 550 between Silverton and Ouray.
Black Bear Road is a two-way trail from 550 to the summit but becomes ONE-WAY ONLY from there down into Telluride. The ascent is easy and enjoyable, with spectacular views at the top. If you change your mind about trying this trail when you arrive at the top, turn around and return the way you came.
If you’re still feeling bold, continuing on you will soon find the dreaded “steps” and switchbacks. The road is extremely narrow. Narrow, short wheel base vehicles are the preferred choice. Full-size vehicles and trucks make the trip more challenging.
Two-thirds of the way down, plan a stop at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. The remaining distance from the falls is a piece of cake. Watch for mountain bikers below the falls. They use this trail frequently during the summer months.
Be sure to check with any of the local tour companies for conditions before starting out to do Black Bear Pass.