“Four-wheeling” in the following information can also be used by anyone wanting to explore this magnificent area on ATV’s or off-highway motorcycles or with a locally guided tour. If you’re not used to mountain driving, take the less challenging trip first.
When preparing to take a four-wheel drive trip, remember the following safety and courtesy tips:
- Know your vehicles and its limits.
- Always check locally for road conditions.
- If you are feeling unsure, scout ahead on foot, rather than driving into an unknown situation.
- Stay on established road and NEVER go off cross-country. The tundra is extremely fragile.
- On steep grades, gear down and proceed slowly. Use your gears, not your brakes.
- Always strop to lend aid or assistance if required.
- As a reminder, the vehicle traveling UPHILL has the right-of-ay but taking turns based on where turnouts are located is common courtesy. Pull over only where there is room to pull o and yield to on-coming traffic if you are going downhill.
- The trail and road are rated according to class (relative difficulty):
- Class 1 — Easy
- Class 2 — Moderate
- Class 3 — Difficult
- Class 4 — Very Difficult
- Class 5 — Use Extreme Caution
Many of our off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails cross privately owned mining claims. Most owners have allowed people to pass through their property. It is the responsibility of all back-country enthusiasts to repeat that privilege and treat Ouray’s “backyard” respectfully. Please pick up a free OHV pockets at the Visitor’s Center.
There are more four-wheel drive trails in this region than those listed. Topographical maps and more detailed books are available on many Ouray shops.
4-Wheel Drive Trials
Yankee Boy Basin (Class 2, Moderate)
Follow Camp Bird Road 10 miles taking the right fork to Yankee boy Basin. After stopping to enjoy Twin Falls, follow the trail into the basin just below 14,000’ peak of Mt. Sneffels. The last 2 miles are very steep and rough; 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. **This is a one lane road with a lot of traffic including heavy equipment and large trucks. Please pay attention and share the road. Do not attempt unless you are prepared to back up if necessary to allow traffic to pass. Traffic traveling in the uphill direction generally has the right of way, but State Law requires that if vehicles cannot pass on a narrow road, whichever vehicle can more readily back up must dose, and that may be a smaller vehicle traveling uphill**
Imogene Pass (Class 4/5 Very Difficult)
Imogene Pass is one of the more difficult drives between Our and Telluride. Follow the Yankee Boy Basin description up Camp Bridge Road 5 miles. The road turns left over Canyon Creek, climbing along cliffs and looking down over Camp Bird Mine. The ascent to Imogene Basic is rough and Steep. The basin boasts spectacular wildflower displays over the midsummer months. The views from Imogene Pass, at 13,114’, are impressive. The descent into the Tomboy Mine area and Telluride is more gradual.
Governor Basin (Class 4, Very Difficult)
Following the directions to Yankee Boy Basin, from just above the Sneffels town site, follow the old wagon road branching left passing the Ruby Trust Mine. The trail climbs easily up the east side of the basin through pine forests and begins a series of switchbacks. There are several steep, narrow rocky sections that should only be attempted by and experienced four-wheeler. Take the left fork to Sydney basin and the remains of the famous Virginius. The trail straight sheds leads you to Mountain Top Mine (build against an enormous granite boulder to erect it from avalanches). Above this area are the impressive spire of St. Sophia Ridge.
Engineer Pass (Class 3, Difficult)
Although this is not as technically difficult as Black Bean and Imogene, it does demand more skill than other trails. Choose from two different trail heads to get to Engineer Pass from Ouray. The first choice is about 4 miles south of Ouray on Hwy 550. Look for the trail entrance on your left, marked by a cascading waterfall and a staging area. This road involves 2 miles of extremely rocky areas that are hard on many vehicles. Novices should proceed with caution. The second, smoother, option follows the trails to Corkscrew and California Gulches. In Animas Forks, pick up the Engineer Pass trailhead to the let. Engineer Pass continues on for all routes until the turnoff for Poughkeepsie Gulch where you will continue LEFT. Poughkeepsie Gulch is an extremely dangerous trail and not recommend. Most local outfitters prohibit this pass in their rental contract. Several miles past the Poughkeepsie Gulch turnoff the road forks. Left continues to climb up to Engineer Pass at 12,860’. From here you can turn around and return or continue to Lake City. Right goes to Animas Forks.
Corkscrew Gulch (Class 3, Difficult)
This popular drive branches was off Hwy 550 in Intron Park, 8 miles south of Ouray. It climbs via numerous switchbacks; the last few are steep and narrow. The summit at 12,217’ is the red soil of the famous Red Mountains 1, 2 & 3, visible to the south. The eastern descent into Cement Creek Drainage gives access either south to Silverton or up the north ridges over Hurricane Pass and down into California Gulch, connecting to the road to Animas Forks. At the top of Hurricane Pass, your view of Lake Como is worth the trip. The southern trailhead into Poughkeepsie Gulch is by Lake Como. This is an extremely dangerous trait and not recommended. (Most local outfitters prohibit this pass in their rental contract.) When leaving Poughkeepsie Gulch, plan to descend from Lake Como rather than going up the extremely steep grade from Engineer Pass Road.
Brown Mountain (Class 2, Moderate)
The trail up to Brown Mountain splits off from the Corkscrew Gulch trail. This trail is not difficult but is steep in some places. You’ll encounter many abandoned mine sites along the way. The basin, high on the side of Brown Mountain, is a fun, short trip with incredible view of Ironton Par, the Hayden Range, and the Red Mountain area.
Brooklyn Road (Class 2, Moderate)
This is a beautiful drive with panoramic views and beautiful flowers during the summer. Be cautioned that heavy rain will cause muddy terrain. The trail starts at the top of Red Mountain Pass turning east off Hwy 550 just beyond the Red Mountain Pass sign. This trail leads you past the St. Paul Lodge and along a winding ledge on the west side of the mountains. You will pass areas with mining remnants, including the Brooklyn Mine Site. This is not an all-day drive. It joins Hwy 550 just north of the turnoff to Ophir Pass, 18 miles south of Ouray.
Black Bear Pass (Class 5, Extreme)
This is not for the inexperienced or “faint of heart”. It is recommend that you go with one of the local tour companies. Leave Ouray south on Hwy 550 and drive 13 miles past the summit of Red Mountain. Turn right onto the marked trail. Black Bear is a two-way trail from 550 to the summit but become ONE-WAY ONLY from the summit to Telluride. The ascent is easy, with spectacular views. At the top, you may turn mourned and return the way you came. If you’re still feeling bold, continue on to the infamous “steps” and sharp switchbacks. The road is extremely narrow. Short wheel base vehicles are preferred. On the way down, make sure to stop at Bridal Veil Falls.
Last Dollar Road (Class 1, Easy)
One of the easier trail in the San Juan’s and one of the several that link Ouray and Telluride. Some of this trail is passable in a passenger vehicle but becomes difficult in the steep sections. After turning onto Hwy 62 at Ridgeway, drive 10 miles to the sign for Last Dollar Road on your left and continue 6 miles to the trail fork. Take the right fork to the town of Sawpit on Hwy 145 on the left fork, along Hastings Mesa (with great views of sniffles Range), to join Hwy 145 just past the Telluride Airport.
Owl Creek Pass (Class 2, Moderate)
Only 15 miles north of Ouray, turn was onto County Road 10. This adventurous day trip will take you into the heart of the magnificent Cimarron Mountains. Be sure to follow signs directing yo thorough ranch lands, alongside creeks and over high country meadows to the pass at 10,114’. The peaks of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain will watch over you as you drive along this route which once was a cattle drive trail.
Stony Pass (Class 2 Moderate)
From Silverton take Hwy 550 east and bear right on the only diagonal, paved road. Turn right after 5 miles on County Road 4 marked with a sign to Stony Pass. Follow this road 1.75 miles to the trailhead, theft fork of the ”Y” in the road at that point.
Ophir Pass (Class 2, Moderate)
This is an easier pass in the area and will take you to Telluride. 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 Acess, Ophir Pass” turnoff on you right. This ascent is gradual, winding through aspen forests and wildflower meadows, to an elevation of 11, 789’. The descending trail is narrow and shelf-like with one shape switchback just over the pass, followed by uneasy road to the bottom. The intersection of Hwy 145 is just beyond Ophir. Turn right onto 145 and follow it to a point where it turns right to Telluride or left to Ridgeway.
Cinnamon Pass (Class 2, Moderate)
The Cinnamon Pass trailhead is in Silverton, 23 miles south of Ouray on Hwy 550. Drive through Silverton on Greene St., veering right on CR 2. Drive 12 miles on this dirt road to Animas Forks. Allow extra time to explore this great ghost town. Here, pick up Cinnamon Pass was to Lake City. After you’ve reached the top of the Pass at 12,620’, the road becomes smoother. Descend to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River past Lake San Cristobal and into Lake City. This path is a part of the long classic Alpine Loop.
Clear Lake (Class 2, Moderate)
North of Silverton, the route to Clear Lake is short trial perfect for a limited schedule. You will encounter beautiful wildflowers during the summer season, pass historic mine sites and dead-end at a spectacular mountain lake. Return the way you came. To get to Clear Lake, drive south on Hwy 550 for 22 miles to the Mineral Creek Campground turnoff to the west. Follow the road past the camping areas to the trail head leading steeply of to the right.