January 31, 2023
Two Happy Nomads Living On The Open Road

Off-Roading 3 Famous Trails In Ouray, Colorado

If you’ve heard of or visited the small box canyon town in the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado, you know Ouray is known for quite a few things. It’s considered the “Switzerland of America” because of the high mountains rising on three and a half sides of the town, it’s the self-proclaimed “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado,” and is known for some of the best ice climbing in the world, hosting the annual Ice Festival at Ouray Ice Park, which takes place every January. Tourists flood to Ouray each year to enjoy the waterfalls, most notably Box Canyon Park and Cascade Falls, natural hot springs, fly fishing, scenic byways, and four wheel drive adventures. Ouray has another claim to fame as “The Jeeping Capital of the World.” Since we are driving across the country in our Jeep Gladiator, we were especially excited to spend some time here exploring some of the highest, most challenging, and beautiful four-wheel-drive trails in America.

Yankee Boy Basin

Our first day of off-roading was spent driving up to Yankee Boy Basin. The trail is 18.6 miles long and covered with incredible Mountain View’s, water falls, and wild flowers, and a lake. The highest point of the trail is 12,400 ft. We were there in early July and it was near 80 degrees in Ouray, but as you reach the top of the trail, the temperatures drop and you will even see snow, so be prepared and bring warm clothes! Also, remember, the trail is only accessible from June until October. A gate for the upper portion of the trail is closed until the snow melts, usually late in June or early in July. The first half of the trail is easy, and even a car with good clearance could make it. At the halfway point, it becomes a moderate 4×4 trail, but you don’t need a jeep, a stock SUV with decent clearance and 4-low mode can make it if you drive carefully. If you are a hiker, the trail head to Mt. Sneffels is at the top of the basin. Mt. Sneffels is the highest summit of the Sneffels Range in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and at the peak, the elevation is 14,158 ft.

Our Jeep Gladiator made it to the top of the basin with no problems. We stopped along the way to film and take photos, so I couldn’t say how long it took us but it was a day well spent. We were high up and it was scary to look down at points, but compared to the other trails we went on later in the week, I would definitely say Yankee Boy Basin was the least challenging. We didn’t hike Mt. Sneffels at the top, but we did get out and explore a bit, and of course, throw a few snow balls! On our way back down, we had a picnic on the tailgate of the truck by Wright’s Lake. It was perfect and if you plan on picnicking, I would definitely recommend this as opposed to trying to picnic at the top of the trail due to the wind!

Imogene Pass

Our second adventure was taking the Gladiator, AKA the “Beast,” up Imogene Pass. I didn’t know what to expect, but it proved to be much more challenging than our previous day on Yankee Boy Basin. Imogene Pass is 17.5 miles long, and 12,114 feet at it’s highest peak. It’s the highest mountain pass in the San Juan Mountains, and the second highest vehicular mountain crossing in Colorado. The pass connects Ouray, Colorado to Telluride, Colorado. Starting in Ouray, it took us a little over 4 hours to get to Telluride, and that included time we stopped for photos and filming. The pass is not for beginners. It is very technical at times, and you will come across plenty of narrow areas with steep drop-offs. One wrong move and you could easily wind up dead. Stock SUV’s can make the trek with low-range gearing, 4-wheel drive, high clearance and skid plates. Along the way, at Savage Basin, you’ll pass through Tomboy Townsite, once one of the most active mining towns in Colorado. Imogene Pass was once only a mining road, but opened to the public as a 4WD road in 1966. The best time to enjoy the trail is mid July-September, and like Yankee Boy Basin, it is very cold and windy even in the middle of summer, so dress accordingly!

We planned our trip to arrive in Telluride at 6pm, so we had time to explore the town and grab a bite for dinner before making our way back to Ouray. We had dinner at Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery, and it was a great stop for burgers and wings! To get back to Ouray in an hour, you can take W 145 Spur Hwy to CO-145 N to Hwy 62 and finally turn right onto US-550 S and you’ll be 10 miles out from Ouray.

Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

On our final day of off-roading adventures in Ouray, we traded the Gladiator in for a Polaris RZR, and we picked the right trails for it! The Alpine Loop is a circular route that navigates through Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass in the San Juan Mountains. It’s total distance is 65 miles and will take at least 7 hours to complete. It also features many ghost towns along the way that date back a century, including Animas Forks, Henson, Capital City, and Rose Cabin.

We started our journey in Ouray on Engineer Pass. The trail is 20.5 miles long and reaches 12,800 ft. The trail is very technical on the Ouray side and you will definitely need 4-wheel drive, high clearance, and an experienced driver. There were a couple spots where I actually got out of the Polaris as David navigated, because I was scared of flipping and falling off the mountain! Once you get about an hour in, the trail gets easier and the scenery is so beautiful! You will see Horseshow Falls, a beautiful cascade of water along the way, and many smaller unnamed waterfalls along the road of the entire Alpine Loop. Engineer pass comes out at Lake City, Colorado, a crossroads of The Alpine Loop. It took us roughly 4 hours to get to this point, and when we did, we stopped right outside of the quaint town and had a picnic by the water, before continuing our trek back to Ouray via Cinnamon Pass.

Cinnamon Pass is 9.2 miles and reaches 12,640 feet at it’s highest elevation. Cinnamon Pass is less challenging than Engineer Pass, but on the western side, it is still steep and a bit technical. A high clearance vehicle is still required. East of the summit, Cinnamon Pass is easier and the views are amazing. It took us about 2.5 hours to complete the trail and wind back up at the trail head.

Like Yankee Boy Basin and Imogene Pass, the best time to plan a day on The Alpine Loop is between June and October. We were there the first day of July and the weather was amazing, but it will get cold so dress accordingly, packing gloves and all, especially if you’re in a Polaris rather than a Jeep or other 4WD vehicle!

If you are interested in renting a Polaris or a Jeep for the day to take on any of the trails in the area, we rented from Ouray Mountain Adventures, and we highly recommend them. They are part of Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, and if you need somewhere to stay, this would be a great choice as well. We rented a 2 passenger Polaris RZR 1000 with 100 H.O. Horsepower Electric Start Automatic Transmission And it cost $400 for a full day rental. Pick up time is 9am and drop off time is 4pm June 1st through October 15th. They deliver your rental to the trail head of your choice between Yankee Boy, Imogene, Engineer, and Corkscrew. Price starts at $350, but MBA Insurance is $18.99 and excluded from the rate, and delivery service to trail heads vary.

If you have been on any of these trails or plan to, please drop a comment and let me know if you found this information helpful, or if you have anything to add! As always, it’s great to hear from you and happy off-roading!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 comment

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap