Back-Roading in Colorado

The Best Back-road Trails in Ouray, CO

Imogene Pass

Elevation Gain: 4,734 ft.
Peak Elevation:
13,114 ft.
17.5 mi.
3-5 hr.
This trail connects the towns of Ouray and Telluride. It's best known for its scenic views and beautiful fields of wildflowers. It's one of the most popular trails in the area, but isn't recommended for beginners or those without vehicles made for off roading.

Watch for steep rocky sections of road where passing other vehicles will be difficult or impossible. Low-range gearing, 4-wheel drive, high clearance and skid plates are highly recommended for all vehicles attempting Imogene Pass.

Yankee Boy Basin

Elevation Gain: 4,750 ft.
Peak Elevation: 
12,400 ft.
Distance: 18.6 mi.
Time: 3-5 hr.
Easy to Moderate
This is another one of the more popular trails in Ouray due to its beautiful views and abundant wildflowers. There are several waterfalls, twin falls being the most famous, that also make this trail one to remember. The first section of this trail is easy, but the trail gets progressively harder toward the end.  A beginner could still take this trail comfortably in the right vehicle.

Watch for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders who also frequent this trail. Because it's one of the easier trails in the area, it's very popular with visitors and recreationists. This is a great trail for a stock 4x4 SUV or truck for those with a bit of experience.

Engineer Pass

Elevation Gain: 4,511 ft.
Peak Elevation: 12,800 ft.
Distance: 27.2 mi.
Time: 4 hr.
Moderate to Hard
This point-to-point trail runs between Lake City and Ouray in Colorado. Its length means it passes through a variety of beautiful and different landscapes including narrow mountain canyons, wide open pastures with grazing animals, and steep boulder fields. Beautiful views can be had along the entire trail.

The part of the trail closest to Ouray is known to be much more difficult compared to the stretch coming out of Lake City. For this reason, it's advised to travel Engineer Pass from Lake City to Ouray, and not the other way around. The obstacles near Ouray include steep, narrow ascents and large boulders that are much easier to traverse going downhill. However, with the proper vehicle and technique, the trail can be navigated in either direction. Be especially careful of the weather and avoid this trail during rainstorms and in low light conditions.

Red Mountain Mining Area

Elevation Gain: 524 ft.
Peak Elevation: 12,000 ft.
Distance: 3 mi.
Time: 1 hr.
This out and back OHV trail is a great start for those new to off-roading. The trail is only 3 miles, which makes it popular with hikers and visitors. The defining feature of this trail is its mining history. As the name suggests, there are old mining towns, bridges, tresses, and other ruins of a bygone era all along this trail. For those who enjoy history, there are a number of places to stop and explore the early mining operations in Colorado.

Poughkeepsie Gulch (No rental Jeeps)

Elevation Gain: 3,727 ft.
Distance: 6.4 mi.
Time: 2 hr.
This trail is perfect for the serious off-road enthusiast with a solid vehicle. There are steep, narrow sections of trail where constant vigilance and technique is required. Those who are able to tackle this road are treated to beautiful views and exciting obstacles and conditions.

The most famous obstacle on this trail is called the wall. It's a steep rock section of trail that required 4-wheel drive, high clearance, and correct technique to conquer safely. Even with the proper experience and vehicle, make sure to watch out for rain, snow, or other adverse conditions. The trail is known to get muddy in spring and after rain, which makes an already difficult trail even more so.

Mineral Creek, AKA Lower Engineer (No rental Jeeps)

Elevation Gain: 3,264 ft.
Distance: 13.6 mi.
Time: 4 hr.
This trail is famous for its stunning waterfalls and its rocky ascent up narrow canyons. This trail intersects with other popular trails such as Engineer Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch, so make sure you're following the correct trail if you plan on following Mineral Creek.

Due to the difficulty of this trail, stock vehicles aren't recommended. High clearance, (min 35" tires, 2 1/2 lift on a 4 door Jeep), low range and skid plates are recommended alongside previous off-roading experience.  This trail presented in 2021 as somewhat more difficult than in prior years, especially in wet conditions, with rock steps requiring precise wheel placement, and a narrow, high exposure shelf road.

Corkscrew Gulch

Elevation Gain: 3,746 ft.
Distance: 6.8 mi.
Time: 4 hr.
This trail is fairly easy, but still incredibly beautiful. It's also one of our personal favorites. Visitors will see plenty of wildflowers in season and mountain views throughout the drive. This trail is popular with mountain bikers and hikers. When the trail is dry, most off-road vehicles won't have any problems.

There is one section of steep and narrow switchbacks that tends to frighten drivers, especially beginners, but it isn't technically difficult. In wet conditions, the clay soil becomes slick and makes navigation more difficult and dangerous. It's recommended to avoid driving in wet conditions, if possible.

Black Bear Pass (No rental Jeeps)

Elevation Gain: 1,843 ft.
Distance: 8.5 mi.
Time: 4 to 5 hr.
This trail features the famous Bridal Veil Falls and beautiful views high above some of the other mountain passes. This particular trail has a reputation of being one of the hardest in the area. In fact, most companies (Jeep Ouray included) won't allow rental vehicles to be taken over Black Bear Pass due to its difficulty.

It's known as a fun and exciting trail for those with experience and a solid off-road vehicle with low range 4WD, great tires, brakes, and excellent articulation. Most of the trail is easy and moderate, but the mile of deadly downhill switchbacks near Bridal Veil Falls gives this trail its rating. With proper preparation and experience, this can be an amazing, one-in-a-lifetime off-roading adventure.

California Pass

Elevation Gain: 4,455 ft.
Peak Elevation: 12,960 mi.
Distance: 15.6 mi.
Time: 3 to 4 hr.
This trail isn't as popular as most of the other trails in Ouray, but it's every bit as beautiful. The trail winds through the mountains and passes the skeletons of mining operations and across fields of wildflowers. What makes this trail unique is that it passes close to the trail for Lake Como, a beautiful turquoise high-mountain lake.

The road to Como is passable with certain off-road vehicles, but it is rated as one of the most difficult in Colorado. It is a popular place for hikers, so watch out for others on the road. The California Pass trail is also popular with horseback riders and bikers and is a great trail for off-roading beginners.
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