Off-Roading Trails

The Best Off-Road Trails near Ouray, Colorado

The mountains around Ouray have some of the best off-roading trails in the country. Here, you'll find routes appropriate for all skill levels, from beginners to advanced off-roaders. All these trails offer you fantastic views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains and the opportunity to test your skills on a variety of rugged routes.

Below, we've listed some of our favorite off-road trails around Ouray. Please, note that we do not allow our rental Jeeps to be used on all of these trails. If you need more information, give us a call. We'll be glad to help.

Imogene Pass

  • Elevation Gain: 4,734 ft.
  • Peak Elevation: 13,114 ft.
  • Distance: 17.5 mi.
  • Time: 3-5 hr.
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Located high in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Imogene Pass is one of Colorado's highest drivable passes. This 17.5-mile point-to-point trail connects Ouray to Telluride and is one of the most popular trails in our area. It's known for scenic views and waves of wildflowers.

While Imogene Pass is rated as a moderate drive, but should not be underestimated. This is definitely not a road for beginners. Some sections of the the road are very steep and narrow. And, at times, passing other vehicles can be difficult or impossible. Low-range gearing, 4-wheel drive, high clearance and skid plates are highly recommended for all vehicles attempting Imogene Pass. Keep in mind that Imogene Pass is above the timberline, making drivers vulnerable to the extreme weather that is common to this area.

Imogene Pass is typically open from July until sometime in October.

Yankee Boy Basin

  • Elevation Gain: 4,750 ft.
  • Peak Elevation: 12,400 ft.
  • Distance: 18.6 mi.
  • Time: 3-5 hr.
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Located in the Uncompahgre National Forest, is another popular trail known for scenic mountain views, fields of wildflowers in the spring, and stunning nearby waterfalls.

This 18.5-mile out-and-back trail runs below well-known mountain peaks, including Mount Sneffels, Cirque Mountain, Stony Mountain, and Potosi Peak. However, it is still the second highest drivable mountain pass in Colorado.

Yankee Boy Basin typically requires 4WD vehicle with medium or high clearance. While the first section of the trail is relatively easy, it gets progressively harder toward the end. The road becomes more rocky and narrow. Some sections are only wide enough for a single vehicle, and steep drop-offs of hundreds of feet are common along the way. Keep in mind that you'll be traveling above the timberline and possibly exposed to extreme weather at times.

Note that Yankee Boy Basin is very popular with visitors and recreationists. Make sure to watch for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders who regularly use this trail. It's also an excellent trail for encountering the wildlife that inhabits this part of the San Juan Mountains, including marmots, pikas, deer, and black bear.

Yankee Boy Basin is usually open from late June, after the snow melts, until October. 

Engineer Pass

  • Elevation Gain: 4,511 ft.
  • Peak Elevation: 12,800 ft.
  • Distance: 23.6 mi.
  • Time: 3-4 hr.
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Located in the San Juan Mountains, Engineer Pass is a high mountain pass that runs from Lake City, Colorado to Ouray. It's a relatively long point-to-point trail that passes through a variety of beautiful and different landscapes including narrow mountain canyons, wide open pastures with grazing animals, and steep boulder fields. You'll also pass by abandoned mines and ghost towns. The pass itself has an elevation of around 12,800 feet, making it one of Colorado's highest roads.

Engineer Pass can is easily access off Highway 550, just south of Ouray. However, the part of the trail closest to Ouray is much more difficult than 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. Do not attempt this road if it's snowed recently.

Engineer Pass is usually open from late May until sometime in October.

Red Mountain Mining Area

Elevation Gain: 524 ft.
Peak Elevation: 12,000 ft.
Distance: 3.0 mi.
Time: 1.5 hr.
Difficulty: Easy

New to off-roading? Try the Red Mountain Mining Area trail. It's an easy three-mile out-and-back OVH trail that meanders through some beautiful country in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The defining feature of this trail is its mining history. Like the name implies, it runs through the Red Mountain mining district. Along the way, you pass by abandoned mining towns, bridges, tresses, and other mining ruins. For those who enjoy history, there are a number of places to stop and explore, including the remnants of Red Mountain Town. A number of side roads lead to other historical sites, such as Yankee Girl mine and American Girl mine. If you decide to detour to some of these other areas, take along a good map. It's easy to get lost.

The best time to drive Red Mountain Mining Area trail is between June and September. Avoid it if it's been raining or snowing recently.

Corkscrew Gulch 

  • Elevation Gain: 3,746 ft.
  • Distance: 6.8 mi.
  • Time: 4-5 hr.
  • Difficulty: Easy

Corkscrew Gulch is another relatively easy trail high in the Uncompahgre National Forest. At an elevation of over 12,200 feet, this 6.8-mile point-to-point route is one of Colorado's highest mountain roads. It was originally built to connect Silverton to the mines on Red Mountain.

Even though Corkscrew Gulch is an easy trail, it's still incredibly beautiful, running through the heart of Colorado's historic mining country. Along the way, you'll see plenty of wildflowers and amazing mountain views, especially in the fall. Note that Corkscrew Gulch is popular with mountain bikers, hikers, and bird watchers, so keep an eye out for these folks when you're on the trail.

When the trail is dry, most off-road vehicles won't have any problems. In fact, along the well-graded lower part of the road, you might come across commercial logging trucks. However, one section has steep and narrow switchbacks that tend to frighten beginning drivers, but it isn't technically difficult. In wet conditions, the clay soil becomes slick and makes navigation more difficult and dangerous. Avoid this road if it's rained or snowed recently.

Corkscrew Gulch is usually open from March through October.

California Gulch

  • Elevation Gain: 4,455 ft.
  • Peak Elevation: 12,960 mi.
  • Distance: 15.6 mi.
  • Time: 3 to 4 hr.
  • Difficulty: Easy

The California Gulch OVH Trail isn't as popular as some of the other trails in our area, but it's every bit as beautiful. This out-and-back trail is actually close to Silverton, Colorado. It winds through the mountains and runs near the remnants of historic mining operations. What really makes this trail unique is that it passes close to the trail for Lake Como, a beautiful turquoise high-mountain lake. Another nice thing about California Gulch is that it is relatively uncrowded. You're likely to have much of the route to yourself.

More Demanding Off-Road Trails

The following trails are technically difficult routes that require a high-degree of skill to navigate successfully. We DO NOT allow our rental jeeps on these trails. That being said, they are excellent routes if you know what you're doing and you have your own vehicle.


Poughkeepsie Gulch 

  • Elevation Gain: 3,727 ft.
  • Distance: 6.4 mi.
  • Time: 2 hr.
  • Difficulty: Hard

NO RENTAL JEEPS. Poughkeepsie Gulch is very difficult 6.4-mile point-to-point trail in the Uncompahgre Wilderness. In fact, it's main appeal is it's difficulty, rather than it's history or views (although, the views are excellent.) 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 made up of three distinct sections: a steep left climb, a middle "V," and a short right climb. You'll need 4WD, high clearance, and correct technique to conquer The Wall safely. Note that here is a bypass that will allow you to avoid this obstacle if you need to.

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.

The best time of year to drive Poughkeepsie Gulch is between May and October.

Mineral Creek

  • Elevation Gain: 3,264 ft.
  • Distance: 13.6 mi.
  • Time: 7-8 hr.
  • Difficulty: Difficult

NO RENTAL JEEPS. Mineral Creek trail, also known as Lower Engineer, is a difficult and dangerous out-and-back trail, with steep, narrow sections. Don't be fooled by the two-lane gravel road at the beginning of the trail: It becomes very rocky after the first mile-and-a-half. It can also be crowded on the weekends, and at least one section only has room from one vehicle at a time.

Mineral Creek is located in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, and it's best known for its stunning waterfalls and its rocky ascents through narrow canyons. The 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. (It is sometimes used as a shortcut to get from Ouray to Engineer Pass and the Alpine Loop.) The trail ends at Bandora Mine, and interesting historical site that still has a few structures intact.

Due to the difficulty of this trail, stock vehicles are not recommended. High clearance, (35" tires; 2.5 lift on a 4 door Jeep), low range, skid plates, and off-roading experience are needed.

The best time to visit Mineral Creek trail is from March through October.

Black Bear Pass

  • Elevation Gain: 1,843 ft.
  • Distance: 8.5 mi.
  • Time: 4-5 hr.
  • Difficulty: Hard

NO RENTAL JEEPS. Black Bear Pass, a point-to-point trail in the Uncompahgre National Forest, is one of the most difficult routes in southwest Colorado. It should only be attempted by experienced drivers in their own vehicles. (Most Jeep rental companies in Ouray, including us, do not allow rental vehicles to be taken over Black Bear Pass.) One section in particular, near Telluride, is notoriously difficult to maneuver through. There's also the possibility of rock slides along some parts of the road.

Warnings aside, Black Bear Pass is an exciting trail, offering fantastic views of Bridal Veil Falls, Ingram Falls, and Telluride Valley. Running between Red Mountain Pass and Telluride, it's one of the highest mountain roads in Colorado. The highest elevation is over 12,800 feet. You'll definitely enjoy the fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.

To navigate Black Bear Pass, you'll need a a solid off-road vehicle with low range 4WD, great tires, brakes, and excellent articulation. With proper preparation and experience, this can be an amazing, one-in-a-lifetime off-roading adventure.
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