The Colorado Alpine Loop –
As the snow melts we thought it would be a good time to look forward to summer and post something about Colorado’s Alpine Loop, one of the premier 4-wheeling destinations anywhere.
Colorado’s Alpine loop is an amazing option for people looking for an off-road adventure they’ll remember for a lifetime.
With elevations ranging from 6,000 to 13,000 feet and some of the most hair-raising corners, turns, cliffs, and drops you’ll find anywhere in the world, this is not for the faint of heart. But don’t be scared off! While some of the passes are extremely difficult, others can be rather tame in relation so there are options for everyone with the appropriate transportation. But keep in mind that all of them are very serious and should be treated with respect.
While Jeeps seem to be the vehicle of choice, anything from motorcycles to four-runners and even hummers will be found on our trails. But keep in mind that some trails are very narrow with tight switchbacks so the smaller the vehicle is the easier it will be to navigate. And while there are some road services available they will be pricey (AAA will probably laugh at you) and may take a day to arrive so always be prepared with appropriate clothing, tools, food and water supplies to get you through what may be a long day if you have a breakdown or accident. Be prepared!
Here are some of our favorite passes below along with some useful tips.
East of Silverton
This is one of the grand daddies of the network with simply stunning views from start to finish. Engineer pass connects Silverton to Lake city. It takes at least 5 hours one way and has some fairly rough, narrow sections along a series of high alpine switchbacks along the western side. The top of the pass rewards you with a very cool look out point you can drive out on (make sure to set your parking brake.) There is also a lower section to this pass which connects to hwy 550 near the waterfall a few miles up from Ouray.
Whenever the locals see a 18-wheeler heading up Greene St after dark they all know that the drivers GPS is probably showing this to be a shortcut to Lake City… NOT! Fortunately our Sheriff’s Dept can usually stop them before they get to the ‘point of no return’ around Animas Forks.
Cinnamon is a bit easier than Engineer and is found as an alternate route to Lake City from Silverton. Many people will opt for going over Cinnamon in the morning, having lunch in Lake City, and then returning to Silverton via Engineer. It also tops 12,000 feet in elevation with only one corner which might haunt you later in life. But don’t worry, we’ll have a cold beer waiting for you in Silverton so you can toast your success on the road and drink to your good fortunes at The Golden Block.
This is another route which connects Silverton to Lake City but it takes a bit longer to travel as it drops you quite a ways south of Lake City. However, if you plan on heading on to Pagossa Springs its a fantastic option. Stony has some tough narrow sections but is mostly tame on the Silverton Side which makes it a nice option if you just want to go up to the top and back for some pizza. There are also some fantastic camping options on the eastern side of Stoney, including a place named Bear Camp which is not for the faint of heart. If you go over Stoney its a cool fact to know that the very first car to ever visit Silverton crossed Stoney pass around 100 years ago, so keep this in mind if you think its tough today!
Stoney pass is located up Cunningham Gulch near the town of Howardsville which is a few miles east of Silverton on Route 2.
West of Silverton
Ophir Pass is a fantastic way to get over to Telluride from Silverton via the small town of Ophir, Colorado. It tops out around 11,000 feet in elevation offering amazing views to the west as far as Utah and beyond. It is one of the easier passes and has been rumored to have been crossed in a cadillac by a desperate local. However, it does have a lot of steep grades and sharp rocks so good tires, clearance and 4 wheel drive are a must. It can be found by taking a left about 6 miles south of Silverton on 550.
This is the big bad monster of the group. Do not do this unless you are an expert at off-roading and know how to work a clutch. There are several 3 point corners with very large cliffs. Even jeeps need to know how to pop a clutch into reverse with a 400 foot drop a few feet in front of their tires. Suburbans and vehicles with long wheel bases are not recommended at all. It is located at the top of red mountain pass and connects directly to the top of Telluride Canyon.
Any Questions??? Come on by!
This is only a partial list of some of our favorites, If you’re curious about some of the many additional options please ask your server or bartender and they’ll be happy to give you all the local knowledge they have. Make sure to come by and get a pizza and some salad for the road, it can be a long day if you plan on looping around to experience a couple passes in a day and one of our famous oven fired pizza’s will make for an ez meal in the car. We also fill growlers if you need something to wash it down with – but please make sure to drink responsibly.
We are proud to have the Alpine Loop in our back yard and are happy to share it with our guests. Silverton is very ATV friendly and has recently opened its streets for off-road vehicles. We posted an article earlier which shows the Map of where they can be used here. Silverton OHV Routes for 2016
Want to experience our back country but you drive a prius then don’t worry. There are several companies in town who rent everything from motorcycles to jeeps and will even take you on a guided tour if you don’t want to drive. And make sure to come by the Golden Block Brewery in Silverton after your adventure to rehash all the stories over our delicious craft beer and brick oven fired pizza. What a better way to end a perfect day!
We hope this help you enjoy your time on Colorado’s ALpine Loop in Silverton Colorado. Feel free to come by for some craft beer, wood fired pizza, amazing salads and fantastic wings when you’re done.