The Best Off-Road Jeep Trails in Ouray Colorado

Colorado has long been a proving ground for Jeepers across America. The “Switzerland of America”, as the city of Ouray is lovingly dubbed, is no easy trek – the city features only one paved road leading into or out of the city. US 550 starts in Montrose, CO and winds south to Ouray before reaching Silverton.

The route between Silverton and Ouray, the “Million Dollar Highway” is considered one of the most difficult stretches of paved road in the state, with Ouray sitting neatly in a pass, surrounded on three sides by steep mountains.

But the trip up is only where your Jeep adventure begins. It’s the places you can go from Ouray that give the town its moniker. So, let’s take a look at the potential off-roading opportunities available to you if you’re in Ouray.

The Best Off-Road Jeep Trails in Ouray, Colorado

  1. Black Bear Pass
  2. Imogene Pass
  3. Engineer Pass
  4. Yankee Boy Basin
  5. Poughkeepsie Gulch
  6. Corkscrew Gulch
  7. Red Mountain Mining Area
  8. Mineral Creek
  9. California Pass

The most difficult jeep trail in Ouray

Below, I will dive deeper into each of these trails, providing some insight on what you can expect and tips to help you make the most of your off-road Jeep experience.

1. Black Bear Pass

Black Bear Pass offers one of the most exhilarating experiences that the Red Mountain district has to offer. Starting at Ouray, you’re going to head south up the Million Dollar Highway, making your way towards Red Mountain Pass. On the way you’ll see some sharp turns on the narrow, two-way road; make sure you’re careful on the way up, as the road can be quite slippery during the winters. If you’re riding in your trusty Wrangler, you should have little to worry about though. Just kick back and take in the sights; mountain views are complete with the rusting metal remnants of Colorado’s mining era.

Having made it to Red Mountain Pass you’ll begin your descent down the Black Bear Trail, with Imogene Pass visibly brilliant in the distance. Brace yourselves down the narrow, precipitous, rocky stairs and switchbacks through Bridal Veil Falls while catching glimpses of Telluride along the way.

Once you get to the base of Bridal Veil falls, you’re at the home stretch; one of the most difficult challenges the Ouray mountainside has to offer is now behind you. This might be a great point to park your Jeep and just have camped out while taking in the countryside. After your foray into the mountains, eventually, you’ll arrive at Telluride, and once you’ve rested, you’ll be looking for a way to get back to Ouray so that you can begin again. This leads us to…

2. Imogene Pass

Departing from Telluride, you’ll head east towards the once-affluent Ghost town of Tomboy, seeing the remains of the late-19th century town, as well as the mine that afforded its settlement. As you run along the Savage Basin, climbing towards Imogene Pass, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to gawk at the landscape, with the Red Mountains clearly visible in the distance on some days, and obscured by breathtaking clouds on others. Eventually, you’ll make it to Imogene – a staggering 13,000 feet above sea level, dwarfing even Black Bear Pass.

Continuing northeast, you’ll pass through Camp Bird, another former mining region, before driving through what used to be the settlers’ homes. Littered with features from Colorado’s gold mining days, you’ll eventually arrive at the Yellow Rose mine before making it up Canyon Creek. With Telluride long behind you, and Ouray just around the corner, you’ll cross Box Canyon Gorge and be back right where you started, and hopefully rearing for the next adventure.

3. Engineer Pass

Having conquered the Black Bear Pass and the first half of the famous Alpine Loop Trail, it’s time you go back and complete the set. The other half of the Alpine loop is along Engineer Pass, and while it’s considered the less difficult of the two, we’ll leave you to decide for yourself. Start off going down the Million Dollar highway towards Bear Creek Falls. Instead of going straight towards Red Mountain Pass again, make the turn towards Engineer Pass and begin your ascent.

Crossing Engineer Pass, you’ll see the tram and rail networks that once helped facilitate mineral extraction in the area, and many other signs of a former life as you climb over the rock beds and the tree-line, making your way towards the summit. Tramlines and the remains of abandoned tramcars, board houses, railways, and more pepper the countryside along the way.

Be sure not to miss the turn away from Poughkeepsie Gulch, and continue along Engineer Pass. You may opt for a slight detour before you begin the final stretch, and circle around Cinnamon Pass for a view of Lake San Cristobal and the Gunnison River. Either way, eventually you’ll make it to “Oh point”, the highest point on this trail at nearly 13,000 feet. That’ll give you the unique opportunity to get a 360-degree view of the area, as you’re surrounded by different mountain ranges on all sides.

Your options for the ride back to Ouray are either going all the way back through the trail or backtracking a little and taking the route through Cinnamon Pass towards Lake City or Silverton, and then up the Million Dollar Highway.

The bottom of the Yankee Boy Basin Jeep trail4. Yankee Boy Basin

Yankee Boy Basin is the easiest climb on this list thus far, but don’t let that deceive you. Going down the path towards Camp Bird over Box Canyon Gorge through Canyon Creek Road, turn towards the Sneffels Mountain Range as you get to the first of the Camp Bird settlements.

Enjoy the rocky road as you climb through narrow switchbacks while making your way up the range towards the basin. You’ll cross Twin Falls for another breathtaking example of the geography of the area, before opening up on the road that leads around the Basin. From here, it’s simply a matter of the route you want to take back, and how quickly you want to get to your destination, as you have the option to continue along back west towards Telluride, or back down towards Camp Bird and then Ouray.

The stretch of road towards and around Yankee Boy Basin features some historic scenery as well as a lush expanse of beautiful wildflowers, depending on what part of the year you’re visiting. Aspen is a marked feature of the landscape with trees surrounding the high cliff walls and off in the distance. The drive around the basin gives you an opportunity to experience the Sneffels Mountains, and Mount Sneffels itself, in all its glory, as you ride along the 14,000 ft. peaks.

5. Poughkeepsie Gulch

If you’re up for a challenge that reminds you of the trek down Black Bear, you should consider giving Poughkeepsie a try. Continuing down from Ouray along the path you took for Engineer Pass, instead of taking a left to continue along the Pass, go straight through when you see the board for Poughkeepsie Gulch.

The trailhead itself is still quite far ahead, but for all intents and purposes, you’ve begun the trail. Continue along the Uncompahgre River as you drive along loose, undulating rocks and boulders.

Eventually, you’ll reach “The Wall”, a steep, near-vertical climb over a loose rock bed. Kick yourself into low gear and try to avoid tire spin as much as you can, as this particular obstacle can get treacherous. Keep your speed steady at all points along the gulch, as you round up the trip approaching Lake Como. From here, it’s just a short and unremarkable ride winding up the trail towards the South.

Off-road Jeep trail at Corkscrew Gulch6. Corkscrew Gulch

As always, you’ll have plenty of options for how you want to go back, depending on where you want to go as well. The ride through Corkscrew Gulch leads through a winding path within the mountains and serves as an excellent way to round up your trip.

Running through the gulch eventually lands you back on the Million Dollar Highway, from where you can decide to drive back up to Ouray, or South towards Silverton. The alternate route leads to California Gulch and subsequently Animas Forks, just a short way from Cinnamon Pass. From here you can either ride along to Lake City or take the road towards Silverton and Ouray.

Final Thoughts

Well, that’s it for our tour of Ouray and the surrounding region. We hope you now have an idea of the topography of the area, as well as how the mountain roads connect to one another. Don’t be afraid to stop for fresh air along the trip and take in some of the histories of the area, as Ouray county is home to as many mountains as it has ghost towns.

Whether you’re checking out the rusting giants, or taking on some deceptive climbs, or just plain driving around the countryside, the city at the end of the Million Dollar Highway holds plenty in store for just about everyone. Enjoy your stint across the Ouray Jeep trails!

Mark Anders

I love my Jeep and will share my years of knowledge with you here! Stay with me and read on!

Recent Posts