For centuries, travelers have been drawn to Colorado’s magnificent peaks and valleys in search of adventure, leisure, and fortune. And since as early as 1875, the small city of Ouray has been the preferred base for such pursuits. From this historical mining town, visitors can explore a network of 4-wheel drive tracks leading to various points of interest in the area.
Ouray is a great starting point from which to reach must-see destinations like mining towns. Visit famous Colorado ghost towns such as Sneffels and Tomboy, the Ute Ulay Mine, and Whitmore Falls. Due to weather conditions and their effect on the rough tracks, the best time for off-road travel in the region is from March to September.
4-Wheel Drives Off the Beaten Track
Many of the mountain passes are indeed ‘off the beaten track’ and may pose a danger if traveled without caution and a measure of off-road driving skill. With this in mind, participants are assured of an adrenaline-charged experience. Travelers are advised to carefully plan and research the routes they intend to drive, optimizing the safety and enjoyment of such an excursion.
One of the latest trends in off-road adventures is side-by-sides, also known as utility task vehicles or recreational off-highway vehicles. Although these small 4X4’s are similar to other all-terrain vehicles, the seats are non-straddle (hence the name side-by-side), thus allowing for up to six participants. However, side-by-sides may not be used in town and need to be transported to the off-road trails.
From Ouray, drivers can take a day trip along the Imogene Pass that crosses the ridge between Ouray and Telluride.
This is the highest pass in the San Juan Mountains.
The 4X4 route is not for novices but offers attractions including the ghostly mining towns of Sneffels and Tomboy, and the highest historical military post in the US, Fort Peabody. The Imogene Pass road is 16 miles long, and even with a 15mph speed limit and tourist stops along the way, visitors will be able to travel to Telluride and back in a day.
The Engineer Pass is a moderate off-road trail, appropriate for beginner to expert 4-wheel drivers, and offers an array of interesting features and sites. Starting out from Ouray, the pass traverses approximately 20 miles of scenic terrain and its main attractions include the breath-taking Whitmore Falls and the Ute Ulay Mine and Mill, central to the region’s mining heritage.
This trip can be made in a day and visitors can be back at the Ouray Chalet Inn well before dinner.
This excursion into the Red Mountains boasts breath-taking views of the distinctive, colorful geology in the region. Drive between the perpendicular canyon walls of the Million Dollar Highway, up to Bear Creek Falls, and through Ironton to the start of Corkscrew Gulch, renowned for its beautiful wildflowers and mountain views. Historic points of interest are the Ironton and Guston mining towns, and the railway wheelhouse.
At the 12,400ft summit of Red Mountain II, visitors are treated to impressive 360° views of four separate mountain ranges.
The trail is rated moderate and is steep but manageable in the dry season, although there is limited space to turn around if need be.
Ouray Off-Road Prep
To get the best out of your Ouray off-road 4X4 experience, it is important to be prepared.
Drivers need to study weather forecasts for the area, decide on a route, consult trail maps, and pinpoint local attractions. It is also essential to establish gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores en route for refueling, refreshments, and ablutions. Finally, ensure that your vehicle condition is optimized before setting out. If you’ve covered all your bases, this rocky wilderness is yours to enjoy.