The Back way to Telluride

Stopping in at a local visitor center is the perfect way I like to start exploring a new area. The first time Al and I camped at Ridgway State Park was the first time we experienced this part of western Colorado, and I couldn’t wait to dive in and explore.

Lost Dollar

Last Dollar Road – back way to Telluride, CO

And by diving in and exploring, that meant taking the roads less traveled. One of the activities that is super popular around the town of Ouray, Colorado, is 4×4 back country travel. If you don’t have your own 4×4, there are several businesses eager to rent you a Jeep, ATV, or UTV or you can sign up for a guided tour. Free maps are available noting these back roads with a designation from easy to difficult.

This is another reminiscing post about our travels to western Colorado. Although, I will truly miss a Colorado excursion this summer, new adventures await here in Arizona.

Roads less traveled

It was July 2013  ….  Al and I review the atlas and peruse all the information we picked up at the Ridgway State Park visitor center.  From the state park to the mountain ski town of Telluride should be about a one hour drive if we stay on the main roads.  Al and I talk about it, and contemplate our route. “Hmm, we have all day.  What’s the hurry?” one of us asks.

Telluride

This southwest part of Colorado was a buzz of mining activity in the 1800’s.  Even Telluride’s logo is that of a miner’s pick.   This mining activity created a multitude of back roads throughout the picturesque San Juan Mountains.

Today these back roads are available for Jeeps and OHV (off highway vehicles).

Some of these back roads are assessable by regular automobiles, but most require high clearance, and others demand four-wheel drive capabilities.  The roads might be gravel, dirt, rock or any combination of the three.

Last Dollar Road

Last Dollar Road – this road is classified as “easy”

The back way to Telluride

My little red four-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma should be able to handle most of the roads we were interested in and researched.  Al and I err on the side of caution and pick a couple of “easy” roads to explore …. one of which is called the “Last Dollar Road”.  As far as mileage goes, this is a shorter traveling distance to Telluride than taking the main roads.  However, time wise it would be double.  Obviously, we won’t be driving this road at 60 miles per hour.

Last Dollar Road

some ruts were a little deep, but no problem for us.

For the most part, it was an easy drive even though there were some mud puddles from the storms the day before.  The visitor center publication was informative, spot on, and we were glad to have read it before hand.  Some of the ruts, mud, and water would definitely present a problem for a vehicle without a high clearance.  We encountered no problems, and the drive presented some amazing scenery complete with wildflowers.

Telluride

Telluride

Telluride

It was the end of July and the wildflowers were starting to wane, but I was still thrilled with the tufts of color here and there.

Telluride

The drive from Ridgway State Park to Telluride took us about two hours and that included all the photo-op stops.  I didn’t think that was too bad considering the slow speed that the road necessitated. It was a beautiful drive that I would do again in a heartbeat. Plus it wasn’t too challenging of a drive and was relatively easy to navigate.

I might venture to say, mid July and mid September would be the two most perfect months to explore these back roads. Wildflowers in mid July are at their peak and fall colors mid to end of September are at their peak.

TellurideOnce in Telluride, we stopped at the visitor center in town to gather up some local information. Al always likes to ask locals for lunch recommendations.

We found ourselves at a kind of sports bar housed in an old house off a side street.  It appears to be a favorite with locals.  Lunch was good, but nothing special, and I’m not sure I’d return, especially with so many other restaurants to try.

After lunch we headed over to the gondola station for a ride up and over the summit to Mountain Village.  The folks at the visitor center highly recommended this. Pretty cool that the ride is free considering other mountain towns in Colorado charge upwards of $25 per person for their gondolas. The Gondola here in Telluride operates year round free of charge and is a common form of public transportation for workers, school children, mountain bikers, hikers, and of course, tourists.  Oh, and it’s pooch friendly too.

On the way to the gondola, we encountered a farmer’s market and quickly took notes as to some potential purchases we should make before heading home.  A grocery list quickly formed in my head!

Gondola

 

Once we arrived at the gondola, we noticed all the mountain bikers and hikers. The Telluride side of the mountain is pretty steep while the Mountain Village side appears to be more moderate.  That’s where these two young mountain bikers were heading.  They’ll disembark at the summit and ride their bikes back down toward the town of Mountain Village.  We also saw quite a few hikers doing this as well.  There appeared to be very few hiking or biking down on the Telluride side of the mountain. Too steep perhaps!

Telluride

Telluride

With our ‘tourist’ day coming to an end, we picked up some goodies at the local farmers market held on Friday mornings during the summer months, and promised each other future visits to this beautiful mountain town would be a must.

For our return drive to the RV, we took the highway back to Ridgway State Park and arrived about an hour later.  I’ll admit, even the scenery via the highway was lovely, although not quite as beautiful or adventurous as taking the Last Dollar Road but lovely just the same.

It was a great day exploring amongst some breathtaking scenery and we couldn’t wait to tackle another back country road.

Telluride

Al and me at Mountain Village – love the European feel

Another back country road

From our campsite at Ridgway State Park, I had an unobstructed view of unique rock formations known as Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock. My curiosity was piqued and I once again scoured the maps and information that I’d picked up at the visitor center.  The map indicates there’s a back country road labeled as easy that will take me closer to this mountain range.

Ridgway State Park Colorado Site 3

We catch County Road 10 just a couple of minutes south of our camp at Ridgway State Park and head east toward Chimney Rock.  The road is wide and gravel and no four-wheel drive is necessary. We pass some of the most beautiful ranches with unbelievable views.

Ranches near Ridgway Colorado and Owl Creek Pass with Courthouse Rock in the background

Somewhere along this stretch is the field where they filmed John Wayne taking on the bad guys in the movie “True Grit”…. reins in teeth and guns a-blazing.

Ranches near Ridgway Colorado

We continue our trek up and over Owl Creek Pass toward Silver Jack Reservoir.  Although the road is gravel, it’s in great shape and easy to negotiate. This is the perfect Owl Creek Pass Ridgway Coloradodrive for anyone who has a problem with altitude because it doesn’t go much above 10,000 feet in elevation and there aren’t any sheer drop offs for those with a fear of heights.

It’s a great excursion easing oneself into the remote countryside. However, the views aren’t nearly as spectacular as the other mountain passes. Much of this road meanders through forested land.

Silver Jack Reservoir and Campground is about a 21 mile drive from Highway 550 and not the preferred route for RV’s.  The easier route to take for campers would be from the town of Cimarron off Highway 50.

Silver Jack Lake near Ridgway Colorado

Silver Jack Lake, Colorado

The Silver Jack Campground sits in a forest of Aspen and Pine trees in the Uncompahgre National Forest.  Some of the sites are large enough to accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel, but there’s no internet service.  We couldn’t even get one bar on our phones 😦 We didn’t find the reservoir to be easily accessible, finding only one road leading down to the water’s edge.  There were, however, numerous hiking trails.

Owl Creek Pass, Colorado

Back road near Owl Creek Pass, Colorado

This was another great driving excursion offering us some beautiful scenery and solitude.

Still on my list

Our time in the area was over before we knew it, and I still had a few more back country excursions on my list. Unfortunately, those roads will have to wait for another time…. there’s Imogene Pass and Engineer Pass, but the Yankee Boy Basin Road remained at the top of my list. It’s classified as moderate and four-wheel drive is highly recommended.  We shouldn’t have any trouble driving Yankee Boy Basin with the Tacoma, but it would be a more challenging drive than Owl Creek Pass or Last Dollar Road.

Mid July, when wildflowers are blooming, would be the perfect time to visit and do a little high country hiking at the end of this out and back road – that is, if I think I can handle the high altitude.

Columbine flower Colorado's state flower

For those of us looking for an “extreme” Colorado adventure, check out this video of Black Bear Pass. This is the one pass vehicle rental companies will not allow you to drive with their equipment. If you do not have your own Jeep/UTV or you don’t feel experienced enough to negotiate this treacherous pass, but are still interested in experiencing this adrenal filled excursion, there are tours available in the town of Ouray – something that’s on my bucket list.

Black Bear Pass is a one way single lane road starting from just outside of the town of Ouray and traversing up and over the mountain into the town of Telluride. The road is only open starting sometime in July and closing sometime in September. Because there have been fatalities, (ya know – folks rolling off the side of the mountain) there are talks of closing off access to this high country pass. So knowing that, would you be interested in such an excursion? I’m game, if you are!

Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue – John Muir

(affiliate links)

Hiking Colorado’s Western Slope (Falcon Guides) 

The Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go T-Shirt

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39 thoughts on “The Back way to Telluride

  1. I just hope that the raging fire now wont change course go up north. What would we see and enjoy then if that happens. This is the part of CO I have not been yet so once again I’ll keep a note of your last two and your CO archives.

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  2. i absolutely love your photos Ingrid, especially the hazy mountain shots. Loved the way the purple flowers in your first shot emphasised the hazy purplish grey of the mountainous background. You show us some glorious countryside.

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  3. Thanks for these great ideas. This is an area of Colorado we haven’t explored or hiked since we got the MH. We are hoping to get to Colorado this September…finally! Looking forward to driving a few of these roads, hiking, and taking the gondola.

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  4. In 2004 when we vacationed in Ouray, when we rented jeeps they told us about a couple that had just been killed on Black Bear Pass. Friends in town with a jeep, going to get out in the backcountry with them. Talking again of getting a jeep when we get back west in 2019. Too many places to see that we can’t get too with our wide hipped long wheel base truck. Now back to watching the 416 Fire, ready to roll as soon as they announce pre evacuation, if they do.

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    • I remember you telling me about that Jeep excursion. Those mountain passes offer some of the most spectacular scenery. I’d love to rent a UTV next time we’re in the area.
      Stay safe – hope that fire gets contained soon!

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  5. Years ago we packed up our camping gear and headed to Telluride, where we rented a Jeep and drove up into the mountains. Imogene and Engineer Pass were amazing! We had planned to drive Black Bear Pass, that is until our rental car agency put a stop to that idea! We obviously hadn’t done our homework well enough to know just what we were getting ourselves into. Such beautiful country!

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    • Haha! I really wanted to drive some of the other passes, but the Tacoma isn’t really set up for some of those rougher roads. We may rent a UTV next time we’re in the area. I love the high country when the wildflowers are blooming.

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  6. This is our kind of an adventure! Your beautiful photos are enticing me to get there with sweet man!

    Your photography is incredible…but The horses grabbed my heart!
    And you with the mountains behind… spectacular!

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    • You would love exploring these back roads. There’s a few others on my list and the scenery, especially when the wildflowers are blooming, are breathtaking. But if summer doesn’t work for you, consider visiting in September during fall colors … stunning!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such an incredible drive on the Last Dollar Road…beauty many miss because we don’t leave the beaten path. Your pics are awesome, but I bet they don’t do justice to the beauty your eyes saw!
    Thanks for sharing such beauty with us.

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  8. There is another back way into Telluride, a road that runs between the Ouray side and Telluride side of the mountains and goes over Ophir Pass through Ophir. This was the scariest motorcycle ride of my life and one I shall never repeat. I was too scared to pee in my pants. The road is best suited for experienced dirt bikers or jeep drivers. The road has very narrow sections as well as very steep sections on large loose rocks. It is also quite beautiful. There are a number of YouTube videos including this one that show portions of the road: https://youtu.be/TQ-k5wV-Lq4.

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    • We looked into Ophir Pass and decided it was a tad beyond our comfort level with the Tacoma. Ours tires and setup on the Tacoma are geared more for paved streets. Thanks for the you tube link. I’ll be sure and ck it out. Some of those passes are indeed scary and not for the faint of heart!

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  9. Your timing with these Colorado posts couldn’t be better since we are heading to this exact area in a few days. In fact, I think I may just steal your whole Last Dollar Road itinerary. Sounds like a perfect day – right down to the farmers market! We’ll definitely stop by the visitors center and pick up the maps you got. These back roads look like a lot of fun, as long as we don’t get in over our heads. Thanks for all the fantastic, and perfectly timed, information.

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    • You’ll want to double check snow conditions at the Ouray Visitor center before taking any back country roads. It has been an unbelievably drive season in the west. Therefore, I don’t think there will be much snow left on this pass, but best to ck. You shouldn’t have any problems with Last Dollar Road or Owl Creek Pass with the Xterra. You’ll love Telluride and be sure to stop in at Smuggler’s Brew Pub and order Debauchery 😃 Enjoy!

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    • You guys would love it and I would highly recommend renting a Jeep for the day or at the least signing up for a back country tour. Stunning scenery and mid July is usually perfect timing, but then again, that’s perfect timing for boating. Hmm, such a dilemma …. 😎🍸

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  10. You found some great back roads! Those are the kind of roads Henry and I love to explore in our truck. The only time we went to Telluride was when we drove the whole loop on the Million Dollar Highway from Cortez. We enjoyed walking around Telluride and stopped for lunch in Ouray. Your beautiful photos took me back to that drive. Thanks for reminding me of that day.

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    • We wanted to drive that whole loop but either time or weather didn’t cooperate. I’d love to return and take in some of those other high mountain passes although now I’m concerned about altitude. I used to be used to higher elevations but we’ve been away the last few years that I know I’ll need to ease back in slowly. Glad the post brought back fond memories 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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