I am an ordinary guy who enjoys riding motorcycles. I love riding all makes and models. I love short rides, long rides, and multi-day road trips. I post reviews about motorcycle gear, motorcycles, roads, restaurants, sights, gadgets and more. The Interesting Facts and Trivia page has a new bit of history added each week. Be safe and enjoy the ride, Oz.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Riding and driving on the Alpine Loop in Colorado

This is a two part post.  Part 1  My post about jeeping on the Alpine Loop while on our June 2009 motorcycle trip.  Part 2 is a post is from one in our group that road is dual sport instead of riding in the jeep with us.  (Part 1 can be found on my Taking It Outside blog.)

My brother-in-law had been telling me for years how much fun and invigorating taking a jeep ride over the mountains in the San Juans near Ouray was.  I decided to do just that during our annual motorcycle trip this past summer (June '09).  The guys and I rented two jeeps and tried it out ourselves.

We stayed 3 nights in cabins at the Ouray KOA, which is a great campground in a very pretty and quite area just north of Ouray.  We rented the two jeeps at the campground and picked them up at 4:30 on Sunday June 14, '09 and returned them before 5pm the next day.

We left the KOA around 8 after breakfast and headed into town.  We stocked up on snacks and drinks, after all there is not a Burger King on the Alpine Loop. :)

We drove south out of Ouray on US 550 for about 3+ miles and turn left on Country Road 878 a.k.a. The Alpine Loop.  We left the nice paved road and began a day long adventure. (Photo of one of the jeeps and the DR 650 on the Alpine Loop)

Within the first 2 miles we hit some pretty big (by this amateur jeepist's standard) rocks and it was pretty rough, but became much better quickly.

What a road!

The vistas were great.  To the south of us the snow covered Tuttle Mountain was visible.  (picture above this paragraph.)

The trail continued to ascend up the mountains and we passed several abandoned mines and cabins including Mineral Point that was founded in 1873.  Soon after passing Mineral Point we ascended above the timberline.  Snow patches were plentiful and the higher we went the more snow there was.  Snow melt made the road muddy in places and fed the mountain streams and falls.
Mineral Point
The closer to Engineer Pass the colder it got and the muddier the roads were.  Prior to Engineer Pass there  is a big pull off area named Oh! Point.  There was plenty of room to park (room enough for our two jeep and ten 4-wheelers that arrived from Lake City on the east end of the Alpine Loop with room to spare). The view was spectacular.  From Oh! Point we could see Engineer Pass and the road that continued east.  

We continued to Engineer Pass (12,800 ft) in spite of one in our group who was having a difficult time with the sheer drop offs and narrow trails.  At the pass we were rewarded with an amazing view, cold winds, a lot of snow and the thrill of making it to our destination.  We enjoyed the moment and took several photos.

(Here is a link I found on Youtube of jeeps going to Engineer Pass that can give you an idea of the trail.)
We back tracked passed Oh! Point and headed to Animas Forks, an abandoned mining town.  Animas Forks is a great ghost town and is at elevation of almost 11,200 feet. Several buildings are still standing.  We walked around and in buildings. There is a lot history there.  Animas Fork at one time had a newspaper known for being printed at the highest elevation for any newspaper.  A record it still holds.  (Photo below of some buildings in Animas Forks)
We continued west through California Gulch surrounded by snow.  At times the snow banks on either side of the trail were 8-12 feet high!  We passed Hurricane Peak (13,447 ft) and drove through Hurricane Pass and continued pass Red Mountain 1(12,592 ft) and down the appropriately named Corkscrew Gulch. (photo on the right was taken at the beginning of Corkscrew Gulch)

At the end of Corkscrew Gulch we come to US 550 and head back to Ouray.  This was my first jeep outing in the mountains, but it will not be may last!  My rating of the Alpine Loop and jeeping around the Ouray/Silverton area is: 

The follow was written by the member of our group that rode his Suzuki DR 650 on the Alpine Loop.

When we began planning the trip to Colorado, my first thought was - "At last, I get to try my dual-sport bike on some real terrain". Remember, we live in flat North Texas. The trade-off was doing all the highway riding on it. But a 650 dual sport isn't at all bad on the road, up to the legal speed. So the DR was my weapon of choice.

How did it work out? In a word, fantastic!

Feeling a bit cautious when we started off on the jeep trail, I positioned myself between the two jeeps. That way, I wouldn't get lost, and if I fell down the other guys could help me up (after they ran over me...).

I soon found that my comfortable speed on the bike was considerably faster that that of the jeeps. They have all those extra wheels to maneuver over rocks and such. So after about a half mile, I went ahead of them and rode at a nice pace until I was a few minutes ahead. Then I stopped and "smelled the roses" while they caught up. This worked out great for me, and I was able to take some photos of the jeeps.

It was big fun, bouncing up the gravel roads, climbing the inclines, generally acting like I knew what I was doing. Until... I came to one particularly sharp and sloping switchback.  I tried to take the inside of the curve without stopping, and dumped the bike. I had been riding a while, was out of breath, and the bike was lying with the tires pointing uphill, so I was unable to pick it up. So, I sat on it until the jeep guys got there and gave me a hand. One crash - not so bad.

On the way to Engineer Pass, we went through an area where the road cut through some big snow banks, with snow on both sides, and some in the wheel tracks. I was pretty careful, and made it to the pass, after meeting a group of ATV riders in the narrow snowy part. Yikes.
I waited at the pass, since that was our turnaround point. After everyone arrived and we finished taking triumphal photographs, we headed back the way we came. 

I was feeling more competent on the snowy road and went a little faster. I road ahead to Animas Forks where we spent some time looking around the old abandoned mining town.  We continued on through California Gulch and up to California Pass (12,9300 ft).  After California Pass I road toward Hurricane Pass and I was feeling good - Whoops - off into the ditch and up against the snow bank I went. Needless to say, I was glad to be riding on the uphill side of the road. Well, two crashes, and nothing broken. Not too bad. Since the bike was just leaning into the snow bank, I extracted it without help and went on.

After passing Hurricane Pass I road toward Corkscrew Gulch.  I was heading down a long, straight, wet grade when I realized there was a stoppage ahead. Three guys on dirt bikes had stopped in the road because they had met two vehicles coming up and couldn't figure out how to pass. I was cruising downhill at a fair clip, and discovered that tires don't grip as good going downhill as on level ground. I slid to a stop just as I reached the three bikers, at the same time my rear tire tried to pass the front - and performed a slow high-side onto the gravel road right in front of the whole group. They were kind - they asked if I were ok and helped me pick the bike up without even chortling. Fortunately, the jeep guys were far enough back to miss the show.

Three crashes - and that last one kind of stung a little. I guess I'm not such a great off-road rider after all! But I learned a lot, and had a blast doing it! I was very glad I chose two wheels instead of four for exploring the mountains of Colorado. The DR-650 proved to be the perfect companion for my adventure.


  1. Oz, Knowing what you now do about Engineers Pass and the Alpine Loop, if you had the choice, would you rent a jeep or rent a bike to do it again?
    It just so happens my route goes thru Ouray. My plan was just to visit Cascade Falls and Box Canyon Falls when there, but having read you post, I might just change my mind......


  2. You will love that area! Ouray is great. Make sure you eat at Buen Tiempo.

    If you have experience on a dirt bike I think the bike would be the way to go. It is faster and you could see more. Another option is the ATVs (4-wheelers). I think if it was just me I would go with the ATVs. Check here - http://www.ouraycolorado.com/riden

    My friend loved riding his bike on the trail. There are a lot of trails in the area. Depending on when you are there some may be closed. In early June the trail we wanted to go on was closed. My brother-in-law loves the trail that goes through Imogene Pass.

    You will have a blast!

  3. I checked out the link to the Ouray website and from there clicked on to the ATV Rentals site. I think I agree with you, the ATV is the way to go. Their prices are reasonable.

    I should get to Ouray in the middle of September.

    Thanks for the recommendations - I am now going to read all of your blog from the beginning to see what other good ideas I can gain from it. You are now officially one of my tour advisors!


  4. I am honored. I have traveled both by car and bike in Colorado and I love that area. The Rocky Mountains are so beautiful. You will love it. I look forward to reading your blog while you are on the trip.

    You may want to check out the average temperatures and rainfall for the areas you will be going. I have found this site helpful.


  5. Someday, my Ural and I will do the whole Alpine Loop. I did a bit of it here: LINK but ran out of time to do the whole thing....someday....

    Looks like you had a blast!

  6. just looked at the youtube video for engineer pass from oh! point, its now on my list of Uraling rides....

  7. Fantastic pics, sounds like a great ride. Would you be interested in getting some free sponsorship gear from www.RidersDiscount.com? We'd love to pitch in and support the site. Shoot me an email if you're interested...
    Thanks again for the great read!

  8. Charlie6, You can go any where with that Ural! You will love the Alpine Loop.

    Riders Discount, check your email.

  9. Thanks for the comment on our blog. You've seen some great stuff too. I've never been to Ouray but it looks wonderful. I've been 4-wheeling once (as a passenger) and it is certainly a fun experience.

  10. I started riding motorcycles last year. I've been part way up the Alpine Loop as far as I could go in a 2wheel drive pickup? I've got a Yamaha 250 dual sport and my son has a Honda 230 dual sport. Do you think 2 beginners can tackle it?

  11. I just spoke to my friend that rode the dual sport. He said yes, but wait until the snow melts (late June at least-it was pretty muddy when we went). Go slow on the switchbacks, take your time, take snacks & plenty of water, don't get in a hurry, and don't try to cover too many miles. When going up keep momentum up, when going down go slower and under control.
    Have fun, you will love it.