|Typically Open:||06/01 - 09/30|
|Highest Elevation:||12903 feet|
|Duration:||About 5 hours|
|Shape of Trail:||Straight Through|
|Best Direction to Travel:||East|
|Nearest Town w/ Services:||Ouray|
|Official Road Name:||FS 879 & CR 18, 17, 2, 20|
|Management Agency:||Bureau Land Management / Lake County|
|District:||Ouray Ranger District|
In the late 1800’s, miners started digging for gold, silver, lead and other ore in the San Juan Mountains. They needed a way to get people and the ore out to the nearby towns. Those roads left by the long-abandoned mines are now some of the most famous off-road trails in the books. Engineer Pass is one of them and is part of a trail now known as the Alpine Loop. This part of the Alpine Loop starts in two places actually. This trail as written here starts near the city of Ouray, CO and goes almost 30 miles to Lake City, CO. If you are running Engineer Pass as part of the Alpine Loop, then read up on Cinnamon Pass, and the Engineer Pass/Alpine Loop Connector and you will start Engineer Pass at waypoint 11 on this guide. Regardless of where you start this trail you get a chance to test your skills, explore the backcountry and old mining towns of Colorado, and even touch the skies along the way. There are multiple mine ruins to view and explore the grounds of along the way including the Hard Tack Mine and the Michael Breen Mine. Some are marked clearly and some are not. You should not enter structures or disturb the area in any way, but what you can see from afar is well worth the stop at these historic places. If you’re looking for scenery, then you'll find spots all along the trail worth stopping for. Mile after mile provides new and more amazing views of Colorado and the San Juan mountains. Oh Point and the official summit have breath-taking panoramas of the mountains. Each stop gives you another sweeping vista and you can spend a whole day just taking in the views. Those looking for altitude will find that this trail goes well above the timberline at just over 12,900’. With the altitude comes stunning views of the mountains to the north including the Uncompahgre, Coxcomb, Wetterhorn and Wildhorse mountain peaks. The view is so expansive at Oh Point that on a very clear day, you might be able to see all the way to Utah if you turn your eyes to the west. This trail is relatively easy and for everyone from the beginner to the experienced. It offers something for the whole family along the way. While this trail isn’t rough, it is a true off-road trail and will test your fortitude with shelf roads and some of the early rocks and obstacles. For Jeep owners, there’s a special note here. Jeep has designated some trails as Badge of Honor trails and this is one of the few in Colorado. Its fame means that Jeep will recognize if you ran it and provide you with a badge to put on your rig showing you completed the trail.
Typically, more rock or undulated road surface. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 18" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 18" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 36" inches. Tire placement becomes more difficult. Can be steep and off-camber.Read more about our rating system
This is the main trailhead if entering the Alpine Loop via the Million Dollar Highway or if you’re just running Engineer pass by itself. There is an additional entrance to Engineer Pass that connects Cinnamon Pass to Engineer Pass to complete the iconic Alpine Loop. The trailhead is very large and well marked with signs. You’re likely to see vehicles and trailers parked at the bottom in the large meeting area which is also easy to air down in.
Stay left at this unauthorized spur. It loops right back into the trail and appears to just be off-trail usage. Stay the trail and help keep our trails open.
This is a notable obstacle as it helps give this trail a slightly higher difficulty rating. These rock steps are not avoidable, looks can be deceiving. This area is very passable but shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Stay straight (southeast) here and as soon as you pass the mine, you will come across a rocky incline. If you stop, you can turn up a small hill to the top of the Michael Breen Mine. The site has a small parking area at the top that a few vehicles can stop at to take in the scenery and learn a little about the mine.
There is a small stream crossing here that can be faster in the spring melt off. There is another rocky climb in store after this stream.
Stay left (north) and climb up the rock face to get onto Engineer Pass. To the right (southeast) is the famous Poughkeepsie Gulch. This starts a little less than a mile long rocky climb that includes four switchbacks and rocks in excess of 8in tall around and sometimes on the trail. Special note for waterfall lovers. If you turn off your engine, you'll hear the roaring creek near the trail. A short walk to the creek leads to a fast moving and beautiful waterfall. It's well worth the stop, especially in the spring when the melt water is rushing.
Stay right (northeast) at this unknown spur. These switchbacks end here and it flattens out a little bit for a while.
Stay right (southeast) at this unauthorized spur.
Stay left (north) and uphill here at the intersection with the CR 18 loop of roads.
Stay straight (southeast) here to continue on the trail. On the right (south) side of the road you will see a large parking area and a bathroom. Just beyond the bathroom is an informational sign and a great view of the Mountain Range known as The Canaries.
Stay left (north) at this very sharp turn. You will see the signs to indicate where the trail goes, follow them uphill and past the informational signs. Note that if you are starting Engineer Pass from Cinnamon Pass here, this is your trailhead for Engineer coming from the south via the Alpine Loop Connector.
Stay left (northwest) at this switchback that goes to Oh Point and the official summit. The trail on the right (northeast) is an unnamed road that travels over to 21.
Turn left (west) onto the road for Oh Point. You can see traffic coming and going easily, use common courtesy and wait for traffic coming off the point. This little land bridge wide for the most part, but is tight in spots for two big vehicles and passing could be difficult so take your time.
This large area is the highest on the trail and allows for views of the mountains in nearly a full 360⁰. There is plenty of space to stop here with a group. When exiting the overlook, return to waypoint 13 and turn left (northeast) back onto the main trail.
Follow the trail down and to the right (southeast) here. There is plenty of space to stop here though if you want to take a picture with the official sign. Some maps show that the trail used to go up and around the peak there, but that area is fenced off now. This area can be very busy with a lot of traffic so be on the lookout for ATV's and people on foot.
Stay straight (northeast) at this intersection with an old road that appears to be private. It leads back to a mine claim called Hough Mine.
Stay straight (northeast) at this private trail.
Stay to the left (west) and follow the trail signs. There are two notable places along this part of the trail. At 11.2 miles, hikers will find the entrance to the Horsethief Pack Trail. Private Property begins at 12.7 miles, mind signage.
Stay left (east) at CR 21. It leads to a small network of roads that all end back to the main trail.
Stay straight (east) at this unauthorized trail.
Stay left (east) at the intersection with CR 21X.
Stay straight (east) for the trail. On the right (south) is a bathroom and small rest area.
Stay right (east) at this unauthorized trail.
Stay right (east) at this unauthorized trail.
Stay right (southeast) to stay on Engineer.
Stay to the left (northeast) at this private drive.
This is the historic Capitol City. You can stop here to take in the old buildings but please respect the historical site.
Stay to the right (east) at this unknown trail, likely private trail.
Stay right (east) at this intersection to continue to the exit of Engineer Pass.
Stay to the right (southeast) at this road.
The old Hard Tack Mine is here along with some buildings that you can walk around. Do not go beyond the fencing and park away from the trail if you’re going to stop here. Some of the signs could use some work. Read more about the mine here until they get fixed up.
There is a large ATV staging parking lot on this end of the trail. Behind the parking lot are some ATV entrances into the area.
The trail ends at Lake City which is a very off-road friendly town. You will see signs on the side of the road for Engineer Pass and for the Alpine Loop in general. Turning right (southeast) will send you back into the Rio Grande Forest and southwest towards Alamosa. Turn left (north) to CR 50 and Gunnison.
Starting Point: Ouray
Dispersed camping is allowed, though trailsoffroad did not observe that many camp-rings since camping above the timberline can be rough. Mind fire notices and a 14 day limit on camping in one spot if you decide to stay along trail. There are campgrounds near the trailhead including Angel Creek Campground and Ampitheater Campground. One of the largest and busiest campgrounds in the area is the first come, first serve Mill Creek Campground. You have to make reservations or get there early if you want to camp this near to the trail. The peak of the season means that the campsites fill up fast.
Ouray County has announced that plowing operations have begun for these trails. From the county:
High Country Roads Opening Priority
May 6, 2019 Update
Crews will begin work May 6, 2019 with the goal to have all High Country Roads open by the July 4th weekend.
***Please be aware: Southwestern Colorado received an exceptional amount of snow during the 2018-2019 winter. Roads may be cleared later than usual, and dangers like avalanches may still exist into the summer months. Please use caution when venturing into these areas.***
(Note – Crew 1 and Crew 2 work concurrently)
Crew 1: Yankee Boy (Depending on snowfall, anticipated time to reach the Outhouses is 4 days.)
Crew 2: Red Mountain Town – Open the Main Loop
Crew 1: Corkscrew
Crew 2: Engineer
Crew 1: Imogene
Crew 2: Crews will move to help open Imogene after the completion of Engineer