Engineer Pass

Ouray, Colorado (Lake County)

Last Updated: 07/11/2019
5 /5 ( 5 reviews )
Information
Nearby Trails
Status: Partially Open
Typically Open: 06/01 - 09/30
Difficulty: 4-4
(MODERATE )
Length: 28.6 miles
Highest Elevation: 12903 feet
Duration: About 5 hours
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: East
Nearest Town: Ouray
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
Distance:
Showing 0 trails within 2 miles

Highlights

Highlight: Engineer Pass

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.

Video

Weather

7 day forecast for Engineer Pass

Route Information

Advanced Rating System (BETA)

Recommended Vehicle:
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
Concerns:

Technical Rating: 4-4
(MODERATE )

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

Description

This nearly 30-mile trail starts off on the rougher side and eases up as you get through it. It connects straight through from Ouray, ending in Lake City. While there are no major obstacles to be worried about on this trail, it is long and some of it is rough and worth airing down to make the day a little less bumpy. At the start of the trail, you will run into lots of rocky sections, boulders and some rocks to climb up. The intersection at Poughkeepsie Gulch is completely rock and can be VERY slick if it’s wet for any reason and snow can be downright treacherous. There are multiple areas of shelf road on both sides of the vehicle. Be prepared for these drop offs and always remember that uphill traffic traditionally has the right of way. This trail travels well above the timberline and much if it is fragile alpine tundra. It’s extremely important that travelers follow the trail and do not deviate from it. The damage one vehicle can do by going off-trail can take years for the area to recover. Since this trail falls into the iconic category, it’s traveled by lots of people every year. Because it is one of the easier trails in the San Juans, it is a popular trail for both experienced drivers and people out for the weekend with rented Jeeps and ATV’s. Large SUV’s are going to have trouble maneuvering on a trail like this in places, but just about any vehicle with clearance can make this trail if they take their time. To run the Alpine Loop in it’s traditional route, start in the town of Lake City. Go south and begin the loop at Cinnamon Pass. When you get to waypoint 20 on Cinnamon Pass, turn right (north) and head uphill towards Engineer Pass. After 2.1 Miles the Engineer Pass - Alpine Loop Connector ends, turn right (east) to pick up Engineer Pass at waypoint 11 back towards Lake City.
There is lots of 4x4, ATV and bike traffic on this iconic trail.

Waypoints

1. Ouray Area Trailhead

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.

2. Unauthorized Spur (0.8 mi)

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.

3. Rock Steps (0.9 mi)

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.

4. Michael Breen Mine (1.7 mi)

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.

5. Stream Crossing (2.1 mi)

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.

6. Intersection with Poughkeepsie & Rocky Climb Start (2.5 mi)

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.

7. Unknown Spur (3.6 mi)

Stay right (northeast) at this unknown spur. These switchbacks end here and it flattens out a little bit for a while.

8. Unauthorized Spur (4.4 mi)

Stay right (southeast) at this unauthorized spur.

9. Intersection with CR 18 (5.4 mi)

Stay left (north) and uphill here at the intersection with the CR 18 loop of roads.

10. Canaries Scenic Overlook & Bathroom (6.1 mi)

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.

11. Intersection with Alpine Loop Connector (7.4 mi)

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.

12. Switchback to Summit (8.3 mi)

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.

13. Oh Point Intersection (9.4 mi)

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.

14. Oh Point Overlook (9.6 mi)

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.

15. Official Summit and Overlook (10.3 mi)

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.

16. Private Trail (10.6 mi)

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.

17. Private Trail (10.8 mi)

Stay straight (northeast) at this private trail.

18. Informational Sign For the Trail (11 mi)

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.

19. Intersection with CR 21 (13.2 mi)

Stay left (east) at CR 21. It leads to a small network of roads that all end back to the main trail.

20. Unauthorized Trail (13.5 mi)

Stay straight (east) at this unauthorized trail.

21. Intersection with CR 21X (14.2 mi)

Stay left (east) at the intersection with CR 21X.

22. Bathroom & Rest Area (14.4 mi)

Stay straight (east) for the trail. On the right (south) is a bathroom and small rest area.

23. Unauthorized Trail (14.9 mi)

Stay right (east) at this unauthorized trail.

24. Unauthorized Trail (15.1 mi)

Stay right (east) at this unauthorized trail.

25. Intersection with Bonanza (15.2 mi)

Stay right (southeast) to stay on Engineer.

26. Private Drive (19.1 mi)

Stay to the left (northeast) at this private drive.

27. Capitol City (19.6 mi)

This is the historic Capitol City. You can stop here to take in the old buildings but please respect the historical site.

28. Unknown Trail (19.7 mi)

Stay to the right (east) at this unknown trail, likely private trail.

29. Intersection with North Henson (CR 24) (23.6 mi)

Stay right (east) at this intersection to continue to the exit of Engineer Pass.

30. Intersection with Nellie Creek (CR 23) (23.8 mi)

Stay to the right (southeast) at this road.

31. Hard Tack Mine & Overlook (25.2 mi)

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.

32. ATV Parking Lot/Staging Area & Trail Entrance (28.3 mi)

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.

33. End Trail at Lake City (28.9 mi)

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.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 37.988673, -107.649287

Starting Point: Ouray

From the town of Ouray, travel south on the Million Dollar Highway (US-550 S/3rd St/Main). Drive for 3.9 miles and the trailhead will be on your left (east) after a sharp turn. Look out for the large parking lot.

Camping

Dispersed

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.

Camping: Engineer Pass

Community

Trail Reviews (13)

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Engineer is now open from Lake City to Waypoint 11, and down into Animas Forks. To get into Silverton, you must then take Hurricane Pass and California pass to county road 110. The Ouray side is still closed somewhere between waypoints 4 and 11.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Engineer is now partially open. "ROAD OPENINGS! - County Road 20 (Engineer Pass) is now open to Thoreau's Cabin. - County Road 30 (Cinnamon Pass) is open to Burrows Park. - Stay off avalanches, snow bridges and debris piles. They can easily collapse. - Watch for log jams and pooling in the waterways. Water is still running high and fast, avoid roads and trails that cross streams. - Be aware of changing weather conditions and rain events. - Snow may still be present on high elevation trails and peaks." Hinsdale County

Author: Official Crew
Status: Impassable
Offroaded on:

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


Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
We did not take the Mineral Creek part of the trail, but went through Corkscrew,Hurricane, and California passes to connect to the trail. Outstanding views of the San Juan range from here. Trail can be rocky and steep in points, but nothing too technical. The trail from the pass to Lake City is easier and eventually turns into a gravel road. A must do trail if you're in the area.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
If you start on the Mineral Creek portion off 550 be prepared for some tougher driving. Was by far the most difficult trail I did my in my trip to the region. Also in general I’ll say the pictures do no justice to the views, and how steep the trails are. Be prepared for both. The driving at the top is incredibly fun. The spur off to Odom point is a thrill. Get to ride the ridge and Odom Point is a fantastic place for a break.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Spoke with the Forest Service today to verify that this trail is NOT part of the San Juan Mountains closure for fire. It is confirmed with the Durango Forest Service office that this trail does NOT run through the San Juan Forest and is not impacted by the current closure. Check back here often as conditions will be updated throughout the summer.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
The Alpine Loop is open all the way through as of today. Ice and snow may persist in some spots so proceed with caution for the next few weeks but the trail should be easily passable in all places.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Seasonal Closure
Offroaded on:
The trails in the area have been closed for the season. Check back here in the spring for updates on openings.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Seasonal Closure
Offroaded on:
The FS has announced that as of today this trail is closed at the top by snow and that they will not recover vehicles on these trails until spring. The trail is impassable at this time but trailsoffroad will update the status as soon as the trail opens back up in the spring.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Please note that the time of year where daily closures are upon us in the San Juans. While they have not closed the trail yet, Engineer Pass is on a daily watch for weather. It's been closed on past days and is closed at the summit as of this report due to snow. There is snow and ice reported by the county. While trailsoffroad will try to keep the trail as up to date as possible, please check this link to the county for the latest. We will update this page when the trail is officially closed for the season.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Amazing day on the trail. Started Engineer in Ouray, we traveled all the way to Lake City and then back to Ouray via Cinnamon. All in all, a 11 hour day on the trail. Some storminess in the afternoon but nothing too bad. The scenery on this trail cannot be talked about enough. I found myself stopping to take an immense amount of photos, in fact I got way behind my group. We went on a Tuesday so the trail wasn't too busy all things considered. Still waiting for my Jeep Badge of Honor for this trail.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
My review is dead in line with JD's (the author) simply bc I left up the trail about 90 seconds before he did when he filmed this video and trail run. In fact, the white JKU in 2 of the pics at Waypoint 1, is mine. JD and I had a chance to chat a bit while we aired down our tires at the trailhead. If he didn't do his job so well and stop for so many photos and angles, maybe my Jeep would have been in his video and pics. As it was, we only briefly saw each other again near the Breen Mine. Regardless, this is one of the iconic drives of the San Juan Mtns. The first few miles is tedious with loose rock and the driving can be somewhat technical to make the drive less jarring, but once through the expanses open and you'll be treated to some of the best views you'll ever see. Bad tire placement on that opening section can lead to the odd, light underbody scrape, but no issues at all.

Author:
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Rating:
Great write up by JD not much I can add other than this is a excellent trail we try to take anytime we are in the Ouray area, the first time I ran it back in ‘05 I had heard it was a hard trail until I saw a Lincoln Navigator and Chevy Tahoe on it.. I don’t think I ever put the Jeep in 4wd . The views are outstanding and this is a must do trail when in the area or accessing the alpine loop over to lake city or silverton . I highly recommend it

Questions & Answers (0)

Writer Information

Jen & JD Marshall

Mapping Crew - Colorado

Jen & JD moved to Colorado from Chicago in May of 2015 for work and brought with them a 2001 stock Jeep Wrangler that had been garage bound for two years. Within a month of arrival, all rusty 170,000 miles of it was shaking on Colorado trails and they've never stopped. As time as gone on, their 2001 TJ has been upgraded and a 2015 Jeep JK has been added to the family. JD works as a Systems Engineer for a cable company and Jen runs a business from their home during the week to pay the bills. When the weekend hits, they're almost always hitting the trail. When Sunday night rolls around, the question turns to, 'so what's next week?!'.