Planning Your Alpine Loop Offroad Trail Adventure

June 27, 2024
Categories: Travel Guides
Tags: Colorado, Overland, Trails

Where do we start?

When it comes to deciding where to start the Alpine Loop Back Country Byway and your San Juan Mountains adventure, you can narrow it down to three main options:

Lake City, CO

Starting in the quaint mountain town of Lake City, CO gives you access to both main trails of the Alpine Loop. Engineer Pass is accessible at the southern end of town just off 1st Street if you’re looking to run the trail from east to west. Alternatively, by heading south out of Lake City on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, you can make your way to the eastern end of Cinnamon Pass.

Million Dollar Highway (CO-550)

If you choose to begin your journey on the other side of the San Juans, your access points will begin off of the famous Million Dollar Highway (CO State Hwy 550).

  • Mineral Creek: This challenging trail connects Hwy 550 and Engineer Pass. Although the staging area signage reads “Engineer Mountain Road,” do not be fooled; this trail's experience (and difficulty) is very different from that of Engineer Pass. See the full trail guide to view the obstacles you will encounter on Mineral Creek.

  • Corkscrew Pass: To begin off of Hwy 550 on a more moderate route you will want to use Corkscrew Pass. You will end up stringing together Corkscrew Pass, Hurricane Pass, and California Pass, respectively, before having the option to continue along Cinnamon Pass or utilize San Juan CR-2 to access Engineer Pass.

Silverton, CO

The historic mining town of Silverton, CO is another great starting point for your adventure and offers the easiest start to the Alpine Loop via San Juan County Road 2. This scenic route winds its way up in elevation, following the Animas River to its endpoint at the Animas Forks mining ghost town. San Juan CR-2 provides access to both Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass.


What trails do we explore?

According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) official map, the Alpine Loop Back Country Byway is comprised of Mineral Creek, Engineer Pass, Cinnamon Pass, and San Juan County Road 2. This area of the San Juan Mountains is filled with additional incredible trails to extend your adventure. Here is a handful of bonus trails to check out:


Where do we stay?

During the busy summer season, some travelers find it easiest to pre-book lodging. Hotels, RV parks, and managed campgrounds are available in Ouray, Silverton, or Lake City. The Ouray KOA HolidaySilverton Lakes RV Park & Cabins, and River Fork RV Park and Campground are just a few of the many options.

If your style is secluded, dispersed camping, browse through the Trails Offroad trail guides for campsite Waypoints. Each trail guide documents campsites with an exact location, three photos, and a written description.


What else is there to do?

Southwestern Colorado is an outdoor enthusiast playground! If you are in need of a day off from hitting the offroad trails great alternative activities include:

  • Hot Springs: Relax in the steamy waters of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool or Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, CO.

  • Fishing: The many alpine rivers, creeks, and lakes of the San Juans provide anglers with exciting opportunities for Cutthroat, Rainbow and Brook Trout. Take the time to stop in the local fly and gear shops like RIGS, Ouray Mountain Sports, and Dan’s Fly Shop to chat with local outdoorsmen.

  • Hiking: Feeling the need to scratch that classic Colorado itch of conquering a “14er”? (i.e. Fourteener - Mountain peak reaching a summit of 14,000 feet) Two hiking trail options are Handies Peak (elev. 14,085) via American Basin Road and Uncompaghre Peak (elev. 14,321) via Nellie Creek. The surrounding area is filled with hundreds of other hiking trails for explorers of all levels.


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Ariana Dufour
Ariana grew up driving the dirt roads of southeastern Colorado before living in Denver where she was introduced to the offroad and overland community while exploring the Colorado Front Range. Now currently residing in Salt Lake City, Ariana heads up Marketing and Design for Trails Offroad. You can find her on the trail, always looking for the next amazing campsite in her 2004 Lexus GX470 with her two border collies.

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