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Imogene Pass offers gorgeous scenery and traversing backcountry rich in mining history, offering an opportunity to look back into time and relive what it would have been like to live and work in harsh alpine mining environments. Huge mining structures and machines are plentiful along what was once the richest gold and silver mining area in Colorado. Book-ended by the beautiful towns of Telluride and Ouray at either end of the trail, it is no wonder this is a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail.
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Imogene Pass is a straight-through route connecting San Miguel County and Ouray County, crossing an elevation of 13,114 feet.
Ascending from the quaint little town of Telluride, aspen trees surround the rocky dirt road. The road is narrow, but there are a number of places to get past oncoming traffic. On the way to Tom Boy Mine and the summit, the trail becomes a narrow and intimidating shelf road.
The trail is rocky and bumpy downhill from the summit, with a few optional obstacles. This portion of the trail is the most challenging for those driving from Ouray to Telluride, east to west. The views in this area are beautiful. The trail has a few water crossings as it descends into the valley. The trail passes through a dense forest before intersecting with Camp Bird Road.
The trail is extremely narrow in sections with limited passing opportunities.
The southern trailhead looks like an alley behind neighborhood homes in the area. However, the trail is well-marked with Forest Service signs. Since this first stretch of trail is a residential area, please keep noise levels and speed to a minimum.
A short distance from the trailhead is the boundary for Uncompahgre National Forest. A seasonal closure gate will be open if the trail is passable. The major trails in the San Juan mountains are bulldozed to clear snow and rockfall off the trails in hopes of making them passable sooner. Imogene is usually clear by the July fourth weekend.
The trail quickly becomes a narrow shelf road with towering cliff faces to one side and sheer drop-offs on the other. There is excellent visibility ahead to spot oncoming traffic, but pull-offs and passing areas are limited. Generally, uphill traffic has right-of-way unless it is safer for uphill traffic to pull off to let others pass.
The Social Tunnel was blasted through the stone cliffs. This tunnel has seen horses, wagons, and vehicles pass through it for over 130 years. Spectacular views abound in every direction. There is room at this point for one or two vehicles to pull off to the side to let traffic through or take in the views. More information on why this is named Social Tunnel can be found in this article from Denver Channel 7.
Nearing the timberline sits Smuggler Union Mine. Gold and silver were first discovered in the Smuggler's vein in 1875, and the Smuggler Union Mine quickly became one of the most lucrative mines in the area. The Bullion Tunnel is now gated off but used to transport ore from Ouray to Telluride for processing. Many mine shafts are still present, and there are signs advising travelers of the unstable nature of the structures and open mines in the area.
The trail enters the Savage Basin, where the massive Tomboy Townsite once stood. Constructed in the 1880s and active until 1927, Tomboy was once home to more than 2,000 residents. Many people lived here year-round, utilizing tunnels dug out of the snowpack to travel between buildings during winter. Once you leave the mine on your way toward the summit, you'll see more of the shacks and various other structures of the Tomboy Complex. Signs are posted in various places around Tomboy, notifying visitors that the structures in this area are unstable and are private property. Please stay on the road and do not attempt to enter any buildings.
The trail splinters into three different routes. Although the main road appears to lead to the left, that route only takes you to another former mine site. Stay right, following either the first or second route up the hill as they reconnect in a short distance.
Nearing the final climb to the summit, the trail narrows substantially with few pull-out opportunities. This situation is exacerbated early in the summer when dozers cut single-lane roads through snow drifts with 20-foot walls on both sides, making it impossible to see oncoming traffic. Be sure to look far ahead and use available pullouts when necessary.
After a steep climb out of Savage Basin, the trail tops out on Imogene Pass,13,114 feet. There is a small parking area at the summit for travelers to stop and enjoy the 360-degree views. A short steep hike up to the east from the summit leads to the remnants of Fort Peabody, a sentry post for Colorado National Guard soldiers, constructed in 1904 to prevent union miners or their sympathizers from entering San Miguel County during the height of statewide labor disturbances. More information on Fort Peabody can be found here courtesy of the US Forest Service.
This viewpoint is the highest drivable elevation along Imogene Pass, at 13,217 feet. There is a large parking area here for numerous vehicles where you can look out to the east, past US 550, and gaze down upon Red Mountain and several other 4x4 trails like Corkscrew Gulch and Minnehaha Basin. Ptarmigan Lake and a few old structures can also be seen to the south of this viewpoint.
As the trail begins its descent, there are a series of stone shelves. All of these obstacles have an obvious bypass if travelers do not wish to attempt these optional obstacles.
A prominent rock outcropping is the perfect setting for a great "hero shot". There's ample parking and breathtaking scenery. A large geologic landform known as a Rock Glacier is visible in the basin below. This is a living glacier, typically only moving a few centimeters a year.
Follow the trail through the curve to the left. The short spur to the north leads to a small campsite best for ground tents and small offroad-type trailers.
Follow the trail downhill to the right. The spur road ahead leads to Camp Bird Mine #2 and Imogene Basin.
Another small campsite exists to the north, good for small offroad trailers and ground tents. The road taking off to the south into the brush leads to Camp Bird Mine #3 and the Hidden Treasure Mine.
The trail crosses Imogene Creek several times. The water could be moving swiftly. However, the bottom is hard-packed gravel, and the water is shallow enough for a stock high clearance vehicle to pass with ease.
At this point, vehicles can cross Imogene Creek again by either a small bridge or water crossing. After the creek, the Richmond Basin trail intersects here, heading south and offering a few dispersed campsites not far from the bridge. Continue north to finish Imogene Pass.
The trail crosses Imogene Creek one last time with waterfalls on both sides of the trail. A short spur road to the north leads to a larger waterfall that is visible from the main road.
Stay left at this y-intersection. The trail to the right leads down Camp Bird Road and through the Camp Bird Mine.
The trail briefly travels through a long stretch of creek. This creek crossing has a solid bottom lined with small stones.
The trail crosses Sneffles Creek either by bridge or by fording the creek. The crossing here can be 1 to 2 feet deep and has a solid bottom. The trail heading north just before the crossing leads down Silver Basin.
The trail intersects with Ouray County Road 26. A left heading west will take you up Yankee Boy Basin. A right heading downhill to the east will lead to Camp Bird Road and the town of Ouray after 6 miles.
Along the trail, there are very limited dispersed camping options on both sides of Imogene Pass. On the Ouray side of the pass, free dispersed camping is available near the intersection of Imogene Pass and the trail into Richmond Basin.
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
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