California Pass

Silverton, Colorado (SanJuan County)
Last Updated: 01/13/2019
4.3/5 (3 reviews)
Nearby Trails
Status: Impassable
Typically Open: 07/01 - 11/01
Difficulty: 1-3
Length: 4.26 miles
Highest Elevation: 12963 feet
Duration: About 1 hour 1 minute
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: East
Nearest Town: Silverton
Nearest Town w/ Services: Silverton
Official Road Name: San Juan County Road 9 and Country Road 19
Management Agency: San Juan National Forest
District: Antonito Ranger District
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Highlight: California Pass

California Pass is a gorgeous route offering scenic vistas of the San Juan Mountains and traverses an area rich with mining history. From the top of California Pass at 12,963 feet, an amazing view looking down on the stunning Lake Como can be seen to the northwest. The eastern side of California Pass offers some of the richest mining areas Colorado had to offer in the late 1800's, with the well preserved ghost town of Animas Forks on the trail's east end.


Route Information

Technical Rating: (1-3)

Dirt road. Rutted, washes, or gulches. Water crossings up to 6" depth. Passable mud. Grades up to 10 degrees. Small rocks or holes. 4WD recommended but 2WD possible under good conditions and with adequate ground clearance and skill. No width problems for any normal vehicle. Vehicle passing spots frequently available if less than two vehicles wide.

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A very gentle off-road trail which takes you to the top of California Pass. Any stock SUV can do this trail, there are no obstacles or difficult crossings. The final climb up to the pass summit has a few switch backs, and the final stretch is a little narrow, but you can see clearly what is coming up or down the trail. There is parking for a handful of vehicles at the top. On the west side of the pass summit, there are intersections with Hurricane Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch roads.From the Animas Forks side, California Pass road connects to the Engineer Pass road, as well as the Placer Gulch road.

Seasonal Information

Spring:Closed for season
Summer:Trail conditions can vary rapidly depending on weather conditions
Fall:Typically closes as a result of snowfall around 11/1
Winter:Closed for season


1. West Trailhead

This route guide begins on the west end of The California Pass trail. The trailhead is located near Lake Como at the intersection of Hurricane Pass to the west, Poughkeepsie Pass to the north, and California Pass to the east. There are signs in the area marking the trails.

2. California Pass Summit (0.4 mi)

The road quickly climbs and traverses a couple of easy switchbacks. The summit of California Pass is reached and spectacular views are found in all directions. It is a good idea at this point to look for uphill traffic ascending the east side of the pass to avoid contending with oncoming traffic on the trip down.

3. Scenic California Gulch (1.4 mi)

As the road descends the eastern side of California Pass the gorgeous California Gulch extends out to the east. Wildflowers abound in this area in late July and early August.

4. Placer Gulch Intersection (3.2 mi)

Continue straight at the intersection. At this point the trail intersects with the Placer Gulch trail.

5. Frisco Mill (3.7 mi)

The imposing Frisco Mill is found adjacent to the trail at this point. Constructed in 1912, the Frisco Mill, with its massive post and beam construction is an unusual example of a prefabricated industrial building. Its pieces were pre-cut, pre-fit, and coded with numbers and letters before being shipped to the site for assembly. At its height, the complex had 40 employees. With the ore exhausted, the operation was shut down in the 1920s.

6. Animas Forks Ghost Town (4.3 mi)

The trail ends at the ghost town of Animas Forks. Animas Forks first cabin was built in 1873, by 1883 there were over 450 residents that mined in the area during the summer months. Every winter the town would vacate to warmer and more hospitable towns. Animas Forks is worth the look and walk around and the old homes are open to walk through. Please respect this area and do not remove any artifacts.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 37.920380, -107.619710

Starting Point: Silverton, CO

You can take many different trails to get to either end of California Pass, including Engineer Pass, Corkscrew Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch, Hurricane Pass, Picayne Gulch, and Cinnamon Pass. **West Trailhead From Silverton:** Beginning at the corner of W. 12th Street and Greene Street in Silverton. Follow Greene Street northeast for 0.6 miles. Turn left on Colorado Highway #110 and continue north for 6.5 miles. Turn slightly left on to San Juan County Road 10 and continue north for an additional 1.5 miles. Continue over Hurricane Pass trail for 2.2 miles the trailhead is at the intersection of Hurricane Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch, and California Pass. **East Trailhead From Silverton** From Silverton travel east on County Road 2 for 12.0 miles to Animas Forks. From the old town of Animas Forks, travel north on County Road 9 which turns into California Pass.


There is no camping along the California Pass trail, there are signs along the route stating this. Lodging can be found in the town of Silverton. Dispersed camping can be found 4.3 miles south of Animas Forks at The former townsite of Eureka. This area has large flat camping spots that are suitable for large RV's and offer modern pit toilets.
Camping: California Pass

Writer Information

Greg Stokes

Colorado Crew
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Greg Stokes Is a Colorado native, born and raised in Colorado Springs. He has been off-roading since childhood, his parents say his first trip was a Jeep run over Medano Pass when he was only 14 Months old. Greg has been at the wheel of everything from dirtbikes, ATV's, early Jeep CJ5's that he has restored, Wranglers, and presently explores in a 1997 80 Series Toyota Land Cruiser and a 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycle. Greg is a proud Husband and Father of 3. His passion in the off road world is the vehicle-reliant world of Overlanding. He hopes to one day make it to Canada to Explore the Yukon and Northwest territories.


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Trail Reviews (6)

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Took California Pass en route to Animas Forks. Trail was rocky in spots but overall good condition.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Declared open all the way through per the San Juan national forest.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Snow has fallen making this trail impassable until next season, closed at the top by snow according to the U.S Forest Service.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
This California boy completed a trip to California Gulch and California Pass on the 4th day of our Colorado trip in August. We encountered sheep. Lots of sheep. Animas Forks was full of marmots. I too visited the mill and didn't know why each wood beam was numbered. Thanks for informing me about that.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Our trip, after coming down from Engineer Pass, began in Animas Forks and concluded at the Poughkeepsie Gulch intersection and Lake Como. As you begin to get into the Red Mountains, the vistae aren't as expansive as others in the San Juans, as this drive is up the gulch itself, but the snow levels were such that my daughter could get out and play. Slow and steady up, with no real issues. I look at California Gulch as a means to an end destination (Lake Como or Animas Forks), which makes the journey itself not as stellar as others you'll see in the area.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
A typical August day in the San Juan Mountains with some low clouds occasional rain and very green. Leaving Animas Forks Ghost Town and on up California Gulch to California Pass. We got to drive up into the clouds with some great views and a somewhat rocky trail all along the way. There are some tight switch backs coming down California Pass towards Hurricane Pass. Of course great views all along the way.