The legendary sign that once stood on Black bear pass read: "Telluride ---> 'City of Gold' 12 miles- 2 Hours, You don't have to be crazy to drive this road- but it helps. Jeeps only" This sign has recently been replaced by a more informative sign reading: "Extreme Road Ahead- Black Bear Pass is a narrow shelf road with 1000 foot plus drop-offs with dangerous off-camber switchbacks, tight turns and loose shale. Expert drivers only. Travel at your own risk." This warning should not be taken lightly. The actual trail is not difficult in its own right. However, on the Telluride side of the pass there is ZERO room for error. Black Bear is no more dangerous than any other trail in Colorado or anywhere else. It is impressive, to say the least, however, any lapse of attention or judgment on this trail can result in a roll over which may lead to injury or worse.
The trailhead is easy to spot on the west side of US 550. There is a spacious staging area with enough room for 6-8 vehicles to air down and prepare for the trip.
2. Scenic Waypoint
The trail quickly rises from the highway and opens up to splendid views of Mineral Basin to the southwest and the prominent Trico Peak to the north. Weather can change quickly in this area of Colorado and it is not uncommon for storm clouds to move in without much notice.
3. Porphyry Gulch Intersection
Keep right at the fork and continue to follow signs for Black Bear Pass. Left at the fork will lead in to Porphyry Gulch. The fork is well marked. This area can become crowded during peak wildflower season with the presence of nature photographers in addition to vehicles running the trail.
4. Seasonal Closure Gate
A seasonal closure gate is found at this point. It is helpful to research ahead of any trip through Black Bear Pass to verify the road is open as there is not much room for a vehicle to turn around if needed at the gate.
5. Black Bear Pass Summit
Spectacular views abound in all directions at the top of the 12,840 foot summit. Warning signs with a description of what is in store are posted at the beginning of the descent into the Telluride side of Black Bear Pass. For those that do not wish to continue the route, the large parking area at the summit offers an easy spot to turn back towards US 550. The ridgeline along the summit of Black Bear Pass marks the border between San Juan National Forest to the east and Uncompahgre National Forest to the west.
6. Scenic Waypoint
The trail narrows and begins to cut a path along Ingram Basin. This is a great vantage point to watch across the basin as vehicles make their descent down the trail.
7. Downhill Only From This Point On
A sign is posted at this point along the route advising that any traffic from this point on must continue downhill into Telluride. ALL vehicles who do not wish to continue, this is the point of no return. Tram cables can be seen overhead at this point that formerly connected the Black Bear Mine with its processing Mill at Ingram Falls.
8. The Steps
Black Bear Pass' infamous descent into Telluride begins with an obstacle known as "The Steps." This area consists of a series of loose shale steps that are off-camber and follow along a very narrow shelf that is barely wide enough for a full sized vehicle to pass.
9. Ingram Falls
Below the steps, the trail passes by Ingram Falls and the remains of the Black Bear Mine's processing mill. The trail widens in this area and it is possible for vehicles to pass if necessary.
10. The Switchback of Legend
As the trail continues its descent, the first switchback is encountered on the descent into Telluride. This is by far the tightest switchback and it greatly helps at this point to have a spotter to guide the vehicle through the corner. Expect to have to back up at least 1-2 times in order to safely navigate this turn. It is approximately a 900 foot drop over this edge. There are ten more switchbacks similar to this to come. None of the switchbacks are nearly as difficult and each one is progressively easier as the trail nears the bottom of the box canyon.
11. Bridal Veil Powerhouse- Begin Two Way Traffic
The switchbacks continue, and are wider and easier to navigate. Uphill traffic is again allowed at this point. The beautiful Bridal Veil Powerhouse comes into view as it sits prominently perched at the top of the 365 foot Bridal Veil Falls. Officially named the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant, and built in 1907, its purpose was to produce electricity for mining activity in Telluride. Now placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is owned and managed by the Idarado Mining Company and the plant presently produces 25% of the electrical needs to the town of Telluride.
12. Bridal Veil Falls
The switchbacks continue to become easier as the 365 foot tall Bridal Veil Falls comes into full view. Remember that uphill traffic has right-of-way as the trail continues to descend down into Telluride.
13. Base of Bridal Veil Falls
At the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls, a small parking area is present for vehicles to stop so that the falls can be enjoyed. Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest waterfall in Colorado and is a popular year-round destination.
14. End of Trail
The trail comes to an end at the active Pandora Mine. A maintained gravel road turning to pavement leads directly into downtown Telluride from this point.