Engineer Pass

Ouray, Colorado (Lake County)

Last Updated: 10/12/2021
4.9 / 5 ( 44 reviews )
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Information
Nearby Trails
Status:
Impassable
Typically Open: 06/01 - 09/30
Difficulty: 4-4
( MODERATE )
Length: 28.3 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
District: Gunnison Field Office

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

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
Stock SUV with High Clearance and 4 Low
Concerns:
Summary:
The start of this trail gives it the rating as there are some rocky sections.

Technical Rating

MANDATORY
4
MODERATE
OPTIONAL
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.
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Community Consensus

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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 (0 mi)
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. Silver Link Mine Road - Stay Straight (0.8 mi)
Stay straight at this spur.
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. Campsite (3.6 mi)
Stay right (northeast) at this camping 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 County Road 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. Odom Point Intersection (9.4 mi)
Turn left (west) onto the road for Odom 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. Odom 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. Uncompahgre Overlook (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. Old Spur - Stay Straight (13.5 mi)
Stay straight (east) at this old spur. It appears on maps, but no longer has a designation as being authorized.
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. Camping Spur (14.9 mi)
Stay right (east) at this camping spot.
24. Camping Spot (15.1 mi)
Stay right (east) at this camping spot.
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. Intersection with North Henson Creek (CR 24) (19.7 mi)
Stay to the right (east) at North Henson Creek (CR 24).
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. There is a public restroom just to the east of this waypoint.
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

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

Trail Reviews (71)

Questions & Answers (7)

Q: Is overnight camping allowed along the trail
–Alex (08/21/2021)
A: There is a lot of camping along the road. If you want some amazing sites, slightly off the main route, take the turns at Waypoints 28 and 29. Great camping up those spurs!
–Ryan Boudreau (08/26/2021)
A: Alex, yes, overnight camping is allowed along the trail just be aware of any areas that have special signage that indicate no camping and if you try to camp above the treeline (tundra), please mind where you set up since these areas can be sensitive. Have fun!
–JD Marshall (08/22/2021)
Q: Does anyone know the status of Engineer Pass as of 8/5/21? Looking to run it this weekend if it’s now open. Thank you!
–Jarred Hutchison (08/06/2021)
A: Jared, thanks for the question! Turns out I missed a notification on its reopening and Engineer is open all the way as of 7/31, I've also updated the trail status for all. Enjoy your trip and make sure to come back to leave a trip report! :)
–JD Marshall (08/06/2021)
Q: It appears the after waypoint 11 the Engineer Pass is pretty tame, correct?
–Dave (07/18/2020)
A: Dave, for the most part yeah, more so after the summit heading east, everything is comparatively more tame.
–Todd (07/18/2020)
Q: Good afternoon I’m not sure if you can answer this question. A group of us are heading to Ouray August 1st for some overlanding. We want to star on Engineer pass. Do you know where a safe place is for us to park our rigs and trailers for a few days? Thanks John
–John Trentman (07/08/2020)
Q: What section of the trail is the narrow shelf road located?
–Ethan M Harris (06/26/2020)
A: See question and answer below... The narrow shelf section is on Mineral Creek between waypoints 1-11.
–Ryan Boudreau (06/26/2020)
Q: I'm a beginner. what are the road conditioners on Engineer Pass between way point 1 to 11 are there shelf trails in that section?
–Dominic Bertani (09/17/2019)
A: That section is known as the Mineral Creek side of Engineer and it is pretty rough. There are a lot of large rocks and off camber sections. It does have a couple stretches of shelf road too. If you are new to the sport, and have a stock vehicle, I would highly suggest skipping that section and staying on County Road 2 that goes through Animas Forks.
–Ryan Boudreau (09/18/2019)
Q: Where exactly are the dispersed camping spots in relation to the way points for Engineer? I would ideally like to stay in one of these dispersed spots up on the trail.
–Sean (08/14/2019)
A: It doesn't appear this guide has good info on camping, but pretty much all of the waypoint listed as "private" or "unauthorized" are legal camp spots. The east side of Engineer has more camping than the west, but there is good camping at waypoint 6, just down Poughkeepsie a little ways before you reach the seasonal gate there. Waypoints 16, and 17 you can camp at. Also down CR21 at WP19 and WP20. 23, 24, & 26 are all camping too. Also up Henson Creek which is wp 28 (not 29 like listed) there is camping back along that road too. Have fun!
–Ryan Boudreau (08/16/2019)

Writer Information

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 had to be traded 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?!'.
For individual use only, not to be shared.