Engineer Pass

4.7/5 (92 reviews)
Ouray, Colorado (Lake County)
Last Updated: 12/01/2022
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Trail Information

Highlights

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.

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

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.

Trail Reviews

4.9/5 (92 reviews)
JD Marshall
Official Crew
108300
Status: Impassable
Visited: 12/01/2022

This trail travels above the timberline and is considered impassable due to snow until spring. See you next season!
JD Marshall
Official Crew
108300
Status: Impassable
Visited: 11/03/2022

These trails are at high altitude and have gotten snow this season as of this notice. Travel on these trails is now considered dangerous and they will announce official seasonal closures of these trails soon.
Status: Open
Rated 4/5
Visited: 09/26/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Harder

We attempted this trail west to east using a Honda SXS. Very rough with a few low benches until Poukeepsie Gulch intersection. Then some nasty moderate off camber benches that turned us back. Significantly more difficult than the guide would have you believe. This was after Imogene Pass the day before, where we never felt challenged. The pic is the bench that stopped us. Always steeper than pictures show
Trail Review: Engineer Pass - Carl J Poplawsky
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/18/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Engineer is always a good time. Weather was beautiful and the trail was surprisingly busy for a Sunday!
Status: Open
Rated 4/5
Visited: 09/18/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Harder

Other publications separate Mineral Creek from the Engineer Pass - Alpine Loop trails, I believe this is the better way to approach publishing this classic route. While on the Mineral Creek trail my friends clearly stated: 'this is anything but easy.' The off-camber sections of Mineral Creek above the Poughkeepsie Gulch intersection make it so. I recommend Trails Off-road split these two trails apart so as to better inform the new trail rider of the characteristics of each. On The Engineer Pass portion the lack of knowledge on trail etiquette made for some awkward moments on the Engineer Pass shelf road. With the growth of trail riding in this area by drivers new to off-roading I might suggest the writers take a sentence or two in reaffirming the practices of being courteous and knowing right of way; who yields, where, when and why. Outside of that the Alpine Loop is a classic! Lunch at the Cannibal Cafe in Lake City was a big bonus and getting to share the story of Alfred Packer adding to the lore.
Trail Review: Engineer Pass - Peter Kilfoyle

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