Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

The road up Wager Gulch (high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle recommended), leads to the remnants of the abandoned mining town of Carson, on the way up to the Continental Divide and beyond. Founded in 1889, Carson reached its peak at the turn of the century when some 500 miners worked the mountain. Carson fell victim to the harsh winters of Colorado, being situated almost directly on the Continental Divide. It was considered one of the most inaccessible mining camps in Colorado. To access, take Wager Gulch road located south of Lake City, immediately off the Alpine Loop.

While in the area you may also want to explore Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′)  which intersect further northwest along the Alpine Loop. Stony Pass provides a route to the headwaters of the Rio Grande river.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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GPS Route with Elevation

 

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Trail Directions

 

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 30. From there take the Wager Gulch Rd turnoff heading south.

As you start Wager Gulch road continue uphill following Wager Creek. Continue on switchbacks as you climb above the creek and head through the forest. Stay on the main road.

After numerous switchbacks the road will cross an open area of the gulch with Carson Mountain to the west. At the next intersection the left road will take you to the ghost town of Carson, which is visible just across Wager Creek. There is an area to park and explore the buildings. Keep in mind that they are private property so repect the property. A short distance up the gulch from the town are the tailings of two mines. The road will top out on the Continental Divide and descend southward.

Trailhead Directions

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4×4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The Alpine Loop byway traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Take a 10 minute detour while on the way to Cinnamon Pass to treat yourself to American Basin, one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day adventure. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days. Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′) are two such examples that take you north from the Alpine Loop. For something closer to Lake City, tackle Wager Gulch to the Continental Divide.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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GPS Route with Elevation

 

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Trail Directions

Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado is the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway. Located northeast of Silverton, Colorado in San Juan and Hinsdale Counties, the circular route makes its way from Lake City south along CO-149, to County Road 30, which turns west over Cinnamon Pass (12,640 feet) to Animas Forks, and then returns east over Engineer Pass (12,800) back to Lake City along County Road 20. The loop is best traveled in a clockwise direction.

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on either County Road 30 or County Road 20. From Silverton enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 2. From Ouray enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 18.

Trailhead Directions

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass (13,185′), Mosquito Range

Mosquito Pass was built to connect the towns of Alma to the east, with Leadville to the west. It is the highest crossable vehicle mountain pass in the U.S. outside of Alaska. While there are higher vehicle passes, they are all out and back. The trail crosses the Continental Divide,  between the Arkansas and South Platte Rivers.

The Mosquito Range is also home to five 14,000′ peaks;  Mt Sherman Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, Mt Lincoln, and Mt Bross.

Mosquito Pass Elevation Map

The top of the pass is the turnaround point for the 21-mile course of the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation’s burro races, held the first weekend of August each year and part of the Leadville Boom Days heritage festival.

Each June, hundreds of people run to the top of the pass in the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon, part of the CenturyLink Leadville Race Series.

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Route Directions

From Fairplay, follow Colorado Highway 9 north for 4 1/5 miles to County Road 12 (Mosquito Pass Road) and turn left.  The tour begins quickly after turning off Highway 9.

Trailhead Directions

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass (12,592′), San Juan Range

Stony Pass Rd crosses the Continental Divide and follows small streams that make up the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. The road was created in 1872 to connect the area’s mining operations in Silverton to the town of Del Norte. The Continental Divide Trail crosses the road at Hunchback Pass (12,493′) on it’s way from Mexico to Canada.

The San Juan Range is home to world class outdoor recreation. The Alpine Loop, American Basin, California & Hurricane Pass, and Mt Sneffels are a few examples of the natural beauty of the area.

 

The road crosses the headwaters of the Rio Grande near Kite Lake.

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GPS Route with Elevation

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Trail Directions

County Road 3 to Stony Pass (heading east) is a well graded and a easy drive to the top in a stock vehicle (in good weather). Once on the east side of the pass, an off-road vehicle is recommended because the road gets progressively more difficult until Kite Lake.

Pole Creek, a water crossing on the east side of the pass, can be very deep in the spring, making it impossible to cross.

 

Trailhead Directions

Hayden Pass (10,709′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Hayden Pass (10,709′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Hayden Pass (10,709′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Hayden Pass road crosses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Villa Grove in the west, and Coaldale to the east. The road is most challenging and scenic when started from Villa Grove, on the southwest side. With grades up to 20%, great views of the San Luis valley below can be seen.

This is one of only two vehicle passes over the Sangre de Cristo range. The other vehicle pass being Medano Pass, on the southern tip of the range. This pass travels through the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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GPS Route with Elevation

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Route Directions

Start by accessing Hayden Pass RD (FR 6) from Coaldale on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains or from Villa Grove on the west side.

The pass is more difficult if started on the west side (Villa Grove) because you are climbing on a very rocky trail.

Hayden Pass summit is a large flat area after a continuous climb. The views from the road here are blocked by thick forest.

The road on the east side of the pass is better maintained and not as rocky.

Trailhead Directions

Tincup Pass (12,154′), Sawatch Range

Tincup Pass (12,154′), Sawatch Range

Tincup Pass (12,154′), Sawatch Range

Tincup Pass gets its name from prospector Jim Taylor, who in 1860 brought his gold strike back to camp in his tin cup. The pass was used to move supplies between St. Elmo and the town of Tin Cup starting in 1881, when a wagon road was built.

The views and hiking opportunities along the road are abundant. There are 13,000′ peaks that can be easily accessed from 267 (Tin Cup Peak, PT 13,050, and Fitzpatrick Peak). In addition, the prominent Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail cross Tin Cup Pass Rd (267) about 4 miles from St. Elmo.

The Sawatch Mountain Range is home to fifteen 14,000′ peaks, such as Huron Peak, La Plata Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt Antero, and the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, Mt Elbert.

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Trail Directions

Starting from the south side of the pass at St. Elmo, the 4WD road climbs west toward Tincup Pass following the North Fork of Chalk Creek.

After 4 miles the road climbs to the north toward Tincup Pass.

Another mile in brings you to treeline with a good view of the remainder of the route to the pass. The switchbacks ahead are very narrow.

Once up the ledge road and switchbacks you will be at Tincup Pass, about 6 miles from St. Elmo.

Heading down the north side of the pass, the road is rough for the first mile while it winds through the tundra.

The road gradually widens and becomes more maintained.

After crossing a creek you will drive on a section of road made up of large talus along the edge of Mirror Lake. This section is rough so use caution.

Once past the lake the road becomes passable by passenger vehicles.

Trailhead Directions

Mt Antero (14,269′) and Mt White (13,667′), Sawatch Range

Mt Antero (14,269′) and Mt White (13,667′), Sawatch Range

Mt Antero (14,269′) and Mt White (13,667′), Sawatch Range

Mt Antero is one of only a handful of 14,000′ peaks that has a road that travels to within a short distance of the summit.  The road up the mountain is difficult, rough and rocky, requiring four-wheel drive, eventually topping out at 13,800′. From the end of the road at point 13,800 it’s a 1/2 mile and 470′ scramble to the summit.

In 1881, a Salida man by the name of Nelson Wanemaker discovered gems high on Mt Antero. His discovery was publicized a few years later, and the mountain became a famous collecting area for aquamarine, phenacite, fluorite, topaz, and smoky quartz crystals. It has the highest concentration of these minerals anywhere in the US. With findings far above timberline, this is the highest known gem field in the lower 48.

The Sawatch Mountain Range is home to fourteen other 14,000′ peaks, such as Huron Peak, La Plata Peak, Missouri Mountain, and the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, Mt Elbert.

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From the end of the very steep road at 13,800′, it’s a 1/2 mile and 470′ climb to the 14,269′ summit of Mt Antero

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Route Directions

Turn onto #277 jeep road (Baldwin Gultch) and drive 3 miles to a road junction at 10,850′. Turn left on the #278 road and cross Baldwin Creek.

Continue another mile to tree line as it climb’s Mt Antero’s west slopes. Stay left on 278A at the next 2 junction’s, reaching 13,200′.

From 13,200′ to 13,800′, the road becomes extremely steep with hairpin
switchbacks. You may want to consider parking here as most vehicles
wont make it. Continue up the steep south side to reach the end of the road, Point 13,800′.

Trailhead Directions

Hurricane Pass (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′), San Juan Range

Hurricane Pass (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′), San Juan Range

Hurricane Pass (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′), San Juan Range

The National Water and Climate Center reported that the SWE (snow water equivalent) for the San Juan Mountains, including Hurricane Pass and California Pass, in May of 2019 was 728% above normal. It was such a heavy snow year that most of the back country at higher elevations was still buried in July. The heavy amounts of snow also caused a significant number of avalanches in the state. The only option out of Silverton to the Alpine Loop this July was to take SH 100 to Gladstone. Heavy avalanche debris still blocked the route to Animas Forks from Silverton using County Rd. 2.

Heading out of Silverton on SH 110, you pass Gladstone, which sits in a flat meadow where the five forks of Cement Creek meet. The town began in the late 1870’s from the surrounding mines including a sawmill just below the town site. As the mines grew, the sawmill was needed by other mines in the area, so a wagon road was graded up Cement Creek. In 1879 this wagon road went over Hurricane Pass and down Poughkeepsie Gulch as the route from Silverton to Ouray.

Today Poughkeepsie Gulch is generally for high clearance 4×4 vehicles that don’t mind a few road scars. The route today includes Hurricane and California Pass, and eventually leads down to Animas Forks.

The San Juan Mountains offer incredible outdoor beauty, including areas such as the Alpine Loop, American Basin, Mt Sneffels, and Stony Pass.

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GPS Route with Elevation

This area is part of the Alpine Loop, a 4X4 lover’s dream. There are countless trails all leading to incredible alpine beauty and history.

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Route Directions

Starting from Silverton, exit Highway 550 onto Greene St./Hwy 110

Continue on Hwy 110 through Silverton (1.2 Miles)

Turn left to stay on Hwy 110 (6.4 Miles)

Slight left onto County Rd 10/Hurricane Pass

Trailhead Directions