Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado is one of the true gems of our public lands. Sculpted by the forces of volcanoes, glaciers, and wind and rain, the resulting mountains, valleys, streams, and lakes are a masterpiece of nature's artistry. Native Americans came to these mountains for centuries to hunt and gather food. In the late 1800s they were replaced by miners who came in search of a different livelihood -- silver, gold, lead, and zinc. These hardy pioneers carved a network of roads through this rugged terrain to enable them to transport ore and supplies by mule-drawn wagons.
Today, most of the mines are closed but the roads still remain. They are used by a different sort of adventurer - folks who travel by 4-wheel-drive or motorcycle or mountain bike. Although technology has made it easier for us to visit these mountains, it has not diminished their beauty or the adventure to be found here. One thing that has changed is the name.
We now call this system of roads the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway. Most of the area is public land managed for you by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. It is wild country and perhaps not suited to everyone's taste. But, if you are able to appreciate nature on her own terms, we think you will agree this is a very special place.
What is a Back Country Byway?
The Alpine Loop is part of the National Scenic Byway system -- a selection of the country's most scenic roads identified and managed for the enjoyment of the millions of people who drive for pleasure. Unlike most scenic byways, which are located on paved highways, back country byways focus on the out-of-the-way sights to be found on gravel and dirt roads. These are routes that may not be suitable for all vehicles. However, for those with appropriate vehicles, the back country byway program can offer an intimate view of a variety of areas off the beaten path.
The Alpine Loop is one of the outstanding examples of the back country byway system. It covers 65 miles of roads between the towns of Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. Depending on winter snows, the Loop opens about late May/early June and closes in late October. About two thirds of the route is dirt road suitable for 2-wheel-drive cars, so everyone can experience a portion of this scenic area. In order to traverse the entire route, however, you will need a 4-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle. If you don't have such a vehicle, you can rent one in the surrounding communities or take a tour that allows you to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Wherever you venture along the route you will be surrounded by the best the Rocky Mountains have to offer.