A network of jeep roads that weave through the San Juan Mountains and the towns of Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray in southwestern Colorado.
This national back country byway takes visitors on a day-long, 65-mile loop through spectacular alpine scenery surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks. The byway roads were originally built by 19th-century miners, whose presence can be felt in the ghost towns and historic mining sites scattered through the area. Colorful displays of alpine wildflowers enhance the pristine mountain views.
The western entrances of the loop can be accessed via U.S. Highway 550 near Silverton (about 50 miles north of Durango) or near Ouray (about 35 miles south of Montrose). The eastern entrance to the loop is in Lake City, which is on State Highway 149, 55 miles southwest of Gunnison or 50 miles northwest of Creede.
Four-wheel driving, scenic drives, fishing, hiking, wildflower viewing, picnicking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ghost towns, and historic site.
Five of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks can be seen from points along the byway. Hiking trails lead to Redcloud Peak, Sunshine Peak, and Handies Peak. Alpine wildflowers generally bloom in late July–early August, and fall aspen colors peak in September.
Permits, Fees, Limitations
The towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City cater to tourists and have hotel rooms, restaurants, and restrooms that are fully accessible.
Camping and Lodging
Camping and lodging are available in Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City. There are three developed campgrounds on the Lake City side of the route. Primitive camping is allowed on public lands along the byway. Fees are charged only for overnight camping in developed campgrounds.
Food and Supplies
Food and supplies are available in Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray.
Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City all have emergency medical services. The closest hospitals are located in Montrose (35 miles north of Ouray), Gunnison (55 miles northeast of Lake City), and Durango (50 miles south of Silverton).
The visitor centers in Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City provide information and maps. There are 10 restrooms along the loop. This area is in the high Colorado Rockies and is subject to changing weather. The route is usually open from early June–mid-October, and is closed during the winter. Short thundershowers are common on summer afternoons. While much of the loop is accessible by ordinary passenger vehicle, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed to complete the loop over Engineer Pass (18 miles west of Lake City) and Cinnamon Pass (about 12 miles south of Ouray). To protect this fragile environment, vehicle use is limited to designated roads. An informative, 20-page area visitor’s guide, called The Alpine Explorer, is available for purchase from BLM. It includes a detailed map, points of interest, history, safety tips, and much more.
For southern parts of the loop:
BLM - San Juan Public Lands Office
15 Burnett Court
Durango, CO 81301
Tel: (970) 247-4874
For northern parts of the loop:
BLM - Gunnison Field Office
216 North Colorado Street
Gunnison, CO 81230
Tel: (970) 641-0471