Your guide to Summit County’s best OHV and Jeep trails
The Alpine Loop
Before you hang up the rig for good, you’ve got to give this classic mountain route a try. It’s a ground-level tour of the rough and rugged San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado, beginning in the Telluride before looping past Ouray, Lake City and tiny Las Animas.
“You’re in the San Juans down there and those mountains are on a whole other level from what we see around here,” says Matt Reichl, owner of Into the Wild off-road rentals. “They are gnarly.”
During the 70-mile trip — expect to spend at least two or three days camping at dispersed sites on the four-wheel roads — the Alpine Loop hits several classic mountain passes, including Engineer Pass outside of Ouray. It’s an “iconic mountain pass,” Reichl says. These roads and passes are well-maintained in the summer, he says, but be sure to bring a set of maps for the area. It’s easy to get lost as side roads crisscross the main route.
That said, it’s not quite the most rugged route in Colorado. A lifted Jeep isn’t required, and most of the roads are passable for small RV trailers. Reichl easily made it through in his F-250, although he passed several snowbanks as tall as the truck in mid-July. Late summer is best if you want to make the entire trip.
For details on the loop, including specific road names and maps, see the Alpine Loop page at http://www.expeditionportal.com.
It’s one of many American dreams: a road trip with nothing but a motor, a map and no real plan. And it’s how Matt Reichl ended up where he is.
“I did what a lot of people have done, I guess,” says Reichl, a Minnesota native with a soft spot for life on the road. “I was burnt out on my job, moved to Colorado, sold my stuff and bought an RV, and I ended up living there at Tiger Run for a winter.”
That was in 2013, when he left a desk job and hardly looked back. After a winter on Tiger Road and a summer traveling the region for America’s best singletrack — sometimes it pays to trade a motor for manpower — he returned to Colorado and launched a business built around his passion. Dubbed Into the Wild, he started by renting van-style “sportsmobiles,” modeled after popular live-in machines found in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Now, the sportsmobile, also known as “overlanding,” trend is starting to take off in the U.S., and Summit County is a hotbed for off-road travel. See, that’s the thing about sportsmobiles: Unlike massive and unwieldy RVs, a sportsmobile is made to take on tight dirt roads far off the beaten path, from scenic drives like Breck’s own Boreas Pass Road to multi-day routes like the classic Alpine Loop (see sidebar).
Overlanding isn’t just for the sportsmobile scene, though. Summit County and the surrounding mountains are home to at least a dozen routes made for off-roading. Before starting your next great American adventure, we bring you a quick breakdown of all the gorgeous, four-wheel-friendly roads in our backyard.
Reichl recommends the “Colorado Trails” guidebook series for any off-road travel. It covers roads in every corner of the state and comes complete with photos, distances, maps and more.
“Colorado has such a great network of trails and a lot of them are well-documented,” he says. “You can find your way around, and you don’t always have that luxury everywhere.”
Boreas Pass Road, Breckenridge
If you’re searching for a mellow trip of three to four hours with stunning views — and almost no gas expense — Boreas Pass Road is a perfect place to start. Found just east of Breckenridge, the road winds through lush aspens and pines as it follows old railroad tracks from Breck’s mining past. It weaves from the Stephen C. West Ice Arena to tiny Como, found about 17 miles to the east.
It’s a great beginner trail, Reichl says. In fact, it’s so welcoming to beginners that you’ll often find low-lying coups and other two-wheel vehicles taking in the views of Breckenridge, Quandary Peak, Goose Pasture Tarn and the backside of Baldy. You’ll also run into plenty of bikers, runners and hikers, so be sure to use caution.
Early on you’ll pass Bakers Tank, a railroad tank used to cool engines in the late 1800s. The route eventually ends at Como and connects with U.S. Highway 285 for a paved ride back to Denver or Fairplay.
Middle Fork Swan Road, Breckenridge
Like Boreas Pass, the Middle Fork Swan Road is a classic route in Breckenridge known for mining history and lush, thick forests. The road begins at the end of Tiger Road on the north end of Breckenridge, found a few miles east of the Breckenridge Golf Course.
Unlike Boreas, however, this trail is a bit more technical. Reichl doesn’t suggest bringing a low-clearance vehicle, but it’s not so nasty that you need a lifted machine. It weaves and winds along the Swan River for about seven miles before reaching Montezuma, one of the funkiest little burroughs in all of Summit County — and all of Colorado.
From there, Reichl recommends pulling out the “Colorado Trails” guidebook to explore the nearby trails — if you have the right vehicle.
“There are some pretty serious trails up there,” he says. “If you don’t have a high skill level and an expensive vehicle you’ll probably have a hard time.”
Mosquito Pass Trail, Alma
Located just south of Breckenridge outside of Alma, the Mosquito Pass Road is a stellar alpine drive with a little bit of everything: forests, creeks, even alpine tundra near the top of the pass at 13,185 feet. That means the route is slow to dry out, so don’t tempt it until early or mid-July.
The road begins near Alma and finishes just outside of Leadville after about 15.1 miles of moderately technical driving on dirt road, followed by packed rock and gravel on the pass. The scenery is incredible, but, if you’re in the mood for mud and dirt and grime and boulders, this isn’t the most exciting trail. Instead, try one of several side trips, including the South London Mine route or Birdseye Gulch trail.
From Mosquito Pass, you’ll be rewarded with views of Leadville’s Twin Lakes before dropping down, down, down from the second-highest road in America. The next highest: the popular tourist route to Pikes Peak in southern Colorado.
This article was originally published July 2016, and updated in July 2017 for accuracy.
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