The Beginners Guide to the Alpine Loop
The Full Scoop of the Alpine Loop
Written by: Heather Rose Blakeman, Featured Explorer from Colorado and Outdoor Athlete. Be sure to find more great information at her website below.
Technically speaking and geographically located, the Alpine Loop in Western Colorado is a 65 mile trek connecting the towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City. However, I am a Telluride girl through and through, so I am about to talk to you all about wrapping Telluride and Ophir right into the equation. I actually enjoy the ambiance of Telluride and Ophir even more than that of the exact towns along the Alpine Loop, thus, we are speaking about the FULL SCOOP of the Alpine Loop & Beyond.
While the internet explains how you can capture the entire Alpine Loop in 7 hours, I still highly suggest a full weekend and camping throughout. A great weekend and seeing all points of interest would ideally take 2 nights and 3 days. Your ideal weekend would start off by departing Telluride, rolling through the one-mile long mountain town of Ophir and taking Ophir Pass into Silverton. Ophir, being a “town” with a one-room-cabin post office and only dirt streets is your first point of interest.
Photo: Ophir Pass looking out towards the Silverton Side - where you’re headed next!
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With Silverton being a rather small town, you can grab a quick bite and head right over Cinnamon Pass, making your way to Lake City. With Cinnamon Pass topping out over 12,000 feet elevation, you will have glorious views of several 14’ers (14,000 ft elevation peaks) in the area: Handies, Sunshine, Redcloud. In traveling from Silverton to Lake City, you will pass through some wet, marshy areas that are actually home to families of moose. If you watch closely and pack binoculars, you may catch a few in the distance.
3 Photos: Moose family in Maggie’s Gulch Area
Much like Silverton, Lake City is a small mile-long town with options to grab a quick bite to eat, visit a coffee shop, brewery, or pizza pit stop. Leaving Lake City, you’ll head towards Ouray and experience my favorite pass of them all: Engineer Pass. Like Cinnamon Pass, it will top out over 12,000 feet and you’ll experience tremendous views of two different 14ers: Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn Peaks.
For your next point of interest, Engineer Pass will drop you out right onto the Million Dollar Highway and take you directly into Ouray. Ouray is a beautiful Box Canyon, one mile long town. However, being the “Switzerland of America” it is a tad bit more populated than that of Lake City and Silverton. It is home to the natural Ouray Hot Springs Public Pool, several coffee shops, and Mouse’s Chocolate Shop - just a few things you won’t want to miss in this beautiful town.
Two adorable little Michiganders.
Again, since we are looping Telluride right back into this full scoop of the Alpine Loop & Beyond, a full tour would take you Imogene Pass from Ouray back to Telluride. This 17 mile trek is probably the most populated and most trafficked pass of them all. Being straight out of the towns of Telluride and Ouray, this is the pass that becomes home to the majority of the rental jeeps and tour companies for a quick half day and/or full day tours.
From Ouray, you’ll make this 17 mile trek to Telluride and top out at 13,150 feet elevation, providing views all the way into Telluride town. On the Telluride side of the pass, you will experience the ghost town of Tomboy, which was once home to the miners and their families, higher than 11,000 feet elevation. This pass was once the easiest route to Telluride.
Heather Rose Blakeman’s Nissan Xterra on Imogene Pass
After Tomboy town, you are just 5 miles from Telluride where you began your trek through the Alpine Loop & Beyond. While these are the most popular passes you’ll hear about, if you have a longer/different trip, or a more flexible itinerary to fit in more adventure, you can explore passes such as Last Dollar Road, Corkscrew Gulch Pass, California Gulch/Pass, Hurricane Pass, Picayune & Placer Gulch and more - which can all connect you Telluride/Ridgway/Ouray/Silverton in various ways depending on your route.
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Stay tuned for an info blog post about how to pack your vehicle for a day in the high altitude, alpine tundra environment.
Make sure your vehicle is up for the challenge of any adventure, contact Expedition Vehicle Outfitters today for your consultation. 989-593-2533 We are a full service overland and off road shop.
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