The Alpine Loop
The 65-mile scenic drive travels through a surreal landscape of treeless tundra and mountains seemingly splashed with red and yellow paint near Ouray, Lake City and Silverton.
The 65 Mile Alpine Loop was one of our goals this trip and proved to be a highlight. Coursing through the unpaved high mountain passes, the roads weave through old ghost towns and abandoned mines on rocky trails a hundred years old. The bulk of the riding is well above the tree line, the barren slopes painted in bright colors by the rich minerals therein.
The towns of Ouray, Sliverton, Telluride, Lake City, and the surroundings support a thriving tourism business of jeep and ADV vehicle tours through the high country. The challenging roads also attract motorcycle riders though they are well outnumbered by the 4 wheeled vehicles.
We came equipped for the ride on large adventure bikes - A KTM 1090 for Ash and a BMW 1200 GSA for me. While most riders come on smaller, more maneuverable and nimble machines, we had many miles to cover on this trip and the larger bikes are just more comfortable over the long term. Stripped down and tire pressures lowered for off road traction, these big bikes will tractor through most anything with a skilled rider and both Ash and I have done many miles in the mountains on them.
Every few miles you come upon some old mining relics. Most often they are ruins, wooden structures built of huge timber. There are also cabins and mining camps, some preserved, all ghost towns.
The largest of these abandoned mining towns is Animas Forks. It's a hub for many of the trails and where we gained access to the loop. There was roadwork on the closest access road to Ouray so we went on to Ironton Park to reach the trails. Faced with several forking roads we chose the wrong one. The Corkscrew Gulch Trail was in rough shape - eroded and washed out with deep rocky ruts. Yet another wrong fork had us lost for almost an hour but we eventually found our way through a series of lesser used roads to Animas Forks.
We got an early start as we knew afternoon showers were likely. After losing an hour, we climbed Engineer Pass a loose and rocky ride, steep in places then crossed over California Pass with it's stunning views. It was just follow the long road to Lake City after that gradually winding down through switchbacks and drops. The last few miles trace the banks of a rushing river beneath towering cliffs.
We grabbed a quick lunch in Lake City then started back via Cinnamon Pass. Paved the first few miles it passes a lake then start to gain elevation. While it's the easier of the two passes overall there are a few tricky sections to keep you on your toes. As we headed into the high country dark clouds loomed on the horizon ahead. Scattered drops fell occasionally until we reached Animas Forks. As we headed south towards Silverton the rain grew steady. We paused in Sliverton to weatherproof then set out on the Million Dollar Highway to return to Ouray. The sun shining by the time we got back to the hotel.
Ironton to Animas Forks to Lake City to Silverton. The Alpine Loop is a 65 mile unpaved route through the high mountains of SW Colorado. Video and comments o...