Jeeping in the High Country

R E C R E A T I O N – S U M M E R
back to summer recreation

Story by Kathryn R. Burke
All content © San Juan Publishing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

jeeping[SW Colorado] They come alone …or in caravans, then join up—convening in a sort of modern day gypsy encampment. Then they’re off again, singly or in groups, winding around and across the mountains like colorful beads in a never-ending necklace. Their ride is often rugged, the scenery they traverse even more so. But jeepers tend to be a hearty bunch, convivial, adventuresome, and ready for anything, regardless of weather or terrain. For the most part, jeepers like to cluster, but jeep adventure can be a solitary endeavor as well. Many, especially first-time visitors, prefer a guided tour, at least for their first alpine adventure. (Click on graphic, left, to find out more about area tours.)

Guided Tours
For first-time visitors, or even those who make these mountains a regular stop, driving takes some of the fun out of looking and taking photos. Some of the terrain can be pretty white-knuckle, and parts, like Black Bear Pass are not for the faint of heart. Most jeep rental companies will not let their customers take the jeeps on that one. The solution for many, especially those with cameras who came for the scenery as much as the ride, benefit from going with a guided tour.We recommend Switzerland of America Tours in Ouray. Guided tours are an easy way to go, and for history buffs, can be very informative. SOA’s drivers, all very exprienced with driving in this kind of terrain, are born story tellers. They regale their pasengers with lies and lore from the moment their bottoms touch the jeep seat until the time to pass out the tips at the end of the tour. This makes for a great ride since you don’t have to worry about the road.

Drive Yourself
The San Juans are particularly suited to four-wheeling adventure. Hard rock history is rife here, with lots of mining relics and ghost towns to explore. Scenery, including wildflowers, waterfalls, and spearing, snow-capped mountains, is drop-dead gorgeous. The air is crisp and clear, a definite respite for urban refugees. The level of driving skill (and passenger patience) required goes from “sit back and relax” to “hair-raising, hang-on-to-the-roll-bar scary.” Even so, regardless of how high you go or how rugged it gets, jeeping in historic mining country is a great experience! Jeep rental outfits and local shops have guides and maps that will help you choose the best routes.

What to take
Heading out? Heading up? What do you take along? Carry plenty of water and sunscreen. High country weather is capricious. One minute it can be cold and wet, the next blistering hot and bone dry. Cover your head with a hat or cap. When it comes to clothing, remember to layer. Mornings start out cool, but by late afternoon, assuming you don’t get drenched in a downpour or blanketed in snow-which can fall anytime in the San Juans, it can get really hot. Nightime temperatures drop into the 30s; daytime temps soar into the 70s, sometimes even higher. So bring layers to add or shed as temperature and moisture require. Be sure to wear socks and sturdy footgear. Sandles and flip flops do not belong in the mountains or in jeeps. Too dangerous. Early spring and late fall, you might want to add fleece, gloves, and a warm cap. Trails are well marked, but can still be confusing, so if you’re traveling alone, or with a group unfamiliar with the area, pick up a map before you head out. FYI your GPS won’t help much, because most of these trails are not on major maps.

Photo Credits
Top: Jeep caravam above Silverton. © Roger Young.
Top, center: Jeep caravan above Telluride. ©James Burke
….(see video, right, “Black Bear” where we took this photo.
Middle, center: Jeep caravan on Red Mountain. ©Don Porter.
Bottom, center: Jeep caravan above Eureka, San Juan County. ©Don Porter.

Videos we’ve found showing the area from 4xD vehicle.

Silverton & area
Clear Lake Trail
Black Bear (difficult)
Yankee Boy Basin (easy)
Corkscrew Pass (easy)
Poughkeepsie Gulch (not recommended)
Imogene Pass
Ice Lake Trail

References & Additional Links
High Country 4×4 Adventure – Silverton Magazine
Exploring Mining Country – Silverton Magazine
Sky High Fun in SW Colorado – Silverton Magazine

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