Alpine Loop Scenic Byway - Colorado Scenic Drives
Page 2 of 2   |  
Article Menu
Map of the Alpine Loop, National Scenic Byway

Chief Ouray, Rose's Cabin, Capitol City, Alferd Packer, Stony Pass, Animas Forks -- All are names from the past; and all are part of the history of the San Juan Mountains.

Today, you can follow the pioneers' paths in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Imagine their hardships and marvel at their successes as you travel the historic roads and trails in the Alpine Triangle.

The Alpine Loop Back Country Byway, a 65-mile circle jeep tour can be made in one day from Ouray, Lake City or Silverton. Two days would even be better to really see and enjoy the area. The road is open most of the summer and early fall June-October.

The following Points of Interest will help you enjoy your journey. The points are numbered along main routes beginning at Mineral Point, going over Engineer Pass to Lake City then south and west over Cinnamon Pass through Animas Forks to Silverton before heading north back toward Ouray. Numbered side road attractions are also interspersed for those with the time and energy for more exploring.

Please See The List Below For Deatils

1 MINERAL POINT, just above beeline, was established in 1873. The mining camp once boasted a population of 100. A restroom is available here.

2 ENGINEER PASS is a major saddle along the Alpine Loop at 12,800 feet. The views are spectacular. To the west is Mt. Sneffels (14,150'); northeast is Uncompahgre Peak (14,309'); and east is the extinct Lake City volcanic caldera, which the Loop Road encircles. Otto Mears, noted for his railroads, was also instrumental in building many southwestern Colorado toll roads like the one over Engineer Pass, where the first stagecoach crossed in 1877.

3 FRANK HOUGH MINE was owned by John S. Hough, a good friend of Kit Carson. Hough ran for Governor of Colorado in 1880.

4 PALMETTO GULCH POWDERHOUSE is a rock structure built in the 1880's.

5 ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION. Notice the change from alpine tundra to spruce/fir forest.

6 PALMETTO GULCH MILL. Here the Palmetto Gulch Mining and Milling Company produced 25 tons of ore per day during the late 1800's.

7 ROSE'S CABIN, named for Corydon Rose who built it in 1875. It was an overnight stage stop. Rose's Cabin included a bar, restaurant, and 22 small rooms on the second floor. There was a 60 - mule stable nearby. (A restroom is available 1/4 mile downstream.)

8 LEE'S SMELTER SMOKESTACK is a last remnant off the Lee Mining and Smelter Company, which operated in the 1870's.

9 WHITMORE FALLS is visible from an overlook point at the end of a short trail. It's a good place to stretch your legs.

10 CAPITOL CITY , founded in 1877, was named by George Lee, who owned a smelter and mill near town. He believed the setting to be so ideal that it was destined to become the state capitol of Colorado. In its heyday, Capitol City had a population of 400 people. Today remains of the old post office and some kilns can be seen, as well as several vacation homes. No camping is permitted. (A restroom is located i/4 mile west of the townsite.)

11 MATTERHORN CREEK TRAIL leads seven miles up Matterhorn Creek, past Matterhorn (13,589') and Wetterhorn (14,017') Peaks to Uncompahgre Peak (14,309'.) Access road is four-wheel-drive.

12 NELLIE CREEK. Just east of the creek is a rough four-wheel drive road that will take you to the boundary of the Big Blue Wilderness. Hikers often use this route to the trailhead for Uncompahgre Peak. (A restroom is available near the main road just west of the creek.)

13 UTE-ULAY MINE was one of the first open in the area in 1871. Nearby is the Hidden Treasure Mine. Henson Townsite was laid out in 1880 near Henson Creek; nothing remains of the town today. The 118-foot-high Henson Creek Dam, now breached, was built in the 1890's near Alpine Gulch to power the mine tramway and mill. The entire Henson area is private land; do not trespass among buildings.

14 ALPINE GULCH TRAIL. There is a new bridge across Henson Creek; the trail connects over the mountains with the Williams Creek Trail.

15 CRYSTAL LAKE TRAIL starts at the IOOF cemetery north of Lake City and ends at Crystal Lake after a four-mile hike.

16 ALFERD PACKER HISTORIC SITE . In the Spring of 1875, five miners who had been Packer's companions were found massacred here. Nine years later, Packer was found in Wyoming and brought back to Lake City to stand trial for murder and cannibalism. Although sentenced to hang, Packer was retried and sentenced to 40 years of hard labor. Serving 15 years in Canon City. he was paroled in 1901 and died in Littleton in 1907.

17 LAKE SAN CRISTOBAL is the second largest natural lake in Colorado, formed by the landslides described below.

18 SLUMGULLION EARTHFLOW, a National Natural Landmark, is named after a miner's stew. It is the result of two major landslides that occurred 700 and 350 years ago.

OURAY -- is named for Chief Ouray of the Ute Tribe, who was known as the"peacemaker" for restraining the Utes from attacking early day miners. A treaty was worked out with Chief Ouray in 1874 that allowed the United States to buy back the mineral-rich San Juans from the Utes. Soon after, 2,000 prospectors poured into the San Juans. With its hot springs, Ouray was sacred ground for the Indians, and is now a trail hub for four-wheelers and visitors to the San Juan Mountains.

19 LAKE CITY SNOWMOBILE TRAILS include 80 miles of groomed trails and many open areas. Six loop trips and several destination rides can be made. Parking is available at Lake City or along Highway 149 at Slumgullion Overlook, Slumgullion Pass, Spring Creek Pass, and the Continental Reservoir turnoff.

20 WINDY POINT OVERLOOK offers a scenic view of the whole area. The Forest Service Slumgullion campground is located 3/4 mile further east on Highway 149.

21 WUPPERMAN CAMPGROUND (Hinsdale County), on the east shore of the Lake, was named after Hildegard Wupperman, a long time area resident. It has 23 camp units and a wastewater dump station. A fee is required.
22 RED MOUNTAIN GULCH PICNIC AREA (Hinsdale County) has a covered group barbecue area and restrooms. No overnight camping is allowed. No fee is required.

23 WILLIAMS CREEK CAMPGROUND (FS) has 23 camp units, restrooms and drinking water. A fee is required.

24 CARSON TOWNSITE is one of the better preserved historic towns in the area. It's about four miles from the Alpine Loop Road along rough, steep four-wheel drive road; or it's a moderately difficult day hike. Carson started as a mining camp in 1882 and flourished in the 1890's. Much of the area is privately owned; please respect miners' property and equipment and obey no trespassing signs.

25 BENT CREEK ACCESS A restroom is just south of the road; a path leads to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.

26 MILL CREEK CAMPGROUND (BLM) has 22 camp units, restrooms and drinking water. A fee is required.

27 SHERMAN TOWNSITE was the site of a mining camp established in 1875. The town was destroyed by a flash flood that broke a dam above town and destroyed the water flume that ran from the dam to town. The meadow and a few collapsed cabins are private property. The narrow, steep "Shelf Road," heading uphill at the fork just east of Sherman, is the continuation of the Alpine Byway.

28 CATARACT GULCH TRAIL follows a scenic stream with many waterfalls. It leads five miles to Cataract Lake near the Continental Divide. (A restroom is at the trailhead.)

29 CUBA GULCH TRAIL links a network of trails offering alternatives for loop hikes.

30 SHERMAN SUSPENSION FLUME. The remaining cables and planks of a suspended water flume are upstream a half mile from Sherman. It can be seen from the Shelf Road.

31 SILVER CREEK TRAIL leads north from the trailhead to Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks. (A restroom is near the trailhead.)

32 GRIZZLY GULCH TRAIL leads four miles up Grizzly Gulch to Handies Peak (14,048'.)

33 COOPER LAKE TRAIL (four miles) starts here and climbs above timberline to Cooper Lake, which is stocked with cutthroat trout.

34 AMERICAN BASIN is one of the most scenic valleys in the San Juan Mountains. Mid-summer wildflower displays are spectacular.

35 SLOAN LAKE TRAIL leads one mile to Sloan Lake (stocked with cutthroat trout) continues to Handies Peak.

36 TOBASCO MILL is a prominent feature. Ore was carried by tram 1.7 miles to the mill from the mine at Cinnamon Pass. Tram supports can still be seen.

37 CINNAMON PASS is one of the highest passes in the San Juans at 12,620'. Grasses and flowers struggle for survival here in the harsh climate, short growing season, and fragile environment. Please stay on designated roads to avoid the fragile tundra. Looking east down the valley, see Handies, Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, three of the "fourteeners" in the Alpine Triangle.
LAKE CITY -- was established in 1874 just after the discovery of the Golden Fleece Mine, which made it a boomtown. Its fortunes came and went as the mining industry flourished and crashed several times. Today, Lake City is the county seat and concentrates on helping visitors enjoy the high country.

38 ANIMAS FORKS TOWNSITE, originally named La Plata City, was laid out in 1877 and was abandoned in the 1930's. In 1884, it suffered a blizzard that lasted 23 days and dumped 25 feet of snow on the town. (Restroom available.)

39 GOLD PRINCE MINE, east of Hanson Peak, was connected to the mill in Animas Forks by a 12,600 - foot wire rope tramway that carried 50 tons of ore per hour. A boarding house was also built at the mine.

40 LAKE COMO is the headwaters of the Uncompahgre River. The road along the river is boggy and difficult to travel.

41 EUREKA TOWNSITE was laid out in 1874 after ratification of the Ute Treaty, but prospecting in Eureka Gulch dates back to 1860. The town's existence depended on the Sunnyside Mine near Lake Emma. The railroad was completed by Otto Mears from Silverton to Eureka in 1896. By 1904 the railroad stretched on from Eureka to Animas Forks.

42 SUNNYSIDE MINE was first located in 1873 and produced rich gold ore in the Barb: years. The mine changed hands many time; but remained in production until 1938, when it closed until the 1960's after completion of the 6,233-foot American Tunnel from Gladstone to the mine. In 1978, the bottom of Lake Emma broke through and flooded the mine.

43 MIDDLETON attracted over 100 mining claims in nearby Minnie and Maggie Gulches by 1893. (Restroom at Maggie Gulch.)

44 HOWARDSVILLE Townsite was settled at the mouth of Cunningham Gulch in 1874. It was the site of the first Sunnyside Mill, the largest in the United States when first built.

45 CUNNINGHAM GULCH was named for Major Cunningham, leader of a group of miners from Chicago. It was the first main route into the San Juans in the 1870's. The trail came over Stony Pass to Cunningham Gulch and down the Animas River into Silverton.

46 OLD HUNDRED MINE . Boarding houses were built at each tunnel entrance in the early 1900's. One, located 1,000 feet above the other, can be seen from the road.

47 HIGHLAND MARY LAKES TRAIL . An old mine is located at the trailhead. The trail connects with Whitehead Peak Trail and also leads south into the Weminuche Wilderness.

48 STONY PASS , at 12,588', is located on the Continental Divide. The four-wheel drive road over the pass leads east to Highway 149 and the town of Creede.

49 ARRASTRA GULCH . Here, the first mine located in the San Juans was the Little Giant Mine (1871) and Millsite (1873), which used the first wire rope tramway. Nearby Silver Lake is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for its record snowfall of 76 inches in a 24-hour period April 14-15, 1921. A fairly easy trail leads about a mile from Mayflower Mine to Silver Lake.

50 KENDALL MOUNTAIN (13,451'), east of Silverton, is the site of the annual 13 mile Kendall Mountain Run, which climbs 3,800 feet from Silverton to the peak.

51 TITUSVILLE MINE operated from 1886 to 1893 with a small mining camp and an 8,000 -foot tramway to Kendall Gulch. The Titusville vein can be seen near the head of the gulch. The dark material near the mine is iron "hematite." Visitors can see a mined out area of the vein in a mine opening near the switchback where vehicles can park.

52 WHITEHEAD PEAK TRAIL leads to the Weminuche Wilderness area or connects with the Highland Mary Lakes Trail.

SILVERTON -- first known as Baker's Park, was named for "silver by the ton, " and established as the San Juan County seat in 1874. By 1883, the town's population peaked at 1,500. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the first narrow gauge anywhere, was completed from Durango to Silverton in 1882. It allowed miners to ship lower grade ores economically and made Silverton a boomtown.

53 MOLAS LAKE CAMPGROUND is managed by the Town of Silverton. A trail and footbridge offer an excellent view of the Animas River Valley and the D&SNG; Railroad, and provide access to the Weminuche Wilderness.

54 GLADSTONE was connected with Silverton by railroad in 1899. The nearby Gold King, Sunnyside and Lead Carbonate mines were all prominent producers well into the 1900's. Nearby Storm Peak was the site of International Speed Skiing Championships in 1982 and 1983, where world records for men (129.3 mph) and women (120.3) were set.

55 BOULDER GULCH TRAIL can be accessed at either Boulder Gulch or Eureka Gulch. The 6 mile trail peaks at 13,000 feet elevation, at which point one can look westward into Storm Peak basin, site of international speed-ski events in years past.

56 GROUSE GULCH TRAIL leads four miles southeastward up Grouse Gulch and accesses Sloan Lake and Handies Peak, at which point the trail connects to the Grizzly Gulch Trail.

Nearby Attractions

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge (D&SNG;) Railroad is an internationally known tourist attraction drawing 200,000 riders annually. This privately owned railroad, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, runs May to October. It offers spectacular views of the Animas River Canyon and alpine vistas.

The BLM-administered Powderhorn Primitive Area lies east of the Alpine Triangle area and offers a variety of backcountry opportunities in a natural setting.

Adjacent federal lands include the Uncompahgre, San Juan, Gunnison and Rio Grande National Forests, which provide more recreational opportunities, camping and picnic areas, roads and trails. The 467,000 acre Weminuche Wilderness Area, southeast of the area, is one of the largest in the National Wilderness System. It contains three "fourteeners" and nearly 250 miles of trails. Big Blue Wilderness covers 98,000 acres north of the area and offers 75 miles of trails and two more "fourteeners." Both areas are administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Curecanti National Recreation Area, between Montrose and Gunnison, surrounds Crystal, Morrow Point and Blue Mesa Lakes and provides numerous boating, fishing and swimming opportunities along with camping, picnicking and hiking. The National Park Service office at Elk Creek manages the area.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »