3 of the Best Off-Roading Destinations in Western Colorado
Photo Credit: www.rimrockertrail.org
The Western Slope of Colorado is a stunning landscape dotted with mesas and dramatic red rock canyons. This unique corner of Colorado draws those in search of adventure and the road less traveled, and one of the best ways to explore this incredible place is from the passenger’s seat of your favorite off-road vehicle. From cliffside trails to rocky outcroppings, from breathtaking views of deep gorges and desert landscapes to old mining towns with storied histories, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy.
If it’s an off-the-beaten path adventure you’re after this summer, head to the trails that dot this sparsely populated destination. You can expect to find roaming wildlife, deep canyons and mesas that stretch beyond the horizon, and an outdoors culture with a thirst for adrenaline and steeped in Western territory history. We’ve put together a guide to some of the best OHV routes in the West End of Montrose County on Colorado’s Western Slope to help you make the most of your next adventure to this unforgettable destination.
1. Rimrocker Trail
This 160-mile route connects the towns of Montrose, Colorado with Moab, Utah. The trail traverses alpine, high desert and riverside landscapes as it winds its way through the West End of Montrose County to Nucla, and up and over the Uncompahgre Plateau. The trail is split into four parts and is well marked from beginning to end: 1) Montrose to Nucla, 2) Nucla to Highway 141, 3) Highway 141 to the Colorado-Utah State Line, and 4) Colorado-Utah State Line to Moab, Utah.
Begin your journey in Montrose on Highway 90, which gradually climbs up a well-graded dirt road to 9,840 feet above sea level to the flat top of the Uncompahgre Plateau. You’ll pass into the Uncompahgre National Forest about 11.7 miles into your journey, and it’s there that you’re most likely to spot your first signs of wildlife. Keep an eye out for coyote, elk, deer, fox and birds of prey. You’ll arrive in Nucla, Colorado after about two hours into your drive and a steep descent off the Uncompahgre Plateau.
Part Two of the Rimrocker Trail takes you from Nucla to Highway 141. On this section of the route, you’ll pass through the Uravan mining country. The name “Rimrocker” was originally given to the miners who worked the land in this part of Colorado. The mines included the Joe, Sandy, Fox, Dolores, Club Sandwich, Last Change and Ophir, among others, and you’re sure to see evidence of this turn-of-the-century history scattered throughout the hills. Keep your eyes peeled for old train tracks and mining structures along the way.
There’s so much to see in the Nucla-Naturita area that it’s worth building in an extra day into your trip to visit the Wild Horses of Disappointment Valley, Long Park Mine Tour, Bull Canyon Tour and Paradox Valley Petroglyph Tour. When you’re ready to continue your Rimrocker Trail journey, Part Three extends from Highway 141 to the Colorado-Utah State Line. You’ll be riding parallel to the Dolores River with Utah’s La Sal Mountains on the horizon, and stunning landscape extending as far west as you can see.
Once you cross the Utah State Line, you’ll pass into the fourth section of the Rimrocker Trail. This section follows Geyser Creek Road through the La Sal Mountains to the community of La Sal, infamous for being the retreat of the Wild Bunch outlaws. It’s said that Butch Cassidy and his crew used this remote destination as a hideout after completing their bank robberies in the surrounding areas. Approximately 54 miles from the border you’ll find yourself in Moab, Utah at the completion of the Rimrocker Trail.
Note that access to facilities along this route are few and far between, so come prepared with water, snacks, sun protection, and paper maps in case you lose access to cell service. More detailed directions and GPS coordinates can be found at rimrockertrail.org.
2. Uncompahgre Plateau
If you’re into rock crawling, head to the Uncompahgre Plateau for world-class routes sure to challenge even the most experienced driver. A gradual incline from the city of Montrose takes visitors up on to the Plateau’s 1.5 million acres of public lands and to the network of road and trail riding OHV routes. The Plateau covers a massive swathe of public land and includes both OHV road and trail riding. Plan to spend a few days exploring this special destination and reserve campsites at one of the three established campgrounds on the Plateau, or find a more secluded dispersed campsite to set up your weekend base camp.
3. Thunder Trails System
Nineteen miles of singletrack organized into four interconnecting loops await you at the Thunder Trails system, four miles south of the town of Norwood. The loops include: 1) the Goshom Loop beginning near the southern parking lot, 2) the Naturita Rim Loop situated north of the Goshom Loop, 3) the Portis Loop, and 4) the northernmost Thunder Loop located by the trailhead parking lot closest to Norwood. The trails west of Thunder Road (Forest Road 609) provide a rockier, more technical riding experience with amazing views of Naturita Canyon, while the trails east of Thunder Road take riders through ponderosa pine forest and open meadows. Note that in addition to motorcycles, the Thunder Trails system is also open to mountain bikes, horses and hikers, so be aware of your surroundings as you explore this beautiful trail system. You’ll also find some dispersed camping spots along Forest Service Road 609, so it’s easy to set up camp and spend a weekend exploring.
There’s so much to see, you could spend a whole summer exploring this special destination in your favorite off-roading vehicle. See you out there!