Off roading in the San Juan Mountains is a great way to get up close and personal with some of the amazing, untamed beauty in the region, from the jagged rocky peaks to the dense coniferous forests. Whether you’re renting an OHV or bringing your own, these routes will show you just why the San Juan region has some of the best off roading in the country.

1. Corkscrew Gulch

Corkscrew Gulch - Photography by Yvonne - flickr
Corkscrew Gulch with a Jeep. Photo credit: Photography by Yvonne (flickr)

Just south of Ouray, this route is pretty popular and features a lot of narrow and steep switchbacks. A lot of this drive is above the timberline, which means there’s a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains.

2. Imogene Pass

Imogene Pass - Scott Dingle - flickr
Imogene Pass. Photo credit: Scott Dingle (flickr)

Imogene Pass is a pretty difficult road between Telluride and Ouray. The rough and steep terrain passes along cliffs and overlooks an old mine as well a few stunning views of the pass itself. It’s about 18 miles long and the drive takes roughly three to four hours.

3. Ophir Pass Road

Ophir Pass - turcottes78 - flickr
Ophir Pass. Photo credit: turcottes78 (flickr)

At its height, Ophir Pass Road reaches over 11,700 feet elevation, and offers some really spectacular views of the San Miguel Valley as well as Lizard Head rock formation. It’s not a difficult trail by any means, but it’s definitely worth the drive if you’re looking for some scenery.

4. Animas Forks

Animas Forks - robert thigpen - flickr
Animas Forks. Photo credit: robert thigpen (flickr)

Animas Forks is a ghost town near Silverton that was once a mining town. There are twelve empty buildings up there in the mountains, and the drive there, along Cinnamon Pass, takes you up along the top of the Continental Divide, with some gorgeous fields of wildflowers and lots of wildlife along the way.

5. Engineer Pass

Engineer Pass - robert thigpen - flickr
Engineer Pass. Photo Credit: robert thigpen (flickr)

Just south of Ouray, Engineer Pass requires some know-how, as it’s pretty rugged and very rocky. At the top of the pass, you’ll find yourself at 12,850 feet, with views for miles on a clear day. Engineer Pass connects with several other off road trails, such as Animas Forks and Cinnamon Pass.

6. Black Bear Pass

Black Bear Pass - Sandy Horvath-Dori - flickr
Black Bear Pass. Photo credit: Sandy Horvath (flickr)

This trail is about as challenging as it gets. Rated a class 5, Black Bear is a two way trail up to the summit from Highway 550, but if you continue onward once you reach the top, then you’re committed to taking the incredibly difficult steps and switchbacks of the narrow one-way descent. It’s a crazy difficult route, but if you’ve got the right vehicle and know what you’re doing, it’s worth it for the challenge and for the view of Bridal Veil Falls on the way down.

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