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Engineer Pass: Nearest Towns:  Silverton, Lake City, & Ouray Difficulty:  Moderate  End Points:  Start:  Hwy 550, 37.9887,-107.6495 Finish:  Lake City 38.0272, -107.3194 Estimated Open Season:  May to October Estimated Miles:   27 Miles one-way Estimated Drive Time:   4 hours one-way Engineer Pass The Russian born engineer Otto Mears famous for his construction of the million dollar highway connecting Silverton to Ouray is also credited for building the road known as Engineer Pass. Completed after 1877 this toll road was a major route connecting Silverton, Animas Forks, Ouray and Lake City together. During the mining boom of the 1800's it provided a way for miners, supplies and materials to be transported over the San Juan Mountains.  The road was critical for the economy and livelihood of hundreds of people and ironically it still does to this day. Gone are the days of the mule trains and wagons and now the adventurous can take the same roads with a good 4x4 or even a trail rated motorcycle! 4x4ing in the San Juan's attracts thousands of people from all over the world and provides a good economic boost for the local communities. It is also an incredible way to enjoy the scenic beauty and history that these mountains have to offer. How to find Engineer Pass? Our interactive map is a great resource and you can simply click on the trailhead (T.H.) icon and select "directions" which will provide further information. There are basically three points of access, Hwy 550 near Ouray, Animas Forks near Silverton and Lake City which is usually the destination point. Engineer pass is part of a big loop which when combined with Cinnamon Pass is called the Alpine Loop. The Alpine loop traditionally begins with Engineer Pass to Lake City, from Lake City to Cinnamon Pass, from Cinnamon Pass to Animas Forks and then into Silverton. You can also go from Animas Forks back to Hwy 550 on Engineer Pass to finish the loop. The entire trip will take you a full day at least and with all of the site seeing, fishing and exploring to do many people like to stay the night or camp out along the way.  To find the trailhead near Animas Forks take CR 2 out of Silverton and continue to follow the signs for about 12 miles until you reach the historic ghost town of Animas Forks. From there you will go just a little further north and follow the road markers for Engineer Pass. This is locally called the upper Engineer Pass route. The full Engineer Pass route starts from Hwy 550 about four miles south of Ouray and has a large sign marking the road with a small dirt parking area. Trail Ratings This trail has an overall rating of moderate difficulty with initial approaches from Silverton or Lake City being an off road easy. The approach from hwy 550 (Ouray side) is a moderate from the get go and is quite narrow. It follows along the Uncompahgre drainage in the shadow of 12,801 foot Mount Abrams and the canyon is very deep and spectacular. Be sure to keep an eye on the closest pull off spots around you as these can be the only way to get past other vehicles.  Expect the road to be rough, rocky, and fairly steep in places and during rainstorms or runoff, conditions to change. A stock trail rated 4x4 vehicle should not have too much trouble negotiating this road providing the driver is competent enough and takes it slow. Allow yourself at least half a day to reach Lake City from hwy 550 which is a little less than 30 miles. Highlights Some of the highlights of this trail are the many mines, ghost towns, waterfalls, fishing and incredible views. Henson Creek in particular is a great place to fish and near the Henson Creek Mine is the ghost town with the remains of the dam. This is located just a few miles from Lake City right next to the road! "One of my favorite pull off spots is an area called oh point which near the summit and offers some of the most spectacular views of the San Juan's you can get." Engineer Pass is also a great place to camp with many primitive campsites along the road and if you like a few more amenities Lake City is an awesome place to stay. Founded in 1875 this little mining town has historical buildings, cabins, motels and restaurants that are warm and welcoming. A great spot to stay for lunch or a weekend.  And now for a few other major points of interest. Poughkeepsie Gulch Ah yes, the infamous Poughkeepsie Gulch which is a side route off of Engineer Pass that can be found about 2 ½ miles up the road from highway 550. Look for the sign marking the route on the right as you are heading up. This trail is a quick 4 miles to the base of California Pass that takes you past the remains of several mines and is a fun but very challenging trail. This one is rated as difficult and in some conditions (after a rain storm) VERY difficult which means you should not attempt it with a stock vehicle and should have proper off road experience. The first half of the road is moderate and you might be able to get far enough in to park and hike the rest of the way to the mines or to Lake Como but use caution. Good clearance, locking differentials, winch and good tires are just of few modifications to consider having on your rig for this route. It's a good rough one!  Nellie Creek Road Nellie Creek Trail is about 5 miles west of Lake City off of Engineer Pass road; it's rated as difficult and is of particular interest for people wanting to go hiking. The Nellie Creek Road is only about four miles long and stops at the trailhead for one of the 14ners in the area. Uncompahgre Peak, the highest peak in the San Juan's at 14,309 feet and the trailhead marker is at the end of Nellie creek road. Relative to mountain climbing the Uncompahgre Peak is considered one of the easier climbs and is about 6 ½ miles to the summit. Expect to have some company along the trail as it is one of the most popular in the area and it is not uncommon to have trouble finding a place to park at the trailhead. Weekdays are the best time to avoid crowds. A good climber / hiker can climb both the Uncompahgre and the Wetterhorn Peaks both in one day from this access point. Henson Creek Road Past the turnoff of Nellie Creek Road about 9 miles west of Lake City in the ghost town of Capital City is Henson Creek Road. (FS 870) This road winds its way up for about 11 miles one way and has quite a few good campsite along the way and is very pretty in the fall when the aspen trees are changing. The road is rated as moderate and is primarily utilized for access to another Colorado 14ner, The Wetterhorn. Wetterhorn Peak is 14,015 feet and is named after its sister peaks of the same name in the Swiss Alps and is quite similar in shape to the Matterhorn. The main route is approximately 4 ½ miles to the summit from the end of the 4x4 road and is rated as class 3-4. This is one of the more difficult mountain climbs and not for beginners. For the enthusiast it offers some awesome adventures for climbing and even extreme skiing! Ooh yeah! When to plan a trip over Engineer Pass? The season generally runs from late May to late October but winter snows contribute to when you can access. Sometimes the county will try to bulldoze through snow drifts and avalanche fields in order to get it open by Memorial Day but heavy winters can delay it sometimes.  Midsummer is the most popular time and is also when the wildflowers are in bloom. September is an amazing time to travel over the pass when the aspen trees are changing colors and there are fewer people on the roads. Winter can be a good time for the extreme back country enthusiast as well. There are routes along the roads that can take you into some spectacular big mountain terrain and awesome winter climbing. The San Juan's are famous for their great winter backcountry but this sport is for professionals and well trained enthusiasts.  The other part of your planning is how long for how far.  From the Alpine Loop / Engineer Pass road marker at HWY 550 near Ouray Colorado is about 30 miles to Lake City one way and takes you about half a day with all the stops and playing around you can do. It's about the same distance whether you decide to take Engineer back or complete the Alpine Loop with Cinnamon Pass as the finale. A wonderful full day! Engineer Pass provides the adventurous off-roader an opportunity to see old mines, ghost towns, wildflowers, and scenic beauty that is truly epic. There is fishing, mountain climbing, hiking, camping and much more.  It is a trip into the past along a road used by miners and merchants over 100 years ago that you too can enjoy!

View Engineer Pass in a larger map
Portrait of Otto Mears Picture courtesy of the  Doris Gregory Collection l Photographer:  James Hobby  Oh Point on Engineer Pass for a spectacular 360 degrees view of the San Juan Mountains!