ATV The Alpine Loop
- Length: 65 mile loop
- Drive Time: 6-7 hours
- Difficulty: 75% Easy / 25% Difficult (rock outcroppings, drop offs)
- Access: Easy
- ATV Friendly Town: Lake City
- Ideal Riding Season: Mid Summer – September
Notes: The Alpine Loop can be done by SxS and ATVs.
Lake City has passed a pilot program to allow OHVs on a 3.26 mile stretch of Hwy 149. This pilot program is currently in effect “seasonally in 2021, 2022, and 2023, from the Friday before Memorial Day through September 30 of each year”.
I don’t feel confident that this will continue past 2023, but hopefully I’m wrong.
As of October 2021, Silverton changed it’s laws. OHVs are now banned within city limits. You can no longer easily ride out from town.
See the Forest Service Brochure button below for a good overview map.
One of The Most Stunning Drives In The US
This ride should definitely be on your bucket list. Although not technically an “ATV trail”, this remote dirt road loop is open to ATVs/SUVs. It’s so amazing that we’ve included it in ATV Colorado: 10 Best ATV Trails In Colorado.
The Alpine Loop passes through the sweeping Rocky Mountains through two mountain passes – Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, both 12,000+ feet high.
In between the mountain passes you’ll experience some of the most amazing views – mountains, meadows, waterfalls, lakes and wildlife.
This 63 mile dirt road loop takes you from Ouray or Silverton to Lake City.
This is a very popular dirt road – Jeeps, 4x4s and ATVs all use this road so don’t expect to have it all to yourself.
To avoid the big crowds go in late September when the kids are heading back to school and summer vacations are mostly over.
The speed limit is 15 miles an hour, so allow 5 – 7 hours for a leisurely ride. In addition to the Alpine Loop, there are also plenty of miles of other smaller ATV loops and detours connected to the main loop.
Plan for a couple nights in the area for a more relaxed ride with time to soak up the scenery and explore the history of Colorado.
Alpine Loop Trail Rating
If you leave from Ouray or Silverton, you’ll be unable to avoid the difficult sections of trail.
Leaving from Silverton takes you over Cinnamon Pass while leaving from Ouray takes you over Engineer Pass. Both of these passes are over 12,000′ and require a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle.
However, if you leave from Lake City, a large section of the Alpine Loop is easy and suitable for 2-wheel drive vehicles. On the north part of the loop, travel to Whitmore Falls is possible with a 2-wheel drive. On the south part of the loop, you can make it to Sherman before the road gets too rough.
So, if you don’t feel like you’re up for the challenge, don’t let that keep you from checking out this trail. While the passes do have some dramatic views, the scenery is still plenty spectacular on these easy section.
ATV Friendly Towns?
Lake City is the only ATV friendly town on the loop. Ouray is not ATV friendly, it does not allow ATVs within the city limits.
Silverton used to be ATV friendly, but they changed the law on October 12th, 2021. Now, there is a ban on “OHVs on all streets, alleys, and rights-of-ways within town limits”.
Colorado does not allow or recognize street legal ATVs. So, even if your OHV is registered in your home state as street legal and has a license plate, this is not recognized or legal in Colorado.
But, dirt bikes are an exception in Silverton. “Street legal dirt bikes (and ONLY street legal dirt bikes) may access Town of Silverton and San Juan County roads.” View the new rules
Silverton is no longer ATV friendly.
To find more great rides in Colorado check out:
- Colorado residents are required to register their OHVs with Colorado Parks and Wildlife
- Colorado residents with plated vehicles (offroad and street legal, including motorcycles) must purchase a permit
- Non-residents are not required to register their out of state OHVs in Colorado
- Non-residents must purchase a non-resident OHV permit (whether or not you chose to register)
- All operators must carry proof of insurance
- Children < 10 years old can’t operate OHVs on public roads.
- OHV operators between 10 and 16 must be under the direct visual supervision of a person with a valid driver’s license
- OHV sound limits must be met:
- 99 dB(A) if manufactured before 1/1/1998
- 96 dB(A) if manufactured after 1/1/1998
Animas Forks Ghost Town
Right on the Alpine Loop is the well preserved ghost town of Animas Forks, once home to over 400 people in the late 1800s. This small, but once thriving town slowly wound down as mining profits dwindled.
At an elevation of over 11,000′, this historic mining town is one of the highest mining camps in the western US. Due to the high elevation, winters were harsh, so residents would migrate to Silverton in the Fall.
Despite the stunning scenery, life was probably pretty rough here back in the day. At least by our modern standards. But, there was a hotel, general store, saloon and a post office. There was even a newspaper! So, by the standards of the time, maybe it wasn’t so bad.
Views Along The Way
Links To Help You Plan Your Trip
Forest Service Brochure: Alpine Loop (with a nice overview map)
Lake City OHV Routes (covers the pilot program)
More Off-Roading In Colorado
With it’s rich mining history, there are many Colorado ghost towns, several of which make for excellent ATV adventures. Check out: St. Elmo Ghost Town High Alpine Miner’s Loop CO & Alta Lakes & Alta Ghost Town – Telluride CO
There are several popular ATV Jamborees:
- ROAR – OHV Rally and Ride Rangely Colorado
- Wagon Wheel OHV Rendezvous Meeker Colorado
- OHV Rally & Festival Lake City Colorado
- OHV Color Tour Buena Vista Colorado