HomeTrailsExploring The Alpine Loop - ATV Colorado

Exploring The Alpine Loop – ATV Colorado

Alpine Loop route map

ATV The Alpine Loop

  • Length: 65 mile loop
  • Drive Time: 5-7 hours
  • Fees:
    • 3-day Pass: $6.00
    • 7-day Pass: $12.00
    • Annual Pass: $45.00
    • Or America the Beautiful Pass (National Park Pass)
  • 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.

Alpine Loop

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.

- Advertisement -

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 Engineer Pass
Engineer Pass by robert thigpen | Flickr

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”.

- Advertisement -

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.

Alpine Loop Engineer Pass
Dramatic views from Engineer Pass thigpen | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Henson Creek
Henson Creek on the Alpine Loop thigpen | Flickr

  • 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.

Alpine Loop: Animas Forks
Abandoned cabin in Animas Forks ghost town on the Alpine loop
Alpine Loop: Animas Forks
Animas Forks by Mia & Steve Mestdagh | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Animas Forks
Animas Forks in the distance by Abhijit Kamerkar | Flickr

Views Along The Way

Alpine Loop: American Basin
American Basin (short side trip off the main loop) by D T | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Ute-Ulay Mine/Henson Ghost Town
Ute-Ulay Mine/Henson Ghost Town (approx. 3.5 miles west of Lake City on CR #20 Alpine Loop ) by robert thigpen | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Capital City
Capital City Ghost Town’s one remaining building, the U.S. Post Office (on the main loop) by robert thigpen | Flickr There’s also a smelter stack still standing, but all the other structures have been lost to time.
Alpine Loop: Cinnamon Pass
Cinnamon Pass on the Alpine Loop by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy | Flickr
Alpine Loop: California Gulch
California Gulch (off main loop @ Animas Forks) by robert thigpen | Flickr
Alpine Loop: California Gulch
California Gulch by robert thigpen | Flickr
Carson Ghost Town
Carson Ghost Town (short trip off the main loop) by Jane Nearing | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Engineer Pass
View from the top of Engineer Pass by Kyle Harmon | Flickr
Alpine Loop: Engineer Pass
If you look closely you can see the switchback road heading up Engineer Pass by Stefan Serena

Links To Help You Plan Your Trip

Forest Service Brochure: Alpine Loop (with a nice overview map)

Silverton OHV / ATV Rules

Lake City OHV Routes (covers the pilot program)

More Off-Roading In Colorado

Colorado has lots to offer when it comes to off roading. There is an off roading sand dune area, North Sand Hills in Cowdrey, Colorado.

Other great riding areas including Pagosa Springs and the Wagon Wheel Trail System in Meeker and Rangely Colorado which made our 10 Best ATV Trails: Put These On Your Bucket List.

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

Imogene Pass is a white knuckle OHV route that you won’t soon forget. Travel through the mountains from Telluride to Ouray Colorado on this amazing high alpine loop.

There are also several popular riding events which you can check out on our ATV Jamborees page.

Feature Image By robert thigpen | Flickr

Read Next