In front of you is a choice. You can go left, right, forward, or backward because you are at a crossroads. Crossroads are a good thing in life. Crossroads, many times are the genesis of amazing things such as life-changing decisions, a “make it happen moment”, and, as legend has it, the birth of blues music. Nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado lies one such crossroad, where the off-road-loving-type find a small piece of heaven right here on earth. If you have never been to this crossroad, then you will want to go as it is an awakening to history, adventure, and breathtaking views no camera can truly capture.
Growing up my family packed up our Suburban every Summer, pointed the truck North (or North West), and headed to a small town in central Colorado called Lake City with a population of 300 people or so during the Summer. It was these trips in tandem with many hunting trips to Central Texas, that kindled in me a love for adventure, exploration, the mountains, and the off-road. As a kid I hiked and explored the mountains around Lake City all day, everyday, for 10 days each Summer, and I was in heaven. During those trips, my family would take a couple of days to “Jeep” over the mountain passes such as Engineer and Cinnamon to the mountain towns of Ouray and Silverton.
This loop is known as the Alpine Loop, and is popular with off-roaders. It has been featured on off-road shows including Top Gear America. I grew up Ioving every minute of traversing the Jeep trails on and around the Alpine Loop, and to this day I still do. Lake City serves as a perfect “home base” for this adventure as it is located at the crossroads of the Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass legs of the Alpine Loop. Making Lake City that much more special is the fact there are many choices of places to stay, eat, and play while on a special off-road adventure. This includes a mini-golf place, a single-screen small movie theater, a few shops, and historical sites such as the cannibal Alfred Packer massacre site. Lake City has plenty to offer.
Being Lake City is in the middle of the Alpine Loop the off-road possibilities are plentiful, and that makes Lake City ideal as a “base-camp”. Unregistered vehicles (ATVs and UTVs) are allowed to drive on most roads through the town of Lake City as long as you have a the off-road sticker, a valid driver's license, and liability insurance. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to complete the Alpine Loop. There are a plethora of jeep roads out of Lake City either going towards Cinnamon Pass or Engineer Pass both that ATVs & UTVs can take, and all of these roads head to old mines, ghost towns, and other small mountain towns.
One interesting thing to note is that with few exceptions, all of these are old roads rather than true “trails”. Don’t think for a second though one can’t find more challenging terrain, but most of these roads are fairly easy to cover on an ATV or UTV. The main passes are easy but some of the side roads are a bit more challenging. The views and sites offered by all of these roads, though, can change your life! The pictures I have taken do not do the views justice one experiences on these roads, but it does give a taste of the views that can be had. You get to experience mining towns from over a century ago, littered throughout the Alpine Loop, and you can “feel” the history as you walk in the footsteps of miners and speculators. The entire area is truly incredible.
Since Lake City sits at the “Crossroads” of the Alpine Loop, we should talk about the Alpine Loop. Simply put there are three towns that encompass the Alpine Loop: Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. The Alpine Loop essentially connects these three towns through the Rocky Mountains. Starting in any one of these towns allows you, within a few miles, to hop onto a jeep road, and head to another one of the towns. Along these routes you can access the other jeep roads the loop has to offer, and there are a bunch of them. Every one of these towns has pros and cons in using it as a basecamp.
If while staring at some of the pictures in this article, you feel a stirring in your being to experience these views for yourself, then here are my suggestions to make your trip happen.
I can say without hesitation, Lake City is a fantastic OHV destination, with the Alpine Loop being an adventure of a lifetime. I have been making the journey to Lake City for a good 30 years, and I still enjoying going back to experience all the off-roading and more it has to offer. Without a doubt you will make memories that will last a lifetime and the lifetime of the people tagging along with you. So pack up your favorite off-road machine, your stuff, and your closest family and friends, and head to Lake City and the Alpine Loop. Look for our ATV ESCAPE Destination Guide to be out in the near future.
You must have a OHV sticker for each machine and carry liability insurance to ride in Colorado. The OHV sticker is good for a year, and can be bought at local businesses or at staythetrail.org
To drive the Alpine Loop you must have a valid drivers license.
You can ride on Lake City streets for the most part as long as you have a valid driver’s license and carry liability insurance. As of June 2021 you can no longer drive on Silverton streets on an ATV and UTV.