Off-Road Adventure Destination - Lake City, Colorado
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”. Here is a kicker though; you can not drive on the paved roads in Lake City (with an exception I cover below), so you do have to trailer a short distance to an ATV staging outside the city limits before “mounting up”. The good news is there is shuttle service for a nominal fee, to take you to the other staging area no matter which side of Lake City you come in on, 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.
Breaking Down The Alpine Loop
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.
- Ouray is only accessible through several miles down a paved road ATVs and UTVs can’t travel on, and it doesn’t sit “on” the Alpine Loop. Though Ouray offers several hotels, restaurants, and even ATV rentals, this makes it the “least” ATV friendly as a basecamp.
- Silverton sits very close to the Alpine Loop, and provides many services such as hotels, restaurants, gas, groceries, an RV park, and most importantly, is now accessible from the Alpine Loop on ATVs and UTVs. You can’t drive on all of the paved roads in Silverton, but you can get to most all the hotels, campgrounds, services, and restaurants. The downside to Silverton is the number of choices to stay, but it is worth considering Silverton simply because of its accessibility by ATV and UTV.
- Lake City sits directly on the Alpine Loop and that makes it idea for a basecamp for your adventure in addition to the fact you can ride your ATV, UTV, or other unlicensed vehicle in town. There are many places to stay in Lake City from cabins to motels, restaurants (very good ones may I add), entertainment, ATV and UTV rentals, and even an ATV dealer. Lake City offers plenty of choices off the trail as well as as access to the trails. It is easy to take Engineer Pass out of Lake City and come back Cinnamon Pass. From there, you can continue around the Alpine Loop or get back to your vehicle and head back to your accommodations.
Some Suggestions To Plan Your Trip
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.
- Guidebook For Your Adventure- Go to funtreks.com and purchase the ATV Trails Guide Colorado Silverton, Ouray, Lake City, Telluride, so you can get a feel for the area and the trails/jeep roads you can take, and so you do not get lost in the wilderness of the area. You can pick up a free OHV map where you buy the OHV sticker before riding, or find it at staythetrail.org, but the aforementioned guidebook offers much more details, pictures, coordinates, historical information, trail difficulty level, and maps to make sure you know where you are and where you are going. We at ATVESCAPE.com use these guidebooks to make sure we keep our sanity, and they are worth every penny you pay; somewhere in the range of $20.
- Book Early- Like many outstanding OHV destinations, there exists a season for OHVing in that area, and that season is not during the Winter! Peak season is June through September when school is out. Though there are many places to stay, they do book up well in advance of the Summer season, so plan your trip early. Spend some time on lakecity.com to find accommodations, food, and local attractions and activities. Most places in Lake City do stay open the majority of the year. That is not the case is all of the mountain towns.
- Allow Several Days To Explore- You can cover the Alpine Loop from Lake City to Silverton and back in a long day, but with some many side trails and roads to explore, you need more time than a day or even two. In reality, you need more than a single trip. Be sure to make the trip to Silverton (website link below), and allow time to check out the shops and eat. Also, make a trip to Wager Gulch and see old ghost town of Carson. There is so much to see and do.
- Be Prepared- The list would be long with the items you might want to carry on the trail with you should the worst happen. If you have a reliable ATV or UTV, and carry some basic items such as food and water, then you should be good. Most of these roads are well traveled, so if you have a problem, someone should be along to help. The number one thing I would say is to be prepared for the weather changing. You can start off at 75 degrees at the bottom of a trail, get up the trail to a driving rain, and end up in a snow storm, all in July. Some of these passes touch the 13,000 foot mark, so bring the right clothing and gear to deal with that.
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.
What You Need To Know
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. You can also drive on many but not all Silverton streets.