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Exploring the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway

The Alpine Loop sits like a crown upon the San Juan Mountains.  Its gravel roads lead you through high alpine meadows and forests, up above timberline and into the tundra, and over two high elevation passes.

An oval route with several side spurs, the Alpine Loop connects the three “town jewels” of Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City, Colorado.

Originally built as toll roads for the stage coaches and freighters of the late 1800s gold and silver hard-rock mining boom, these roads are now a network of access into our nation’s frontier history.

Scattered all along the Alpine Loop are the remnants of these mining boom days.  Points of historic interest include ghost towns, abandoned mining camps, cabins, and the ruins of mills and other mining structures that were built from the mid-1870s through the early 1900s.

Natural wonders are everywhere as well, and include waterfalls, rare wildlife, spectacular fields of wildflowers, and geologic features such as jagged volcanic peaks, glacier-carved cirques, and canyons.

Read one visitor’s account of his trip around the Alpine Loop in this article from AAA Encompass magazine.

Engineer Pass, 12,800 feet in elevation, on the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway. Photo by Mary Carkin.

Important Road Conditions Information

Significant parts of the Alpine Loop are accessible by regular, two-wheel drive vehicles.  The highest and most spectacular areas are accessible only by high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles.  If you do not have this kind of vehicle, you can rent one in any of the surrounding towns, or hire a tour provider to drive you.

Weather and road conditions can change quickly in the mountains.  Always check on conditions and forecasts before heading out on your journey.

Portions of the Alpine Loop are closed during winter.  There is no winter road maintenance in some areas.  The road may become inaccessible at any time.

Always check on local conditions before heading out. Do not attempt to drive on un-plowed and/or un-maintained roads.

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