Exploring San Juan Mountains in South Western Colorado

coloradostoryXPs on Poughkeepsie Gulch TrailHigh in the San Juan Mountains of south western Colorado awaits an alpine UTV adventure like no other. After hearing statements, stories and reports like this from several different sources we decided to make a late summer trek to Colorado and see the area for ourselves.

For this trip, the tiny town of Silverton would serve as our base. Silverton is an 1800s era mining town of only 640 residents and sits at 9,300 ft elevation. Founded in 1874 the little town is made up mostly of old original buildings, including hotels, restaurants, bars and small shops. Besides the few small 1800s style hotels there are four privately owned full service campgrounds located within the town limits. You can legally drive your UTV on designated routes in Silverton, including the main route right through the middle of town. Silverton has only one gas station however, and unfortunately due to Colorado State regulations it isn’t accessible to UTVs. For this reason visitors should be prepared with gas cans, or to trailer their UTV across Highway 550 to reach the gas station.

coloradostoryXP2 Poughkeepsie Gulch
coloradostoryXP4 Poughkeepsie Gulch
coloradostoryXPs xing river

coloradostoryXP4After arriving, unloading and settling into camp we sat down and started planning out our rides. The most popular attraction in the area is a 65 mile route known as the Alpine Loop, where the trail crosses over two high mountain passes that exceed 12,000 ft elevation. Furthermore as the spectacular loop trail traverses the San Juan Mountains you pass amongst seemingly endless mountain peaks, six of which tower over 14,000 ft elevation. The “Loop” serves as a main route with several incredibly beautiful steep canyon and gulch trails extending out from either side. The entire area provides hundreds of miles of trails and the area is rich in early mining history, including many explorable old mining settlements and mine ruins. The alpine scenery of the area is like nothing we have experienced on any previous outing.

The exceptionally rugged high country is dominated by flowing water. Brooks, streams, waterfalls & rivers seem to flow down every drainage area, all of which are fed by the prevalent springs and giant snow patches that dot the high country landscape, even in late summer everything was green and the plentiful alpine flowers were incredible!

coloradostoryCinnamon Pass

coloradostoryXP4 Poughkeepsie Gulch Trail

coloradostoryXPs on Poughkeepsie Gulch 103

coloradostoryXPs on trailEqually as impressive as the scenery is the heritage and engineering feats of the 18th century miners that extracted precious metal ore from the incredibly rugged mountains. During our day’s rides we spent hours exploring the many mining ruins that are up and down nearly every trail. The trails of the area ranged from smooth, wide and fast, to narrow, twisty, and steep – and include many ‘don’t look down’ moments. There are a few routes that are rated ‘Expert’, which our Polaris RZR XPs easily conquered, however easier by-pass routes around the tougher obstacles are available and well marked. In the six days that we spent exploring the area we logged in excess of 350 miles in our RZR XPs and barely touched all the available trails in the area.

Due to the elevation and the heavy winter snows the trail system is typically only accessible between June and September. Go prepared for rapidly changing summer weather conditions. While we were there we experienced temperatures ranging from the mid 70s to the high 30s as well as short periods of rain and hail. Navigating the trail network was never an issue. All routes are well marked and there are several different trail maps available for the area both online and at various businesses in the area. Our favorite was actually the Alpine Loop GPS map that we downloaded for free using the Avenza PDF app. We were able to use our GPS enabled wireless device to see exactly where we were on the map at anytime, despite not having any type of wireless service.


coloradostoryXP4 & snow bank

coloradostoryXPs on Poughkeepsie Gulch 92

Looking back we had a very enjoyable trip & definitely plan to return to the area to continue exploring ad taking in all of the incredible beauty Colorado offers.

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