Gunnison County Road 12, commonly known as Kebler Pass, runs between SR 133 between Paonia State Park and Crested Butte. This is a gravel road, closed in the winter, but passable by passenger car otherwise – as long as it is not really wet. Then one might be better in 4WD. The summit is neared Crested Butte at 10000′, and the road is about 33 miles in length and takes at lease two hours to traverse.
Why travel along Kebler Pass road? There are many areas for camping, hiking and biking, and includes a couple of beautiful mountain lakes called Lake Irwin and Lost Lake. The road is part of the West Elk Loop, which runs for 205 miles starting in Carbondale along SR 133 and winding through Crested Butte, Gunnison, Poania and several other towns.
The views of the West Elk Mountains, Ruby Ridge, Marcellina Mountain, West and East Beckwith Peaks and Gunnison National Forest are spectacular. This is especially true in late September and early October when the aspens are turning color from green to yellow and sometimes to oranges and reds.
Interestingly Aspens have a single root system, are a clonal colony and are a true single living organism. Some believe that the areas along Kebler Pass road form the largest aspen forest in the US. During our travels this recent fall, we felt that the single most spectacular area was along Kebler Pass. Plan your next visit to Colorado for this season and you will not be disappointed.
Just outside the west side of Aspen, one can take a 13 mile paved road to the ghost town of Ashcroft. The road runs along the Castle Creek valley, and is surrounded by expansive forests of aspens which provide a rainbow of colors across the valley. It is indeed an awe-inspiring drive.
Ashcroft was established in 1880 during the silver boom in Colorado. At one point the town had more than 2000 residents. The old buildings are very photogenic and cap off a beautiful drive.
If one continues for a few miles beyond the ghost town, the views of the valley and Castle Peak at 14000′ are wonderful. For the 4WD fanatics there are two rough roads continuing up into the mountains. Very little opportunity exist to torn around or to pass other vehicles, so be cautious.
A few miles south of Breckenridge on Route 9, partway up to Hoosier Pass, is a gravel road which runs about two miles or so into a valley beside Quandary Peak. The trail leads to a pair of lakes called Blue Lakes. The upper lake is formed by a dam, and the road ends at a parking lot just below the dam. A stream runs from the dam, down a steep hill and into the lower lake. This is a great spot for hiking, camping, fishing and creature watching.
In the morning at the upper parking area, one can often spot mountain goats in the surrounding hillsides. At times the goats will hang around the parking lot looking for handouts and licking salt off the cars. One can also spot marmots on the hillside along the road.
There is also a gravel road, best for 4WD vehicles, which runs to the left before one reaches the lower parking lot. This road runs along the south side of Lower Blue Lake up to a small parking area just below the waterfalls. A short hike gets you to the waterfalls themselves.
This road, just outside Breckenridge, CO, crosses the range where it divides the headwaters of the Blue River (a tributary to the Colorado River) to the north with the headwaters of the South Platte River to the south. It is traversed by Forest Service Road 33, a gravel road passable by two wheel drive vehicles in spring, summer and early fall. The road runs from Breckenridge in the north to Como, near Fairplay, in the south. This is a great road to travel in the spring and summer for wildflowers, and in the fall for spectacular aspen colors.
The pass was known as Breckenridge Pass in the 1860’s when it served as an early route for prospectors during the Colorado gold rush. In 1866 it was widened for wagons and stagecoaches. In 1882 Union Pacific began laying narrow gauge tracks up the spur. A roundhouse, still in existence, was constructed at Como. The rail line over the pass was a major engineering feat because of winter snows at the high peak altitude of 11,500′. A town of Boreas, now a ghost town, was constructed at the summit, primarily to house workers to clear the line in winter.
The road is 19.8 miles long, and features beautiful wildflowers in season. There is an old water tank partway up from Breckenridge which was used by the steam engines crossing the pass. The rise up is populated by a mass of aspen trees, while the area near the end at Como also has massive forests of aspens in the adjacent hills.
We visited Crested Butte last month, and discovered an off-road trail from Crested Butte to Paradise Divide, and back through Gothic to Crested Butte. This is an easy (but should be done with a 4WD vehicle) and remarkedly scenic loop that traverses two river valleys and crosses Schofield Pass near the loop’s northern apex. The road serves as a connector to numerous other 4WD roads. Autumn colors are spectacular.
The route begins about a mile or so north of Crested Butte and winds along the Slate River Valley past Oh Be Joyful Creek, a number of campgrounds and the little town (?) of Pittsburg. As the road gets further up the valley it begins a number of switchbacks high up to Paradise Divide at 11266′ elevation. At that point the trail winds down past Emerald Lake to Gothic, and runs along the East River valley back to Crested Butte. The loop is 21.5 miles in length and takes about two hours. An interesting fact is that about two miles from the summit, another spur runs over Schofeld Pass, through a rocky section called the Devil’s Punchbowl and on down to Marble.
There are many off-road trails in Colorado. One of the more interesting areas is in the Lake City-Silverton-Ouray triangle. One can drive from Lake City to Ouray over Engineer Pass, to Silverton via Cinnamon Pass or run the Alpine Loop (60 miles) and cross both Engineer and Cinnamon Passes. The trail from Lake City to Silverton is a 25.5 mile trail which winds along the Gunnison River for a while, then climbs to the Pass at 12600′ and heads down past the old ghost town of Animas Forks and on to Silverton.
Cinnamon Pass was used by Charles Baker in 1860 to access the area where Silverton is today when he was exploring for gold. In 1874 the Hayden Survey party crossed the Pass; the team did not feel that the Pass would make a viable route due to its altitude and steepness. The trails were used extensively in the 1800’s during the gold and silver boom in the San Juan Mountains.The Bureau of Land Management now manages and maintains the trail from start to finish.
We are off road initiates and new owners of a Jeep Wrangler. During a recent tour of Colorado we tried several trails including Cinnamon Pass. I had actually been over the Pass about 15 years ago in a Mercedes SUV, which was adequate but not ideal. Our Jeep, nicknamed “Nickel”, was great. The road is not very rough, but is a true off-road trail and tests one’s fortitude with narrow shelf roads and some of the inclines. Along the way we ran into ghost towns, mines and scenic overlooks . The overlooks are plentiful. Our transition from Lake City to Silverton took about three hours, with very few stops.