Imogene – Bolam Pass Loop

108 mile loop covering 5 passes above 10,000′ in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Imogene Pass and Bolam Pass are dirt while Red Mountain, Molas, and Lizard Head are paved. Dispersed camping is available near Lizard Head on the Galloping Goose Trail and along Bolam Pass Road.  Pay sites are available at Cayton Campground on 145 and multiple locations in Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton.

 

Dispersed campsite near Lizard Head Pass on Galloping Goose Trail

From Lizard Head Pass proceed 12.2 miles North on 145. If you need fuel be sure to stop at the Conoco near the 145 roundabout. Turn east along the valley floor into downtown Telluride, but watch your speed. If you’re not properly loaded with caffeine and calories you can find several bistros for a quick breakfast.

One of the tricks to finding the start of the Imogene Pass road is that Oak Street doesn’t intersect the main drag, Colorado Avenue.  Make your way a block North and look for a left turn onto Oak Street up the hill. Imogene Pass road will be on the right as you come to the end of the pavement.

The start of Imogene Pass Road.  Houses in Telluride are visible on the right.

It’s 10.2 miles from the traffic circle to the 13,114′ pass. Plan 30 minutes moving at a continuous pace or an hour if you’re enjoying photo stops and exploration of the historic Tomboy Mine.   For extra insight be sure to read Tomboy Bride, the story of life at the mine town-site in the early 1900’s. A copy is available at several book-stores in town.

Stunning views along the Telluride side of Imogene Pass Road

Watch for wooden bridges, exposed drops, wash-outs, and a few creek crossings as conditions change with the weather and snow-melt.

The Tomboy Mine site still hosts equipment, pilings, and ore carts rusting in place.

Looking west from the Tomboy Mine you can make out the road on the far mountainside.  Porta-toilets were available at the mine site during our last visit. Near Tomboy the trees thin and the road cuts a rocky path across low grass.

Rocky cliff faces on Imogene Pass Road above tree-line.

Route finding can require back-tracking. Several Y’s in the road visit mine tailing sites or other mine ruins.  Keep your headlight pointed uphill and eventually you’ll come to a series of switch-backs that lead to the pass.

Viewing looking west from Imogene Pass

During peak season the pass can be a traffic jam of RZR’s, bikes, and jeeps.  Visit after Labor Day to avoid crowds, but the snow starts flying in mid-September, so dress appropriately.

It’s 5 miles from Imogene Pass to the graded gravel of Camp Bird Road. If you’re not proficient at braking on steep, rocky, loose downhill two-track…you’re about to get a lot of practice.  The road from Imogene Pass down to the Camp Bird Mine is rocky and littered with small boulders.  Keep even pressure on the brakes and bleed speed when the traction is good to stay under control.

Rocky trail from Imogene Pass to Camp Bird Mine

Once you’ve descended below tree-line there are several shaded lunch spots along the creek. If it’s early in the season or has recently rained a few of the water crossings will be more spirited, so use caution.  During sunny days in mid- to late-season the water is only 8-10″ deep.

Water crossing between Imogene Pass and Camp Bird Road

After a 5.0 miles of rocky descent you enter the Camp Bird area. Stay on the designated road and make your way past the abandoned mine houses.  A few hundred yards later merge onto Camp Bird Road,  a graded, gravel path that winds 5.3 miles to Ouray. Several photo worthy stops line the road. In Ouray you can find gas, lunch, hot springs, and a beer if it’s time to relax.

Red Mountain Brewing has tasty burgers and excellent sweet potato fries

Once you’re fueled and fed in Ouray turn South on US 550, the Million Dollar Highway.

Riding south on US 550 between Red Mountain Pass and Silverton

From Ouray it’s 22 miles of twisty, mountain hugging blacktop to Silverton and 43.8 miles to the dirt passage over Bolam Pass. Historical markers along this stretch tell the story of early miners and describe construction of the road on which you’re riding.

Gas is available near Silverton at a Conoco station on the west side of 550. If you’re camping near Silverton you can fill up water jugs at the Silverton Chamber of Commerce across from the Conoco station.  The water spout is on the NE side of the building.

Depart Silverton and 6.3 miles later you’ll be cresting the paved Molas Pass where Pennsylvanian age rocks make up the surrounding hillsides.  The characteristic terraced pattern is created by alternating layers of resistant sandstone and weaker shale.  The sand forms the hard benches while the shale erodes away leaving a smoothly graded terrace up to the next bench. Educational placards just above the small pass parking lot describe geologic features of interest.  For more information check out Roadside Geology of Colorado.

In need of a break? Pit toilets are available at Molas Pass.

Glaciated valleys and terraced hillsides underlain by Pennsylvanian Age rocks surround Molas Pass in San Juan County, Colorado

From Molas Pass it’s 14.3 miles to the turn onto dirt at Purgatory Resort.  Look for a dirt turnoff just north of Purgatory resort, 578. Navigate 0.5 miles through the lower roads of the ski resort past a few condos and look for the signs for Hermosa Park Road.

Hermosa Park Road, 578, exits out the north side of Purgatory Resort

Continue to follow signs for Hermosa Park, 578, and Bolam Pass to reach the summit after 17.3 miles. Numerous dispersed campsites are available along the route making it popular for other outdoor enthusiasts.  We came across several mountain bike groups, fisherman, and RZR’s.

Red roads navigate up to Bolam Pass 17.3 miles from Purgatory Resort

If the weather cooperates Bolam Pass will treat you to a stunning view of Grizzly Peak, San Miguel Peak, and the Lizard Head Wilderness to the north.

View north near Bolam Pass

It’s all downhill from here as the alpine meadows give way to dense forest and V shaped valleys.  The road hugs the valley wall as it descends 7.2 miles towards Cayton Campground and 145.

Bolam Pass to Cayton Campground is all downhill.

Rough road. That’s the good stuff. 

 

Approaching 145 the path flattens to smooth, single lane gravel

Turn northeast (right) onto 145 at Cayton Campground to return 6.4 miles to Lizard Head Pass, the starting point.

Enjoy the ride!

 

Name: Imogene Bolam Pass Loop

Nearby Towns: Ouray, Telluride, Silverton, Durango

Distance: 108 miles

Description: 2 rocky dirt passes connected by twisty, mountain hugging pavement

Also Explore: Hot springs in Ouray, Alpine Loop, and historic markers

Fees: None

Camping: Lizard Head Pass, Cayton Campground, Dispersed camping along Bolam Pass Road

GPS Data: Available on the Dispatch GPS Page