The Alpine Loop Mountain Bike Ride is an awesome trip, long, intense, but incredibly scenic. The ridge between Engineer Pass (12,780 ft.) and Cinnamon Pass (12,620 ft.) is worth the entire trip.The route between the passes follows an exposed ridge above tree line with views in all directions for miles. The route passes old mining ruins and ghost towns like Capitol homestead. Mill Creek and Henson Creeks are lovely drainages. The route looks down into Silverton and Ouray and the 14'ers in the area, Redcloud, Sunshine, Handies, Uncompahgre, and the Wetterhorn, are all visible.
The route is mainly on well maintained 4WD roads that are well signed. There are even several bathrooms placed along the way. Take plenty of water, food and rain gear since it's very exposed on top. The Alpine Loop was one of BLM's first Scenic Byways. Outside magazine listed the Alpine Loop as one of the 10 best rides in the country.
Getting There: The starting location is typically in Lake City, Colorado. There are a number of motels and RV camprounds in Lake City.
Distance: 52 Miles, 5,630 ft. Elevation Gain, Mostly on 4WD roads at high elevations (>12,000 ft.), some steep climbs.
- Backroads of the San Juan Mountains, Alpine Loop Scenic Backcountry Byway Map, Backcountry Travelers Inc., 340 Lakewood Drive, Durango, CO 81301, 303-259-4616, 1994, ISBN: 1928759009 - A very detailed 4WD strip map of the route sometimes available in Lake City and available from Amazon.com.
- Durango, Silverton, Telluride, Pagosa Springs, and Cortez Bike Map, Trails Illustrated #504, also available from Amazon or Trails Illustrated.
- Bicycle On Public Lands of Southwest Colorado, Third Edition. - See Ride #39 - Lake City Overnight.
- BLM Gunnison Office - The Alpine Explorer, a 20-page guide to the area is available from the BLM and the Western Colorado Interpretive Association for $2.50 (make checks payable to WCIA). They have lots of other publications available.
- GORP Alpine Loop - Generic writeup.
- The Mill Creek (BLM) and Williams Creek Campgrounds are upstream (west) of San Cristobal Lake and have first-come access. If you're coming downhill you can load up with water at Mill Creek for the rest of the downhill ride.
- There are several grocery stores, gas stations, and motels in Lake City.
- There are additional side trips if you haven't had enough. At the turn to Engineer Pass you will see the old mining town of Animas Forks several hundred feet of elevation below. This is an interesting side trip but you have a lot of climbing to get Sback to the junction.
- You could also start in Silverton or Ouray.
- There are also rides out of Silverton.
- Bag a couple of 14'ers.
- Cottonwood Creek Trail (BLM)
- Wager Gulch Trail (BLM).
- Rio Grande National Forest.
- Rio Grande National Forest trails east of Lake City towards Slumgullion Pass.
Alpine Loop CueSheet // 52 Miles, 5630 ft. Elevation Gain
Mileage Description ~18 miles
4380 ft elevation gain
Lake City via Henson Creek to Engineer Pass. Begin on 2WD roads for about 12 miles when the road degrades to 4WD drive. Pass the old Capitol homestead. Pass Thoreau Cabin on the way up to Engineer Pass. The section past Thoreau is very steep, have low gears. ~6.5 Miles
~1250 ft. elevation gain
Engineer Pass to Cinnamon Pass. Take time to catch your breath and savor the view. Uncompaghre, the Vetterhorn, the Matterhorn are visible to the north. Dropping down from Engineer Pass, pass Engineer Mountain, view the mountains near Ouray. Pass the turnoff to Ouray on the right, it's signed. The turnoff to Cinnamon Pass is above Animas Forks which has lots of interesting mining structures but you don't descend into Animas Forks. The sign for Cinnimon Pass is on the left, bolted to the wall, and can be missed so watch for it. The climb up to Cinnimon Pass is steeper than Engineer Pass, so save something for it. From Cinnimon Pass you have views of the long descent with Handies Peak and Redcloud Peaks. ~20 Miles Almost All downhill Savor the views on the descent to pavement at San Cristobal Lake. Pass the trailhead for Handies Peak, and Sunshine and Redcloud Peaks. At about 14 miles pass Mill Creek Campground where there is water. The road from Handies Peak trailhead downhill is 2WD and well-maintained. ~6.5 Miles of Pavement More mostly downhill into Lake City.Turn left at the intersection at 149 going down to Lake City not up Slugmullion Pass!