San Juan Mountains Rides
The San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado are some of the most dramatic scenic areas anywhere. In the San Juans you can hike, climb 14'ers, mountain bike, backcountry telemark in the winter, mountain bike, and road bike, and more. The following are a few road rides in the San Juans popular with club members. All the routes have extensive views in all directions of the peaks of the San Juans. You climb through aspen groves to the spruce forests on Red Mountain Pass. Lower down you climb through aspen groves. There has been extensive mining in the area, especially around Silverton and Ouray and there are numerous abandoned mining structures along the route. You can base camp in Durango, Ouray, or Silverton.
The following are organized rides that have ridden through the San Juans. It is not a complete list:
Iron Horse Bicycle Classic - Annual race and citizen's race (ride), Durango - Silverton, 47 miles, 5700 ft. elevation gain.
Ride the Rockies Route Archives - e.g., 2002, 1996, 1992, 1991, 1987.
Pedal The Peaks - 2001, 1995.
Bicycle Tour of Colorado - 2002.
Tour The Peaks ...
Durango - Silverton - 47 miles, 5700 ft. elevation gain over Coal Bank Pass and Molas Divide (Iron Horse Bicycle Classic).
Ouray to Silverton Climb - 22 miles, 3700 ft. elevation gain north to south over Red Mountain Pass.
Ouray to Durango Climb and Descent - 70 miles, 6,030' elevation gain over Red Mountain Pass, Molas Divide, and Coal Bank Pass.
Silverton to Ouray - 22 miles, 1730' elevation gain south to north over Red Mountain Pass.
Ouray to Ridgeway - CR17 is a fine dirt county road that starts at Oak St. in Ouray and goes gradually downhill all the way to Ridgeway, about 12 miles. This stays well above and west of US550 and passes lakes, ponds, and has great views and no traffic. CR17 eventually hits CR23 and goes west then winds south into Ridgeway. CR17 can be used to access the KOA about 5 miles south of Ouray. The road is packed dirt, not deep gravel and is usually in pretty good condition.
Roadway: US550: There is usually light traffic north of Durango in the mornings but there is moderate traffic in the afternoons. There can be heavy traffic near Durango in the summer or on holidays. There is a nice shoulder on 550 in both directions from Durango to the ski area. From Cascade Village north 550 is two lanes without shoulders but there is less traffic all the way to Ridgeway. There is very light traffic in the early mornings. There is occasional road damage to watch for. Some of the worst pavement over Red Mountain Pass has been recently repaved. Most drivers are courteous but there is always the occasional jerk like anywhere. Watch out for the the fools driving their mobile homes (literally) over the passes while towing a spare car. There are some narrow curves with 15 mph speeds for a reason. The semis are usually professional and usually give way when they can so give them a break too. On some descents you can easily go faster than the cars in places. There are maybe 4 sets of S-curves on the Red Mountain to Ouray section. These are fun but watch for gravel.
North of Durango, the "Trimble Hot Springs road" back road begins at the Days Inn ~1.5 miles north of Durango and parallels 550 on the west for about 7 miles to about the first climb beginning at Hermosa. It has a few rises and falls and goes past the Trimble Hot Springs, houses, orchards, and being higher provides some good views of the Animas valley with almost no traffic.
San Juan National Forest | San Juan National Forest Map
There is a convienence store at Needles, south of the Durango ski area. There are grocery stores in Silverton, Ouray, and Ridgeway. The Ouray grocery store is closed on Sundays. There are convience stores outside Ridgeway and a Subway.
Durango - Silverton Climb
The Durango to Silverton Climb begins in Durango (6,500') and climbs over Coal Bank Pass (10,660') and Molas Divide (10,900') to Silverton (9,300'). The annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has a sanctioned race up this route and has a citizen's race (ride). The Iron Horse is nice because US550 from the ski area to Silverton is closed to motorized traffic in both directions from 0830am to 1200noon. The whole route has a constantly changing view of the spectacular San Juan Mountains: Engineer Mountain and the Twilight Peaks are just a few of the peaks along the way. Out of Durango you climb through aspen groves following the Animas River. You can take the train back to Durango after the ride. There aren't any showers in Silverton.
The first few miles north to Hermosa are flat and fairly fast unless there is a drainage headwind. Then there are a couple of steep climbs before the ski area. The final climb up the 6 miles to Coal Bank from Cascade Village is quite steep and narrow. Then there is a fast descent between Coal Bank and the saddle before the climb up Molas Divide. As you descend you get a good view of the climb up Molas Divide, it's not as bad as it looks. The climb up Molas is not quite as steep as Coal Bank but there are some narrow spots where cars get ansey trying to pass. Then the descent down to Silverton is fast and over in just a few minutes. There are a couple of really nice overlooks of Silverton on the descent. The descent's surface has some damage and bumps so you have to take care. Molas and Coal Bank both have bathrooms on the top. Or you could take the train from Durango to Silverton with your bike and have an easy day.
Distance: 47 miles, 5700 ft. elevation gain
Iron Horse CueSheet // Approximate Distances and Elevations
Leg Mileage Elevation Gain (Feet) Leg Description
Iron Horse Inn to Bakers Bridge
Bakers Bridge to Haviland Lake
Haviland Lake to Cascade
Cascade to Coal Bank Pass (steep)
Coal Bank to Lime Creek
Lime Creek to Molas Pass
Molas Divide to Silverton
Silverton to Ouray Climb
The climb from Silverton (9,300') begins with a fairly moderate climb until the big switchback. Then it is steep until the pass, although probably not as steep as Coal Bank Pass. Then you have a fast descent. Be careful there are several tight hairpin turns on the descent on the north side of Red Mountain Pass. Pay attention to the pavement through the snow shed and the tunnel. There are a couple of really nice overlooks of Ouray.
Distance: 22 miles, 1730' elevation gain.
Ouray to Silverton
Riding south from Ouray (7,760') to Silverton (9,300') you are climbing out of Ouray on the outside of the road looking steeply down into Uncompaghre River. There are no guard rails and you are on the outside of the road as you ascend which give great views of the river and the gorge below. Once on Red Mountain Pass (11,018') stop to savor the views. The descent is quite fast but there has been some repaving of the really bad surfaces.
Distance: 22 miles, 3,700' elevation gain.
Ouray to Durango
Riding south from Ouray (7,760') to Durango (6,500') you are climbing out of Ouray on the outside of the road looking steeply down into Uncompaghre River. There are no guard rails and you are on the outside of the road as you ascend which give great views of the river and the gorge below. Once on Red Mountain Pass (11,018') stop to savor the views.
The descent from Red Mountain Pass is quite fast but there has been some repaving of the really bad surfaces. The majority of the pavement down to Silverton is in good shape.
Then there is a hard climb out of Silverton to Molas Divide which provide great views of Silverton, Kendall Peak, the Twilight Peaks, and the Grenadiers. The pavement isn't great near Silverton. There is a rest stop and bathrooms on Molas Divide. Then there is a sharp descent to Lime Creek followed by an ascent passing a small waterfall on the right to Coal Bank Pass.
Finally, there is the long, fast, picturesque, descent south towards Durango. We don't need no stinking brakes! There is a convienence store at Needles. There is a warm springs on the east side of the road at a pull-out north of Hermosa. The final 14 miles from Hermosa or so to Durango are pretty flat. Since Durango is lower than Ouray you are mainly going downhill. From Cascade Village all the way to Durango there are good shoulders most of the way. The descent from the railroad crossing is straight and quite fast.
Distance: ~68 miles (depending on where you start/finish), 6,030' total elevation gain and even more loss.
Durango to Ouray Elevation Profile
Note that the small spikes are spurious artifacts of the software. Durango (6,500') to Ouray (7,760') one-way.
Gunnison - Durango - Telluride Loop
Gunnison - Durango - Telluride Loop // Approximate Distances and Elevations
Leg Mileage Elevation Gain (Ft) Leg Description
Gunnison to Creede (via South fork)
Creede to Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs to Durango (via CO151)
Durango to Telluride
Telluride to Delta
Delta to Gunnison
Gunnison Loop Profile