Hinsdale County, Colorado
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Trail Type: Straight Through
Nearby Towns: Lake City, Silverton, Ouray
Nearby Trails: Mineral Creek, California Gulch, Cinnamon Pass, Hurricane Basin, North Henson Road, Nellie Creek
Trail Length: 23.4 miles
Elevation: 8,712 to 12,993 feet
One of Colorado's most scenic offroad drives is the Alpine Loop, a combination of this trail and the Cinnamon Pass trail. Though you can drive the loop in either direction, it is most typically driven west on Cinnamon Pass and east on Engineer Pass. You can drive the loop in any SUV with good clearance, though you may find challenges in some spots on the west end of the trail. It is usually a busy trail, so if you have troubles it will probably not be long before someone finds you.
The trail starts at the creek crossing in Animas Forks, a scenic and interesting ghost town that is worth some exploration. The trail begins climbing immediately from the trailhead as it passes the end of the Cinnamon Pass trailhead, and it continues climbing for a bit until the actual pass. This is the most intimidating section of the trail, a steep climb up a shelf road. Be very careful if you must pass a vehicle.
A good stop to catch your breath is at Oh Point, a left turn off of the main trail that leads you down a brief spur to an amazing overlook. You can see the overlook from the main trail, and it is not far. It is flat on the overlook, with plenty of room to park and take pictures.
Continue along the trail to find signs for Engineer Pass as you cross the Continental Divide. It is desolate but beautiful.
Your descent continues as you travel down the mountain along Henson Creek. You will follow this creek all the way to the end of the trail in Lake City, and it makes for some gorgeous scenery.
There are many sights along the way, and almost all of them are marked with informative signs. These make great places to stop and learn about the surroundings. If you have the time and the inclination, a great stop is at Whitmore Falls, marked with a sign. Park here and walk a short distance to an overlook for the falls, or continue along the steep hike to work your way all the way down to the falls themselves. The hike back up is steep but not very long.
Capitol City is a small, restored collection of buildings at the intersection with North Henson Road. The trail is very easy from this point to the end. You can see many mines and ruins along the trail, and when you are nearly to Lake City there are some areas of private land. Be sure to stay on the trail and observe the signs that mark when the trail passes between public and private land areas.
The trail ends in the tiny town of Lake City where you can pick up highway 149. Head south on the highway for a brief distance to pick up the Cinnamon Pass trail to continue the Alpine Loop.
Information last updated on August 30th, 2009.
From Silverton, drive northeast on Greene Street and keep right on Highway 110. Follow this easy road to the ghost town of Animas Forks. Find the trailhead at the bridge that crosses the creek.
Meet at the Silverton Grocery in Silverton or in the ghost town of Animas Forks, which has a pit toilet.