Black Bear Pass
San Miguel County, Colorado
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Nearby Towns: Telluride, Ouray, Silverton
Nearby Trails: Imogene Pass, Ophir Pass, Bullion King Lake, Red Mountain Pass
Trail Length: 9.23 miles
Elevation: 9,066 to 12,859 feet
Recommended by Bob R.
Recommended by Dave E.
Recommended by Jeffrey
Recommended by Ladd
Recommended by Randy
Recommended by Roger
This is one of the most famous trails in the state and for good reason. It's beautiful and slightly terrifying. You travel from south of Ouray to Telluride over Black Bear Pass, around Ingram Basin, and across Ingram Falls to encounter some deadly switchbacks.
The trail starts out at a large area to air down just off the highway. You climb almost immediately and start working your way to the pass. Keep going to your right if you can't tell which trail is correct. It makes sense if you keep trying to get to the top of the ridge and to Black Bear Pass.
Once you get to the pass at 3.2 miles you are treated to a beautiful view and lots of open space. The trail starts down the pass and you work your way around a shelf road with Ingram Basin and Ingram Lake below you. Ingram Peak looks over the scenery here.
Don't go down into the basin valley -- continue along the shelf. Soon you'll be able to catch your first glimpse of Telluride far below, and you'll be able to see Telluride almost all the time until you finally reach it.
The switchbacks start soon after you leave Ingram Basin. There are a few different lines to take but they're all about the same difficulty. They keep getting tougher as you follow Ingram Creek.
At 6.5 miles the switchbacks above the creek become their most terrifying. This is perhaps the most unnerving part of the trail, contrary to what you may have read in other reports. It is a shelf road of rock with loose sand on it and you must go downhill at a steep angle, turning to your right at the bottom. The entire time all you have in front of you is Telluride thousands of feet below you. Go slowly and carefully. You may not want to tackle this hill if it is wet, as it has claimed the life of at least one wheeler.
When you get around the corner the trail becomes shelf road and even widens a bit. You come around the corner to actually drive over a shallow part of Ingram Falls. You can get out here and take pictures, though there really isn't anywhere to get out of the way if there are others behind you (the trail is one way here).
After passing a mine that is almost lost to the elements you begin more tight switchbacks of loose dirt and rocks. The tightest switchback is here and one you have probably read about. Don't get too close to the edge (it's loose) and take it slowly, backing up as often as you need to.
There are more switchbacks and each one gets a little wider. Eventually you end up at the Bridal Veil Falls Powerhouse and a gate. This is private property though you can walk a bit closer. There is a sign stating you should not block the gate or roadway, but there is room to pull over after the switchback at the Powerhouse, past the sign stating the trail is one way past that point up to the top.
There is a great place to park on a big switchback where you can hike a short distance to stand in the spray at the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls. Here, you can truly appreciate how far the water falls to to the pools at the bottom. This brief but rocky hike is highly recommended.
Work your way down the switchbacks and you will find yourself in Telluride at the Pandora Mill. This is the main street in town.
Information last updated on September 19th, 2014.
- September 19, 2014: ran by Roger and Walt
- August 29, 2008: ran by Don, Michael and Walt
- August 21, 2004: ran by Aaron N., Bob S., Bob R., Brian E., Jon G., Ladd, Mike S., Mike C. and Monica
From Ouray take Highway 550 south for 13 miles. Just after the sign for Red Mountain Pass you can see a pull out area on the right and the start of the trail, marked with a sign.
Meet at the Hot Springs Pool parking lot on Main Street in Ouray.