When searching for off-road trails in Colorado, adventurers are both embracing and embodying the spirit of The Centennial State. Whether those trails lead to four-wheel, two-wheel or pedestrian activities, the simple truth is that they’re simply answering the siren’s call of the U.S. state that attracts more people than almost any other. And for good reason…
How many of you are there out there? Those who, like myself, ‘answered the call’…leaving behind the trappings of your home, upbringing, maybe even a fully-formed adult life in order to move cross-country and pursue everything that Colorado has to offer? For me, it was early August of 2001, a pre-9/11 world where my (now almost impossibly-young) 23 year-old self packed up a 1995 Dodge Stratus full of belongings and made his way out to Fort Collins for adventures untold. Feels like a lifetime ago and – sure – some of the details might be a little bit blurry, but many more of the memories are both clear and held dear.
It’s hardly a unique story. In recent years, Colorado has experienced one of the largest population boons of any state (bested only by North Dakota from 2010-2015). As of 2016, it had still earned 7th place among fast-growing U.S. states and – here’s a fun fact – in 2018 Denver was able to boast that it had the 4th largest number of construction cranes among major U.S. cities. Granted, one doesn’t move to Colorado to enjoy construction-littered landscapes, but continual development is certainly necessary in order to support such impressive growth.
There are all kinds of reasons why people seek out a new life in Colorado. It stands as one of the top-ranking states in terms of employment opportunities, displaying a firm presence by the information technology, construction, and wholesale trade industries. And while promising employment opportunities might be enough to attract almost anyone, one requires an understanding of the type(s) of people that Colorado attracts (and why) in order to truly understand the phenomenon.
The Call of Healthy Living
With an near-endless playground of various terrains, altitudes and outdoor playgrounds it’s no surprise that Colorado ranks as one of the healthiest states. The opportunity to engage with everything that nature has to offer, tends to attract adventurous, athletic and healthy individuals. And that focus on health speaks to more than just physical health. Coloradoans simply tend to be more healthy than their counterparts in other sates, both mentally and emotionally. Happy to be outdoors, and happier as a result of being outdoors, it’s an almost cyclical relationship. And that enthusiastic desire to get outside whenever possible, influences all areas of Colorado life – including our car-buying decisions. Simply put, it’s no surprise that four-wheel drive capabilities are important to so many, as is general versatility and cargo options to accommodate gear.
So whether you spend your time behind the wheel of a well-equipped Jeep Wrangler or even a beat up Subaru, let’s take a look at some of the best off-roading Colorado has to offer.
Why waste time, right? Providing elevations up to 13,185 ft this 12.5-mile trail ranks as the highest elevated path in Colorado that allows motorized vehicle traffic. Due to aggressive snowfall and limited visibility during the winter months, this is a season trail best traveled between the months of July and September. But its combination of shifting surfaces, steep ascents and equally sharp decent provides a compelling draw to the fearless four-wheeler ready for low-gear travel in their properly equipped vehicle. Then again, its well-earned nickname of the ‘Highway of the Frozen Death’ might be just as likely to scare others off.
Similar in both spirit and terrain is the Imogene Pass, a 17.5-mile trail found 13,114 ft above sea level. Narrow in width, and surrounded by steep edging, Imogene Pass is another trail best traveled by an experienced and confident driver. But once in the company of such a driver it can be immensely enjoyable, offering a combination of breathtaking visuals and historical sites, such as the ‘Tomboy Townsite’ of Savage Basin.
A willingness to trek to Eagle County introduces accessibility to what is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the country. The unpredictability of Forest Road 413 comes as a result of erratic weather conditions, inconsistent conditions and intimidatingly steep inclines. And at 10,662 ft the highest peak of Hardscrabble Mountain provides a daunting challenge best faced by a skilled driver. But what if you’re not-yet that skilled, or ambitious?
Lizard Head Pass
As enjoyable to drivers of all skill levels as it is to the passengers who get to drink in the scenic vistas without distraction, the 236-miles of Lizard Head Pass is considered to be one of the must-see destinations in Colorado. Located in the San Juan Mountains, Lizard Hill Pass sits at 10,222 feet and should be at the top of anyone’s off-roading to-do list.
Grand Mesa National Forest
As a national park, Grand Mesa offers everything thing you would expect in terms of widespread accessibility. That said, we’re still talking about Colorado, which means the 150+ miles of off-roading trails covers a wide-range oil terms of terrain and levels of difficulty. For drivers with more modest skill levels, there’s no shortage of meadow and grassland testing grounds to hone your abilities upon. More adventurous souls might was to test their mettle on some of the lightly-worn (and sometimes intense) trails that lead to beautiful hidden lakes, and relatively untouched scenery.
Yankee Hill / St. Mary’s Trail
Two hours outside of both Denver and Colorado Springs is a trail system which offers a unique array of challenges for drivers of all skill levels. Yankee Hill offers some genuinely spectacular views as well as the unique challenge of steep rocky trails, and short climbs that might best be described as ‘intense’.
An easy pick for our favorite, Sevenmile Road sits at a modest 9,027 feet above sea level and is a straight-shot which runs about six-miles in length. Crossing (at several points) the river which shares its name, Sevenmile Road is best experienced on a Northbound journey and can be traverse year-round (although one should certainly exercise discretion). With rocky terrain, no shortage of deep ruts and rock formation obstacles that can easily measure 12-feet in height, there’s no shortage of off-roading fun to be had.
Get Out There
If you’re anything like us, the next trail run never comes soon enough. So get out there. And if your vehicle isn’t equipped to make the most of everything that Colorado has to offer, and you feel like you might be missing out, isn’t it time to make a change? We certainly think so.
What Are Your Picks?
These are just a quick handful of destinations which prove compelling in our minds, and in our personal experience getting off the beaten path. Which of Colorado’s countless options for off-roading have pulled you outdoors and onto the trail? Do you have any good stories? We want to know.