Off-roading in the San Juans

Off roading in Colorado blog feature

While the Rockies get most of the attention in Colorado (and we can’t argue with that) there’s a lesser visited outdoor enthusiast’s playground in Southwest Colorado that is home to some of the best off-road exploring in the country. Located deep in the San Juan mountains, Ouray and Silverton offer a vacation haven for those wanting to explore beautiful mountain vistas, lakes, waterfalls, and some of the best scenery Colorado has to offer. In the latest installment of the Pilot Your Own Adventure series we go off-roading in the snow filled Yankee Boy Basin.


The San Juan Mountains are highly mineralized and played a major role in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. The area features old mining camps including Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride that now serve as recreational destinations. And while large-scale mining has ended in the region, old routes through mountain passes remain, making it a popular area for Jeep and OHVs to explore. For route maps and ratings, check out

Ouray and the surrounding areas

The Ouray area (see map) is full of activities for adventure seekers. With epic hikes, hot springs, rock climbing excursions, guided tours, and scenic drives, the area is chock-full of fun things to do. Perhaps our favorite was a trip out to Yankee Boy Basin. We booked a side-by-side through Altitude Adventures in Ouray to explore for the day. We set out around 9:00 am for a half day of mountain exploring. On route were both abandoned and working mines, deep canyons, and lots of waterfalls. We were a bit early to the party this season in mid-June, as the hearty winter snow still filled the paths above 9,000’. While our adventure was cut a little short due to this snow, it didn’t ruin the experience, in fact, it provided breathtaking snow-covered vistas and gushing waterfalls. Instead of going into detail about what we saw, check out the photos below!

Quick tips:

  1. Bring layers! While climbing altitude, you’ll experience lower temperatures and higher wind gusts.
  2. Be prepared for changes in weather. Colorado is known for sudden pop-up storms, particularly in the summer months.
  3. Bring snacks. If you’re making a day of it, don’t forget to pack a lunch and plenty of water.
  4. Afraid of heights? This may not be the excursion for you. There are steep dropoffs along the way.
  5. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. Dusty conditions are possible (sunglasses or even goggles might be helpful). Earlier in the season, you might encounter some water on the road or coming off cliffs, so you could get a little wet on the way.
  6. Altitude sickness is real. Stay hydrated, and learn more about how you can prevent and/or treat it here.


Some quick facts about the San Juans and our side-by-side excursion:

Highest point: Uncompahgre Peak – 14,309’

Yankee Boy Basin mileage: 8.3

Imogene Pass mileage: 18.2 (to Telluride)

Side-by-side rental: Altitude Adventures

Airports in the area:

Montrose Regional Airport

Telluride Regional Airport (KTEX)

Flying M Ranch Airport-39CO

Driving distance to Ouray from:

Denver: 5.5 hours

Salt Lake City: 6 hours

Albuquerque: 5 hours

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