Jeeping in Colorado's Uncompahgre Valley
Colorado’s Uncompahgre Valley is an off-roading Mecca with hundreds of miles of trails that offer something for everyone from beginners to advanced drivers. Photo: Dan Ballard
While there are pockets of amazing jeeping to be found all over the state, jeeping in Colorado's Uncompahgre Valley is popular thanks to the expanse of public land and the world-class jeep trails therein. Whether you want to push the limits of your rig or just use your vehicle as a vessel for exploring beautiful places, there are options for every type of off-road enthusiast out there
A good starting point would be just north of Delta in the expansive adobe badlands. Here, the dramatic desert foothills of Grand Mesa are connected by unmarked dirt trails that wind and climb in elevation. On the horizon, a conspicuous rock formation known as Devil's Thumb creates a truly unique and barren landscape. If taking Devils Thumb Road into the badlands, make note of the dividing line between a critical Wilderness Study Area to the west and OHV area to the east. Immerse yourself in the landscape by making a loop out of Pipeline and Doughspoon Roads, where you’ll be greeted with abrupt inclines and magical views of the adobe mazes.
Across the highway, the journey continues on Smith Mountain Jeep Road in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (NCA) for 360 degree views of the varied landscape, with the West Elk Mountains appearing larger than life over the sloping desert hillsides. The easy eight-mile loop boasts several overlooks that feature the Gunnison River, the surrounding valley, as well as the San Juan Mountains to the south. This is the perfect place to put your jeep in park and watch the sun dip with breathtaking color, or take a hiking detour into the designated wilderness areas that border the route.
A trip into adobes is not complete without driving through Peach Valley, a unique stretch of desert between Delta and Montrose within the Gunnison Gorge NCA. And, yes, true to the name, you can still find peaches less than 10 miles from the trailhead at places like Triple M or Mattics Orchards (so plan your lunch accordingly). Peach Valley is known as a dirt bike paradise, with its narrow primitive trails that wind through the rugged landscape, but it’s also a good place to enjoy the scenery via 4WD. Choose from mild to wild, with Elephant Skin Road as an easy nine-mile route and the Wave / Eagle Loop as an off-road challenge that follows a rocky and ledgy ridge with distant views of Gunnison Gorge.
When you venture into the Dry Creek area of the Uncompahgre Plateau, the adventure into expert-only territory begins. This is a rugged and remote area with seemingly endless options for exploring. Here, six rock crawling trails will challenge the abilities of even the most serious off-roaders. With names like Calamity Canyon, Topless, Death Row, and Die Trying, these trails require a special blend of skills, gear and determination.You’ll want to come prepared with at least a winch and lockers and set the expectation that body damage may occur between features (think large boulders and notches). Dry Creek is also a starting point for access to the higher elevation trails on the Uncompahgre Plateau as well as renowned overland trails like Rimrocker and Tabeguache.
Spanning an incredible 160 miles, the Rimrocker Trail takes adventurers from Montrose to Moab and provides access through some of the West’s most stunning scenery. The trail will take you through a landscape of red rock canyons, winding rivers, desert vistas and alpine forests. Keep in mind that the adventurous nature of this trail requires users to be cautious and well-prepared with a working knowledge of backcountry survival. Whether you travel the whole route or just a portion, the experience will stay with you for a lifetime.
Perhaps the most visited jeep trails and dirt roads in the area are located between Ridgway and Ouray, where the landscape transitions into high alpine with expansive views of aspen groves and mountain peaks. For a tranquil drive in the summer, Owl Creek Pass provides a scenic 45 mile journey between the Uncompahgre and Cimarron Rivers that leads to a variety of remarkable 4WD roads in the Silverjack Recreation Area. Among the historic mining roads in Ouray, the classic and magnificent Imogene Pass offers a rough and steep route across the San Juan Mountains, climbing to 13,114 feet from Ouray before dropping into the town of Telluride.
And this is just a taste of the vast network of off-roading opportunities in the Uncompahgre Valley. Grab a map, do some research and make your own adventure.