If you listen to local tour operators and some of the online reporting, Colorado’s Black Bear Pass, located near Telluride, is one of the most difficult and dangerous trails for off-roaders in the United States. It gets this reputation due to the numerous extremely tight switchbacks drivers must negotiate to get to the end of the trail. There are a number of stories of drivers having to back and fill to get around the switchbacks, sometimes even needing the help of a spotter.
However, if you take a peek around some of the off-road forums, you’ll find mixed opinions, with most leaning toward “be careful and it’s pretty easy.” Forum members say that as long as you have a spotter for the tightest of the switchbacks, it’s not that bad. Many even say they’ve done it in stock 4X4s. They do admit that the drop-offs are all quite extreme.
But the controversy doesn’t end there. The area is popular enough that it draws a crowd every year, and some of those it draws aren’t as skilled as others, or they come with equipment that just can’t make it. This causes them to get in trouble. For example, a couple from Florida made a mistake and ended up in a rollover requiring emergency assistance.
Incidents such as these are such a regular occurrence that San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters wants to have the Pass closed to all motorized vehicle traffic. Others are saying that licenses or permits should be required. Sheriff Masters said: “At this time of year, we are seeing hundreds of vehicles traveling on this extremely hazardous terrain. It’s not safe, and it’s not safe for our community when all of our resources are tied up for an incident like this.”
The off-road trails in the area connect the old mining towns in the area. These are the towns or Telluride, Silverton, and Ouray. Black Bear Pass is officially known as Forest Service Road 648 and starts at just over 11,000 feet of elevation. The trail ends in Telluride at almost 13,000 feet, making it one of the highest mountain passes in Colorado.
The scenery on the trail is second to none. Visitors can see Bridal Veil Falls, which is the highest waterfall in Colorado. There’s an access road to get to the falls to take a break, although it’s usually only open from late Summer to early Fall due to snow. The Black Bear Pass off-road trail can be reached off US 550. You’ll see the famous sign that read Telluride → City of Gold. 12 Miles – 2 Hours. You don’t have to crazy to drive this road – but it helps.
Drivers getting in over their head on the trail isn’t the only problem caused by off roaders the county experiences, although it is a major issue with the Sheriff. In May, the Sheriff spoke out about irresponsible use of the area’s camping resources. Visitors to the area were abusing the camping areas, as well as the pristine surrounding areas, with major strains being put on trash collection services.
Have you driven the Black Bear Pass Trail? What did you think? Should the area only be open to licensed or permitted visitors?