The Ophir Pass Road has the reputation of being one of the easiest of the high trails in the San Juans. It was originally established as a wagon road between the mines around Ophir and Telluride to Silverton. With the completion of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad in 1890, the need for the road decreased, but it continued to be used as a time saving route for light wagon traffic. The road does not present any technical difficulty for the careful driver, and can be driven in good weather conditions during late summer by high clearance two wheel drive vehicles. That being said, it can still cause the unwary or foolish to regret ever heading up it.
The road begins about 5 miles south of Red Mountain Pass and approximately the same distance north of Silverton on US 550. A sign on the west side of 550 marks the location of the start of the Ophir Pass Road. The trip west is a rather gradual grade and there is room almost everywhere for two vehicles to pass. The trail winds through forested land in the Middle Mineral Creek area until it reaches the tree line and continues to the rocky summit at 11,789 feet. When the road is plowed open in June it is not unusual to find walls of snow up to 20 feet high at the summit.
The summit of the pass is formed by Lookout Peak on the north and South Lookout Peak on the south. On a clear day, the view west from the summit is spectacular. The valley to the west is formed by the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River. Past the valley the distinctive volcanic peak of Lizard Head, and three fourteeners can be seen, Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak and El Diente. The Ophir Needles can be seen at the far end of the north ridge of the valley.
The road descending into the valley is a long shelf road on talus. There is one switchback shortly below the summit followed by a continuous run down the side of the slope. This section has been widened considerably in recent years, but it is still narrow and very rocky in spots. Proper caution is required on this section. I understand there is a car at the bottom of the mountainside part way down the trail. I couldn't tell you. I watch the road through here.
A professional driver for one of the Jeep rental agencies in Ouray related the following story to me a few days after it happened in mid-September 1996:
"I took a group up the west side of Ophir last week a day after we had those few inches of snow. It was a beautiful day and everyone was enjoying the ride. The east side was mostly clear of snow and just a little wet. As I came down the west side I realized the road was solid ice. The sun had gotten to the snow above and melted it, but not to the trail. I couldn't even let the Jeep idle down in first gear low. I had to work the brakes every inch. One of the passengers asked if it would make it easier if they got out and lightened the load. I told them if I could get out and lighten the load with them, I would! I crept that thing over a mile down the road, working the brakes and clutch a foot or two at a time with my right hand on the wheel and my left hand holding the driver's door open just in case and those folks walking behind me. I've never been scared like that in all my years of driving out here."
At the foot of Ophir pass is the town of Old Ophir. Some summer homes have recently been constructed here. A large number of mines were located on the mountainsides above Old Ophir. Virtually all remains have been wiped out by the weather and avalanches which abound in this area.
Beyond Old Ophir at the intersection of Colorado 145 is the site of the town of Ophir. This was the location of the legendary Ophir Loop on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. The state highway has been improved over the years since the demise of the RGS, and only the remains of one building, The Oilton Club bar and restaurant is still evident at the site of Ophir. Take some time at this location to look down from the highway at the remains of the big curving Ophir trestle Bridge # 45-A.
A right turn (north) will lead to Telluride and Ridgway on Colorado 145. Turning south will lead to Trout Lake and Lizard Head Pass.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Uncompahgre FS Details
Forest Road #630 (Ophir Pass Road) is an OHV route that provides a connection between U.S. Highway 550 north of Silverton, CO. to the historic mining town of Ophir. The road traverses over 11,814 foot Ophir Pass, offering alpine views of the upper Ophir Valley and neighboring peaks. It is generally an easy 4-wheel drive road, but is rated as moderate difficulty due to a narrow one-half mile section (on the Ophir side of the Pass) where it is difficult for two vehicles to pass each other. (Uphill traffic should yield to downhill traffic on this section). This road is often driven in combination with either the Black Bear Pass Road or the Tomboy - Imogene (Imogene Pass) roads to form a long loop drive/ride.