10 Off-Road Trails Near Denver That You Should Try!

Alpine Tunnel East

Difficulty: Easy 

Track Length: 5.66 miles

Track Time: About 30 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Situated near the renowned ghost town of St. Elmo and inside the San Isabel National Forest, this trail will take you through an area with some of the most beautiful and historic countrysides that Colorful Colorado has to offer. If you’re interested in the 1900s era railroads, history, and ghost towns, you’ll surely love this place.

You will pass through Romley, a ghost town, which existed as a service town for Mary Murphy Mine. Romley was also famously known as the “red town” because all its buildings were painted red with white trim. It was initially called Murphy’s Switch because of the presence of its railroad siding. With an even more scenic setting, you come to the ghost town of Hancock, with only its log foundations still showing. Hancock served the workers who built the famed Alpine Tunnel. Its population peaked during the 1880s and 1890s while the tunnel was being built, and the train ran through Hancock carrying miners, passengers, and supplies. It is said Mark Twain took the ride one time just for the experience. 

The route mostly follows the old railroad grade as it gains elevation toward the east side of the Alpine Tunnel. For the most part, the dirt road is smooth and wide, and passing is not an issue. There are no obstacles, and the route is suitable for any stock high clearance SUV in good weather.

Bald Mountain Gulch

Difficulty: Moderate 

Track Length: 8.8 miles

Track Time: About 1 hour and 15 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Bald Mountain Gulch (also known as FS Road 300) is a 4WD trail in the Fourmile region of Colorado, southeast of Johnson Village. Bald Mountain Gulch traverses the scenic, high elevation terrain in a northeast to the southwest road. It gives 4×4 enthusiasts a chance to drive through spectacular rock formations and sandy ground, plus rare tawny rock-framed views of the Collegiate Peaks. Also, there are a lot of 4WD trails in the area, making Fourmile an excellent destination for a 4WD weekend trip, as you can also go hiking, camping, and fishing. It is also recommended to drive this trial together with Bald Mountain Loop.

The northeast segment is generally dirt road with patches of bedrock traversing open meadows and mixed forest. The mid-section transitions to a broad sandy wash and becomes narrower in the southwestern segment. Driving southwest, the final mile departs the wash and traverses caliche hills with a relatively steep descent into the parking lot at the Brown’s Canyon Wilderness Study Area. This road is suitable for stock, high clearance 4WD vehicles.

Ballard Road

Difficulty: Moderate 

Track Length: 7.7 miles

Track Time: About 2 hours and 10 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Ballard Road is an off-road trail that takes you through the beautiful Roosevelt National Forest. It also offers access to primitive camping and the Donner Pass, and one other, single-track off-road trail. But the best thing is it’s accessible year-round. These single-track trails are open to hiking, horses, mountain biking, and motorcycles. Ballard Road also has some historical presence along the path, with remnants of old logging camp remains found throughout the route, but most of these camps have been reduced to just piles of lumber. In the winter months, Ballard Road is a perfect snow wheeling trail that doesn’t get too much snow, but will always give you a challenge and is occasionally impassable. With everything from smooth grades to mild rock crawling and snow wheeling, Ballard Road is a tremendous 4WD road for any outdoor and 4×4 enthusiast in the Northern Colorado area.

Ballard Road is a gravel road that is regularly maintained and passable by stock SUVs for the first half of the trail. The second half of the trail is significantly more challenging, with several rock obstacles and an off-camber area. Only 4×4 off-road vehicles should continue past waypoint 5. Ballard Road travels through the Roosevelt National Forest with access to some primitive camping and access to single-track trails. There are no gates at the entrance, so this road is open all year but can be unpassable in winter months due to snow, but this is a very popular snow-wheeling trail in the winter

Bassam Park

Difficulty: Easy 

Track Length: 8 miles

Track Time: About 30 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Bassam Park Road, FS Road 187, is situated within the San Isabel National Forest around ten miles east of Johnson Village. This area of the National Forest, usually called the “Fourmile,” contains hundreds of roads and spurs which give a broad range of outdoor recreational opportunities.

Bassam Park is also famous for its high buttes and towering volcanic stone outcrops, spring-fed creeks, and several beaver dam ponds. It is renowned among 4WD enthusiasts, hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. The area includes well-maintained dirt roads suitable for stock vehicles (it is not unusual to see ordinary passenger sedans and minivans on other trails) aside from the more difficult 4WD trails.

Accessibility, a wide variety of outdoor activities, and sweeping views of the Arkansas River Basin and Collegiate Peaks are the greatest attractions in this place.

The road can also accommodate two vehicles to pass in opposite directions simultaneously. It also has a narrow shoulder in some portions of the road, but most places are enough for pulling aside and parking momentarily. Drainage culverts are cut into both sides of the shoulders in most sections to accommodate run-off and stop erosion. Bassam Park Road only has some blind curves or hill crests that restrict a driver’s view. The most significant ascent is when traveling south approaching FS Road 185, Alpine Ridge. Caution is suggested on blind curves, inclines, and descents because the road is shared among cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, bicycles, and hikers.

Bill Moore Lake

Difficulty: Moderate 

Track Length: 5.6 miles

Track Time: About 3 hours

Terrain: Mud and dirt

About 1 hour from Denver, Colorado, and situated within the Arapahoe National Forest, the Bill Moore Lake 4X4 Road is one of the trails in the Empire Loop, a network of trails just above Empire, Colorado. Offering amazing alpine scenery and fun hill climbs for both the novice and seasoned, this trail is a must-do. While you are at it, visit the Hard Rock Cafe in Empire, the original, dating from 1934, and named for the hard rock miners that were its early customers. It predates and is not affiliated with the chain of restaurants that also call themselves the Hard Rock Cafe.

The Bill Moore Lake Trail is part of the Empire 4X4 Loop. The road follows County Road 251 for the first few miles before it joins Forest Service Road 183.1. 95% of the trail has passing areas except at the very end when you climb down into Bill Moore Lake. It starts within a more wooded area along Country Road 251, which is filled with whoop-de-dos and washouts. Once you pass the Conqueror Mine, it follows a shelf road before one last narrow switchback. It finally joins with Forest Service Road 183.1, where the forest thickens before it climbs to the fringes of timberline, giving way to a general alpine and open space. Once in the alpine zone, there are plenty of moderately steep climbs with loose rock. It connects with the Mill Creek and Red Elephant Hill Loop. 4 low and high clearance recommended.

Black Bear Pass

Difficulty: Hard to Very Hard 

Track Length: 9.8 miles

Track Time: About 3 hours

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Black Bear Pass was initially constructed in the late 1800s to service the Black Bear Mine and subsequently re-opened for recreational travel in 1959. Few trails in the United States have attained the legendary status that Black Bear Pass has. The ascent from US 550 begins near the summit of Red Mountain Pass, historically known as the “Million Dollar Highway.” The initial climb is easy and scenic, with beautiful wildflowers carpeting the high mountain meadows. Waterfalls cascade from alpine snowmelt as you climb to the 12,840-foot summit. The descent into Telluride is vastly different, with narrow shelf roads and steep drop-offs. The descent into Telluride is highlighted by the stunning 365 foot Bridal Veil Falls topped by the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant, better known as the Bridal Veil Powerhouse. The trail descends adjacent to Bridal Veil Falls, with some of the tightest switchbacks a vehicle can travel through. Black Bear Pass’ infamy has even been penned into a bluegrass song, written and performed by C.W. McCall.

The legendary sign that once stood on Black bear pass read: “Telluride —> ‘City of Gold’ 12 miles- 2 Hours, You don’t have to be crazy to drive this road- but it helps. Jeeps only” This sign has recently been replaced by a more informative sign reading: “Extreme Road Ahead- Black Bear Pass is a narrow shelf road with 1000 foot plus drop-offs with dangerous off-camber switchbacks, tight turns, and loose shale. Expert drivers only. Travel at your own risk.” This warning should not be taken lightly. The actual trail is not difficult in its own right. However, on the Telluride side of the pass, there is ZERO room for error. Black Bear is not more dangerous compared to other trails in Colorado or anywhere else. It is impressive, but any lapse of attention or judgment on this trail can result in a rollover that may lead to injury or worse.

Blanca Peak

Difficulty: Hard to Very Hard 

Track Length: 8.3 miles

Track Time: About 5 hours

Terrain: Mud and dirt

The trail starts on the valley floor around 3 miles of dusty road that begins as sand and increases slowly to become small rocks. Once you reach the road sign, the trail starts to climb up the mountain steeply, and the stones increase in size, slowly weeding out the stock SUVs. Several switchbacks provide magnificent views of the Alamosa Valley. 

After 4.5 miles, the trail levels off, leaving behind the desert terrain and entering the forest. There are numerous mud holes you must cross before arriving at the first Jaws obstacle, and depending on the season, these mud holes can be very deep.

Jaws 1 will finally get rid of the remaining stock vehicles, and this is where the real fun begins. Climb over the granite spine and drive-by a lot of old log cabins. 

When you cross the creek, you need to calm yourself for the daunting Jaws 2. This second obstacle is the beginning of a lot of challenging granite obstacles all within one mile. The terrain then changes again as it will take you to the mountain’s edge. Just before you reach Jaws 2.5, you will encounter a short tippy section that will make you feel reasonably uneasy. It is a V-notch type obstacle that is relatively easy than the other obstacles when the trail is dry. Shortly, you reach Jaws 3, which is a two-part obstacle where the first section has an alternate route that you can take if needed, but the second part does not have one. These two granite ledges are the final obstacles before you get to the scenic Lake Como. A lot of people set up camp at the lake for the night, but there is still one more to explore.

On the northeastern bank of the lake, you will reach the last major obstacle, Jaws 4. This obstacle is a slick, steep granite hill climb. Once you get through this, the road levels off as you start your final approach to the end at Blue Lakes. The trail is slow going and rough, but the rewarded views at the end are simply awe-inspiring. You must return the same way that you came from.

Bordenville Gulches

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 

Track Length: 21 miles

Track Time: About 3 hours and 40 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Bordenville Gulches is a reasonably easy drive with some good trips inside the Pike National Forest. It passes throughout the trails of former homesteaders of Bordenville that was founded in 1865. Today, there are only a few remnants in the original town. Only a small number of buildings stand about 0.4 miles west up Tarryall Road near the cemetery. 

The town once had a general store, sawmill, post office, and a 2000-acre ranch, all established by the Borden brothers along with their families. Also, the trails network doesn’t show any remains of this town, but it does have some remote camping and vast hunting areas. Open throughout the year, Bordenville Gulches makes for a great snow wheeling destination, offering some challenge. Still, not so hard you end up in the cemetery with the rest of the previous residents. 

Bordenville Gulches is composed of a network of gravel and dirt roads that are not well-maintained. Some not traveled by most people, but are still passable by the majority of high clearance AWD vehicles when conditions are dry. 

The road is also mostly only one vehicle wide, but passing other drivers is still possible. The trails that also takes you into different mountain valleys of the Pike National Forest and back out one of two separate entrances. Some of these roads only accommodate jeeps and trucks, so ATV and dirt bikes are not as typical here compared to other nearby offroad trails. This area is also open year-round so conditions can vary greatly, for current information on this road contact the South Park Ranger District at (719) 836-2031. 

Bunce School Road

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 

Track Length: 4.12 miles

Track Time: About 45 minutes

Terrain: Mud and dirt

Bunce School Road is a famous trail in the area because of its proximity to a town, along with the abundance of dispersed camping. While the camp spots may get filled immediately in the peak summer months, there are a lot of other trails in the area as well that one can explore. This trail is also a popular place for winter wheeling, although the southern part of the path is closed with a seasonal gate.

In 1888, Joseph Henry Bunce built the first school in the area, which is still known as the Bunce school and still exists today. It is the start of the trail; on the right side, you will still see the historic Bunce School.

China Wall

Difficulty: Hard 

Track Length: 8.1 miles

Track Time: About 2 hours

Terrain: Mud and dirt

China Wall is a great trail to try your rig out and get some rock crawling without rock climbing all day. It’s well maintained and monitored, so make sure to have proper registrations on you. The trail boasts scenic views from the drive to the trailhead to the trail itself. There is a large campground in the middle near a beautiful creek, and it even makes for a great place to spend the weekend.

It is a popular trail for those living in the Denver area. You can go quickly by the obstacles you can bypass, or spend hours trying to master them. It’s great for small and large groups alike.

Related Questions

Do I Need An Ohv Sticker In Colorado?

Colorado OHV Permit requirements:

All OHVs and motor vehicles (like motorcycles) that display a valid Colorado license plate must also display an updated Colorado OHV use permit sticker when operated on designated OHV trails in Colorado. Permit fees are $25.25.

Where Can I Get An OHV Sticker in Colorado?

​OHV Non-resident and resident plated vehicle permits (off-road + street-legal vehicles) are available for online purchase from April through December at CPW Store. Please give 14 days to arrive in the mail when ordering. OHV licenses are also available at retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing licenses.

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