When it comes to off-roading in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, Ophir Pass, is a go-to. Not only is it the most stunning scenic route connecting two of our favorite mountain towns, Telluride and Silverton, but it’s also one of the more accessible, easier routes for anyone looking to do some moderate-level off-roading.
Southwest Colorado is known for having world-class off-roading, but a lot of the trails in the area are on the difficult side. And while it certainly does have its challenges (particularly for those who may have a fear of heights), Ophir Pass in Colorado is definitely more approachable.
We’ve crafted this guide to be your go-to resource when planning a drive on Ophir Pass. It’s basically the guide we wish we had when we first drove this route.
Disclosure: We’ve included lodging recommendations near Telluride and Silverton, Colorado, along with gear recommendations in this guide to Ophir Pass. If you choose to book or buy through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support our small Colorado business. All recommendations are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms we use and trust for our own adventures.
Directions to Ophir Pass from Silverton and Telluride
You can approach Ophir Pass from one of two directions: either from the Telluride or Silverton, Colorado side.
If you’re coming from Silverton, the entrance is alongside Million Dollar Highway (aka US 550). You’ll take 550 north toward Ouray and about 3.2 miles in, you’ll come across Forest Rd 679 (GPS coordinates: 37.847587,-107.724860). This is the start of Ophir Pass.
Just continue on this road for a little over 4 miles and you’ll hit the summit of the pass.
If you’re coming from Telluride, you’ll hop on CO-145 going southbound (accessed via the roundabout outside of town). Follow this for 7.3 miles and then hang a left onto Ophir Rd (GPS coordinates: 37.861972, -107.870114).
Ophir Rd will lead you into the town of Ophir and change into Porphyry St. This road will hit a T at 3rd, where you’ll hang a right. After one block, you’ll get to Ophir Rd, where you’ll take a left.
A little over 1/3 of a mile, you’ll need to hang a right to continue on Ophir Rd, but after this you’ll be on the outskirts of town and on your way up the pass.
From the edge of Ophir, Colorado to the summit of Ophir Pass is about 3 miles.
Opening and Closing Dates
No, Ophir Pass is not open year round. It’s accessible in June through October, and specific dates are weather-dependent (San Miguel County keeps details on whether or not the high country 4×4 routes in the area are open or not).
Ophir Pass, like most off-roading routes in the San Juans, is not easily plowable. So with enough snowfall, the pass can close earlier for the season.
In June (and sometimes even into July), you can still expect some pretty high walls of snow and snowfields.
As fall approaches, it’s not uncommon to see snow up on Ophir Pass, too. Consider this one of the many reasons having an AWD vehicle is a really good idea (more on this later, though).
The San Juan mountains are in a league of their own, but we’d be lying if we said some of the best views in this area were easy to access. Many require some intense off-roading trails (we’re looking at you, Black Bear Pass).
What makes Ophir Pass so special is not only its relatively short length, but the fact that it’s a good bit easier than most of the other trails in the area (although, don’t get us wrong, it isn’t technically easy for anyone who is an inexperienced off-roader…more on this later).
The drive up Ophir Pass is actually a part of our ultimate CO road trip itinerary that stops by so many of our favorite haunts (including local gems).
When it comes to both accessibility and epic mountain views, the best season to drive Ophir Pass is in the summer. As a general rule, we advise aiming for late July or early August to see the wildflowers and to give the snow at these high elevations enough time to melt.
It’s also worth mentioning, though, that the pass isn’t open at all in winter and is only open for the tail end of spring and the first part of fall.
While you can drive Ophir Pass right when it opens and right before it closes for the season, just be aware that it’s highly possible for you to run into winter conditions at this elevation in the Colorado high country (yes, even well into June!).
Colorado’s seasons can be really odd, and in many spots you can expect winter to last a long time (hello, late June snowdrifts). Our guide to the best time windows to travel in the Rockies shares everything you should know before you plan.
At the bare minimum, you’ll need a high clearance vehicle for driving Ophir Pass in Colorado. That said, we can personally vouch for how helpful it is to have an AWD or 4WD vehicle when doing this pass, and we always recommend one.
We’ve driven Ophir Pass in both dry and wet conditions, and when there’s rain and mud (especially common when the pass first opens in June and the snowdrifts are still melting), having an AWD or 4WD vehicle (which we personally always have when off-roading) helped us from getting stuck in a few dicey spots.
Our vehicle is also equipped with all-terrain tires, which makes a world of a difference on roads like these.
Ophir Pass can be a difficult drive for anyone who is new to off-roading. There are a lot of people who underestimate this route because of trail reports from people who drive trails like this often. It’s easy to get misled.
The toughest parts are near the summit, where you have to deal with some switchbacks that can get quite muddy, along with some sections of very rocky shelf road with steep drop-offs and virtually no ability to pass other cars or turn around.
There are certain sections of Ophir Pass where you’re basically committed to continuing, which is why we want to be fully transparent here: if you don’t have any previous off-roading experience or have a fear of heights, please consider hiring a local driver rather than taking the risk of driving yourself.
Pro Tip: When driving Ophir Pass, and as a general rule when heading out into the wilderness, emergency medical services are not close by. There’s absolutely no shame in opting for a Jeep tour, where an experienced driver can take you up and down. In fact, we highly recommend this for the safest experience possible.
Also, most of the standard car rental companies actually don’t allow you to take their vehicles off-roading, so if you wanted to do Ophir Pass, you’d likely need to rent a Jeep or other high clearance 4WD vehicle from one of the local outfitters in the San Juans.
The two closest towns to Ophir Pass are going to be Telluride and Silverton. If you’re looking for no-fuss, laid-back Colorado vibes, Silverton is it.
But if you’re looking for a more luxe experience, Telluride is the go-to. We’ve crafted a guide to the best lodging in Telluride, and we’ll include a few of our Silverton favorites below as well:
Finding a great spot to stay when traveling to Telluride is tough, to say the least. Limited options + luxury prices = a really small selection of places worth your time. If you’re going to splurge on a trip here, we’ve found the best of the best in our complete Telluride lodging guide.
No, Colorado’s Ophir Pass is not paved at any point on the route. It is a mixture of dirt road and loose rocks/shale, depending on what part of the drive you’re on.
This is one of the big reasons having an AWD vehicle comes in handy. With heavy snowmelt or rain, this route can get very muddy. Navigating through these conditions with a 2WD vehicle is a recipe for disaster.
Pro Tip: When you’re in the remote high country, being extra prepared is essential. We always recommend bringing the supplies you’d need if you happened to get stranded for the night.
For starters, we never do drives like Ophir Pass in Colorado without our satellite communication device with us. Your cell phone isn’t going to work up here, and this is going to be the best way to get help.
Having an emergency kit accessible is also crucial. Ours always includes outdoors emergency blankets (high elevation spots like Ophir pass can get wintry cold at night, even in the middle of summer), hand and foot warmers, extra water, our favorite backpacking meals, and a portable stove kit.
If you have a fear of heights, yes, Ophir Pass can be a scary drive. There are sections of the road that are very narrow, with a steep drop-off on the side.
The shelf road sections of the pass also have a lot of loose rock/shale, which can lead to some sliding around. It’s primarily for this reason that this can be a nerve-wracking drive for anyone who’s afraid of heights.
You’ll want at least about 50 min to an hour to drive the entirety of Ophir Pass in Colorado. That said, we recommend budgeting even more time to account for traffic. This is a popular route, and there are sections of shelf road that make two-way traffic impossible.
On top of that, there tends to be a wide range of driver experience levels on Ophir Pass. A lot of travel blogs market this as a super easy off-roading route, which is a bit misleading. It’s common for travelers with little to no off-roading experience to get in over their heads, and that tends to lead to some serious slow-downs.
But putting traffic aside, you’ll also want to give yourself time to stop at pull-offs and admire the views along Ophir Pass. We’re also big fans of budgeting enough time to hit up some epic hikes along the pass (like the rocky scramble up to Crystal Lake).
If you’re driving Ophir Pass from Silverton to Telluride, we highly recommend stopping by Alta Lakes on your way into town.
It’s a detour up a bumpy dirt forest service road high up in the mountains, but you’re rewarded with some of our favorite alpine lakes in the area (perfect for a sunset stop!).
Yes, there are wildflowers on Ophir Pass, and they are beyond dreamy! Being based in Colorado, we’re obviously a bit biased, but we’d argue that our wildflowers are some of the best in the country.
And high alpine spots like this route are home to some of Colorado’s finest blooms.
As Colorado residents, we love where we live. But it isn’t without its downsides, too. Our list of the pros and cons of living in CO covers everything we love and don’t love about living here.
You can start the drive from either Silverton or Telluride. But if you ask us, the best direction to ride Ophir Pass is from the Silverton side.
This is especially true if you have a fear of heights, as this half of the pass doesn’t contain the nerve-wracking sections of shelf road that take this route from easy to moderate.
In fact, if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle or aren’t comfortable driving on the shelf roads, you can still get the beautiful summit views by driving up from the Silverton side and turning around at the summit of Ophir Pass.
This especially works well if you’re already staying in Silverton. Ophir Pass in Colorado is a point-to-point trail, and the non-pass route back to Silverton from Telluride is a little under 2 hours of driving. That’s a pretty hefty trek just to get back to your hotel.
We’re Sheena and Ed, Colorado-based adventure photographers, hikers, and outdoors advocates.
We’re firm believers in making the outdoors accessible for all, especially when it comes to Colorado’s greatest gems (no gatekeeping here).
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