Black Bear Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3.915m (12,844ft) above the sea level, located in San Miguel County in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Colorado.
How long is the Black Bear Pass road?
Located in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the road to the summit is unpaved. It’s a dangerous dirt track known as Black Bear Road (Forest Service Road 648). It's one of the highest mountain roads of Colorado. The road is 17.86km (11.1 miles) long, running east-west from U.S. 550 (Million Dollar Highway) to Telluride, a former Victorian mining town. The road is narrow and intense.
Where does Black Bear Road start?
The start of the trail is marked along U.S. 550 with the famous sign that reads:
TELLURIDE ——> CITY OF GOLD. 12 MILES - 2 HOURS
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO DRIVE THIS ROAD - BUT IT HELPS
But the sign was often stolen and eventually the responsible authorities ceased to replace it. Though Black Bear Pass road is in places exceedingly steep and narrow, it can be a reasonably easy drive in favourable conditions, but also has the potential to be a very difficult track and at times impassable after wet weather. At the summit, you’ll find a car park and place to stop and take in the breath-taking mountain landscape. The drive offers stunning views: there are two significant waterfalls, nice views of the San Juans and an overview of Telluride.
Is Black Bear Road dangerous?
It’s a notoriously treacherous drive running entirely above 2.500m above the sea level. It is one of the more intense mountain passes in Southwest Colorado. Open to all motorized vehicles, however, recommended for high clearance, short wheel base, 4-wheel drive vehicles. This OHV route offers a very technical trail that is not for inexperienced drivers or riders. While most of the road is moderate in difficulty, the mile-long stretch of steep switchbacks on the Telluride side above Bridal Veil Falls is rated as difficult. High risk of rock slides. The trail is two-way as it begins on US 550, but switches to one-way at the point it gets narrow and scary. There are very few spots wide enough to pass from here on down. It is known as one of the most dangerous roads in the country due to narrow shelf segments and unnerving drop-offs.
Is Black Bear Pass open?
Beyond the Black Bear Pass, the road is a collection of infamous switchbacks going to Telluride. This road, which passes Bridal Veil Falls, the highest waterfall in Colorado, is open just some months, from late summer (usually the last week of July) to early fall, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. Adverse weather conditions are common. Always check the weather forecast before you start your journey.
Pic: Stephen Bornhoft