Black Bear Pass is a high mountain adventure in the Colorado Rockies
Located in San Miguel County in the U.S. state of Colorado, Black Bear Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3,915m (12,844ft) above sea level. It's one of the highest roads in Colorado.
How long is the Black Bear Pass road?
Set high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the road to the summit is totally unpaved. It’s a dangerous dirt track known as Black Bear Road (Forest Service Road 648). 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. Though Black Bear Pass road is in places exceedingly steep and narrow, it can be a reasonably easy drive in favorable conditions but also has the potential to be a very difficult track and at times impassable after wet weather.
Where does Black Bear Road start and end?
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 JEEPS ONLY
But the sign was often stolen, and eventually, the responsible authorities ceased to replace it.
Is the Black Bear Road worth it?
At the summit, you’ll find a car park and a place to stop and take in the breathtaking 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?
Tucked away in the southwestern portion of Colorado, it’s a notoriously treacherous drive running entirely above 2,500m above sea level. It is one of the more intense mountain passes in Southwest Colorado. To complete the drive, a high clearance, short-wheelbase, 4-wheel-drive vehicle is required. 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. Local DUI attorneys emphasize that, due to the dangers of this road, refraining from driving under the influence is even more important.
Is Black Bear Pass open?
Beyond 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. Inclement weather is frequent; therefore, it is advisable always to check the weather forecast before embarking on your journey.
Pic: Stephen Bornhoft