Engineer Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 12,800 feet (3.901 m) above the sea level, located in the San Juan Mountains near Ouray, Colorado, in USA. It’s one of Colorado's most scenic offroad drives. It’s mostly a first gear ride because the road is rough and rocky. It's one of the highest mountain passes of Colorado.
The gravel road to the pass is called Engineer Pass Road or Ouray County Road 18. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). This trail, combined with Cinnamon Pass, constitutes the famous Alpine Loop. Some of the highlights of this trail are the many mines, ghost towns, waterfalls, fishing and incredible views. It is an exhilarating trip for drivers of all experience levels. There are many mines and points of historical interest along the route.
Located in Ouray County, the road to the top is recommended for high clearance four wheel drive short wheel base, and is really too narrow for a 4WD pickup truck. Most of the route is easy, but there are still a few narrow, steep places on the west side of the pass that will get your attention. The Russian born engineer Otto Mears famous for his construction of the Million Dollar Highway connecting Silverton to Ouray is also credited for building the road known as Engineer Pass. Completed after 1877 this toll road was a major route connecting Silverton, Animas Forks, Ouray and Lake City together.
The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. This is a very high pass and should not be treated lightly. Don’t drive if snow covered. Caution should be used at all times especially in wet weather. Engineer Pass begins four miles south of Ouray off CO Hwy 550. The first two miles are the most rugged and difficult; portions of the road are extremely rocky. Novice four-wheelers should proceed cautiously.
Do not travel this pass in severe weather conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging. The season generally runs from late May to late October but winter snows contribute to when you can access.
The drive is definitely worth it. There are many excellent photo opportunities here. Don’t forget your camera! On the summit there are 360 degree panoramic views of 14,000 peaks. From this vantage point, the surrounding areas unfold, including Mt. Sneffels (14,150 ft.) to the west and Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 ft.) to the northeast. The extinct Lake City volcanic caldera, which the Alpine Loop encircles, lies to the east. It provides the adventurous off-roader an opportunity to see old mines, ghost towns, wildflowers, and scenic beauty that is truly epic. There is fishing, mountain climbing, hiking, camping and much more. It is a trip into the past along a road used by miners and merchants over 100 years ago that you too can enjoy.
This track can get very muddy and slippery after rain making it challenging to get through. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s a real challenging road and a true test of your vehicle and your stamina because the road abounds in twists and turns with wheels sometimes hanging above the precipice.