Jackson Lake OHV track (credit: parks.state.co.us)
Summer is around the corner and off-roading fans are tuning up their Jeeps and ATVs. Denver-area residents are fortunate to live within two short hours of some of the most amazing getaways in the state. Although there are plenty of areas to hit the dirt road with a picnic lunch and some friends, there are five sites that come highly recommended by Denver-area off-roading enthusiasts. Summer and fall are the perfect times of the year get out and explore all that Colorado has to offer.
One of the favorite off-road spots is known as Slaughterhouse Gulch. It’s a round trip of between one to three hours, this ideal site will make for an adventurous and challenging ride. One of the benefits of traveling up 285 is the relief of avoiding the always over-crowded I-70 highway. Located in Pike National Forest near Bailey, the common name of the Slaughterhouse Gulch is the Crow Creek loop. Well-equipped vehicles are recommended due to some of the trails proving difficult with narrow roads and tight trees. It is a popular off-roading site because of the lower elevation and longer seasonal weather.
Part of Pike National Forest and a convenient drive from the Denver area, Rampart Range is a great place for beginners. The area boasts almost 36 miles of fun to explore in three to five hours. With a lot of trails to choose from, Rampart and Mount Herman Road can be an ideal introduction to the Colorado Springs backcountry. There are awesome views of the Front Range, Air Force Academy, Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods Park. The only downfall to be aware of is that Rampart tends to be quite crowded on the weekends.
Grand Lake is always one of the hottest Colorado recreation spots. With gorgeous mountain and lake scenery, Stillwater Pass offers a 46-mile back trail drive located just outside of Grand Lake. Not only does the area offer incredible camping, fishing and hiking, it also has plenty of places to grab some good food and even stay the night. This trail is perfect for the beginners and the more adventurous. Most of the dirt roads are pretty well graded, yet there will be some areas that will challenge the more advanced off-roader.
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For those who can’t exactly afford to visit Switzerland, there is some of the most spectacular Colorado scenery right in Boulder. The Switzerland Trail is one of the most popular off-roading spots in the metro area and a camera is a must-have for the trip. With less than a two-hour drive, off-road enthusiasts can explore this former Western Railway route to see beautiful vistas, mountain ranges and even some old historical Gold Hill mining ruins. Four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicles are a must but this route is a fairly relaxing drive. Unfortunately, ATVs are not allowed on many areas of the roads.
Weston Pass Trail
Off-road travelers love making the trek to the Weston Pass Trail. Just past historic Leadville, it’s another trail where you can take Highway 285 and avoid I-70 congestion. Visitors are surrounded by the beauty of the Pike National Forest Mountains, and the scenery is amazing. There are remnants of some old gold mines and cabins, along with some incredible scenery on both sides of the mountain. The trail to the east is perfect for beginners, while heading west will be a rougher road that requires high clearance vehicles and some expertise. Either way, the sights are well worth packing a picnic lunch and exploring the remnants of old gold mines and cabins.
Colleen Bement is a freelance writer covering all things Denver. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.