Get high on alpine views while on a backcountry four-wheel tour
You could traverse the scenic Alpine Loop connecting Ouray, Lake City and Silverton the way the miners did a century ago.
But who has a mule when you really need one?
Instead of fighting a smart but notoriously stubborn four-legged beast, take in the spectacular high-alpine views on this 65-mile route in a reliable four-wheel drive vehicle, preferably with someone else driving while you enjoy the sights.
And what sights there are. Old mines, ramshackle ghost towns, lingering snowdrifts on sky-bending peaks, waterfalls too numerous to count and meadows and valleys carpeted with mountain wildflowers.
Southwest Colorado’s Alpine Loop Scenic Historic Byway may be the best place of all to get your “wows” out.
It certainly might the best place to find a skilled guide for you and your family on a day or weekend trip.
“The Alpine Loop really offers the most-spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, as far as I am concerned,” said Alex Mickel of Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours (mild2wild.com) in Durango and Silverton. “Old mountain towns and mines sitting in these incredible basins, with spectacular views surrounded by 13,000 and 14,000-foot peaks.”
A lot of that can be seen on backcountry four-wheel tours out of Lake City, Ouray and Silverton, Mickel said, whether you rent a vehicle or hire a driver for the trip.
The Alpine Loop high country offers a getaway to many adventures, said Brandy Ross, owner of Switzerland of America Jeep tours (http://www.soajeep.com) in Ouray.
“I tell my customers, ‘We don’t rent Jeeps, we rent a way of getting you up in the mountains,’” Ross said. “Families coming from Grand Junction can find trips and experiences to grab hold of and fit their own needs.”
The history of commercial four-wheel touring in the Ouray area is at last 60 years old, said Ross, judging from an article titled “Jeepers Creepers” in an Arizona Highways magazine dating from the 1950s.
“People in Grand Junction are only an hour and 50 minutes away from some of the most beautiful mountains in the world,” Ross said. “I love to be up there hiking, Jeeping. whatever.”
Once someone experiences the views, wildlife and compelling world above timberline, they’re bound to return, Ross said.
“Visitors on our tours can experience the flora and fauna and the funny stories of life in the high country,” she said. “Two things happen: they get an incredible appreciation of what was going on in the mountains a century ago, and they can absorb it and enjoy it without worrying about the driving.
“I always say, ‘You’ll be back,’ and they never argue with me.”
Visitors can rent four-wheel drive vehicles in all three towns but Mickel said the driver always misses the best part: looking at the view.
“You can do it, but then you’re probably driving too much and not really enjoying the reason why you’re there,” Mickel said. “Our tours make sure we have time to stop, take in the views and really, take time to smell the flowers.”
Heidi Pankow of the Ouray Chamber Resort Association (http://www.ouraycolorado.com) said driving in the high mountains is seasonal, including waterfall season, wildflower season and fall colors season.
“In June, there are waterfalls all over the place and in July and August we move into the wildflower season and then in the fall the colors are magnificent,” she said. “Depending on what you really love to see is what tells you when to come down here.”
The Ouray Chamber Resort website lists local companies offering Jeep tours and renting vehicles. Switzerland of America Jeep Tours and Mild to Wild Jeep Tours are open year-round, but most companies don’t open until late May or early June.