Get high on alpine views while on a backcountry four-wheel tour

Backcountry four-wheeling sometimes means fording streams , the result being a quick and refreshing bath on a hot summer day.

Finding a good guide for your four-wheel adventure tour means no worries about driving while enjoying the scenery and tales of history and intrigue from Colorado’s mining history.

A tour of Colorado’s high country starts with a four-wheel drive vehicle getting you to a trailhead lined with wildflowers amidst breath-taking scenery.



Living in Ouray, smack in an area famous as “The Jeeping Capital of America,” has one drawback: There are so many things to do and see.

“Oh, gosh, it’s hard to choose because in each direction there is something new and amazing to see every time you go,” said Heidi Pankow of the Ouray Resort Chamber Association. “I’m not sure I could pinpoint a favorite of mine.”

Still, she managed to come up with few great ideas for a weekend or longer trip to the area also known as the Switzerland of America.

“Yankee Boy Basin is just spectacular, with crystal clear streams, snowy peaks and columbines all over the place,” Pankow said. “There’s so much to see and do, depending on which direction you turn you’ll find so many different places to explore.”

She especially likes the trip over Cinnamon Pass to the ghost town of Animas Forks, a ghost town dating from 1873 where, in the winter of 1884, a 23-day storm blanketed the town with 27 feet of snow.

“Many of the great old houses still are standing, and one is famous for its indoor plumbing,” Pankow said with a laugh. “They built the outhouse attached to the house.”

One of the long-abandoned mansions still has its picture windows, gazing out across the Animas River valley.

“The kids liked it so much, my family went two weekends in a row,” Pankow said.

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Search More Jobs

734 S. Seventh St.
Grand Junction, CO 81501
970-242-5050; M-F 8:00 - 5:00
Subscribe to print edition
eTear Sheets/ePayments

© 2017 Grand Junction Media, Inc.
By using this site you agree to the Visitor Agreement and the Privacy Policy