Black Bear Pass, a difficult trail in Colorado

black bear pass
Black Bear Pass

Black Bear Pass, also known as Forest Service Road 648, is a challenging dirt road that connects U.S. Highway 550 to Telluride, Colorado. With a starting point at Red Mountain Pass and a crest at an elevation of 12,840 feet (3,910 meters), the road offers breathtaking mountain views as it winds through switchbacks and descends towards Telluride.

Black Bear Pass is known for being dangerous and has many crashes and death on it.

Where is the Black Bear Pass road?

The journey begins in Ouray, Colorado. To get to the top of Red Mountain Pass, drive past the historic Ironton and Red Mountain mining regions. Begin your journey to the pass from there, stopping just past the 3,910 meters (12,840 ft) peak to take in the views of the surrounding Red Mountains, mountain asteria carpets, alpine streams, and articulated ponds. As you ascend, take in the panoramic picture of Ingram Basin and Telluride.

Enlarge the map

Facts about the Black Bear Pass:

There is no paved road to the summit. The Black Bear Road is a treacherous dirt road (Forest Service Road 648). It is one of Colorado’s highest mountain highways. The route travels east-west from U.S. 550 (Million Dollar Highway) to Telluride, a former mining town, and is 18 kilometers (11 miles) long. The road is winding and arduous.

The track is around 16 kilometers (10 miles) long and takes 2 to 3 hours to complete.

The road is located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. From the 3,360 meters (11,018 ft) peak of Red Mountain Pass on US Highway 550 (between Ouray and Silverton) to Telluride, the Black Bear Road is a well-known jeep trail. Black Bear Pass, at an elevation of 3,914 meters (12,840 ft), is the highest point of the Black Bear Road. As it navigates the heights above Telluride, the road drops over a series of challenging switchbacks. The route travels through Colorado’s highest waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls.

The notorious sign that reads “Black Bear Pass” marks the start of the Black Bear Pass route. However, after several thefts of the sign, the local government decided to cease replacing it.

black bear road sign
Road sign

How to get to the road?

In order to drive the Black Bear Pass, you should drive the San Juan Skyway (the US route 550). Then you can drive through the Million Dollar Highway started in Silverton and ends in Ouray in Colorado. Turn on the 823 road. If you are coming from Telluride take the 648 forest road.

A vehicle park and a place to pause and take in the breathtaking mountain scenery may be found at the summit. The drive offers breathtaking panoramas, including two big waterfalls, views of the San Juan Mountains, and a stunning view of Telluride.

Then, you can drive through the Monarch Pass.

You can trace the itinerary on this map:

black bear pass
Black Bear Pass

A video of the journey:

You can have a preview of that drive. You just have to watch this YouTube video as it shows a part of the road:

Is Black Bear Pass open?

Depending on the weather, Black Bear Road is accessible for only a few months, generally from mid-to-late July to early September. Due to snow and ice, the pass remains closed to traffic for the rest of the year, posing a risk of avalanches and landslides. Visit the San Miguel County official website for the most up-to-date road conditions.

The pass is only accessible in one direction: downhill from Red Mountain Summit. However, traffic can go up the hill once a year during the annual Jeeper’s Jamboree.

Due to narrow shelf parts and frightening drop-offs, it is known as one of the most hazardous roads in the country.

In conclusion, if you’re an adventurous traveler visiting Colorado, driving the Black Bear Pass should definitely be on your to-do list. But it’s important to remember that this road can be dangerous, so be cautious and stay alert both for your own safety and for the safety of other drivers. After all, you wouldn’t want to be the subject of a local news headline about another crash on the road.

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