Black Bear Pass  
Maps:               
USGS 7.5' Map: Ironton, Telluride
Statistics:
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Moderate 7 FR648, FR823 11.66 8,800 to 12,840 ft. Rock - 1
Ledge - 2
4-6 hours
County: Ouray and San Miguel
Adopted by: Creeper Jeepers Gang
Western Slope 4-Wheelers
P.O. Box 4583, Durango, CO 81302
P.O. Box 2037, Montrose, CO 81402
(970)259-7854
(970)240-9818
Managed by: San Juan National Forest, Columbine Ranger District
Uncompahgre National Forest, Norwood Ranger District
367 S. Pearl St., Bayfield, CO 81122
1150 Forest St., Norwood, CO 81423
(970)884-2512
(970)327-4261
Summary: Black Bear Pass 4WD road crosses a saddle between Three Needles and Trico Peak connecting Red Mountain Pass with Telluride.
Attractions: Pass, Mining History, Scenic, Ledge Road
Seasonal
Closure:
East side, Natural - Closed by heavy snow.
West side, Agency - Closed Jan 1 to May 15.
Best Time: June - Late. Opening may be delayed by late snows
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Early snows may close pass
Trail Heads
Accessed:
Bridal Veil Trail #636 - Hiking, Mountain biking, Horseback riding
Camping:
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp. On the east side of the pass there are many 4WD roads. On the west side there is Imogene Pass and Ophir Pass out of Telluride.
Fall Colors: Poor - Most of the road is above timberline.
Navigation: From Ouray, CO head south on US-550/Main St for 13.1 miles to the top of Red Mountain Pass. Turn right onto Forest Service road FR 648 at the large parking area. This is the start of Black Bear Pass road.

From Silverton head southwest on Co Rd 2/State Hwy 110. Turn right onto Co Rd 2 and go 417 ft. Continue onto US-550/Million Dollar Hwy heading north. Go 9.7 miles to the top of Red Mountain Pass. Turn left onto Forest Service road FR 648 at the large parking area. This is the start of the Black Bear Pass road.
History: In 1876 J. Ingram discovered the Smuggler Mine and became the source of the name for Ingram Basin. The Black Bear Mine is in a side drainage on the north side of Ingram Basin toward Savage Basin, where the Tomboy Mine complex was. In the 1800s a wagon road existed from Red Mountain Pass to Ingram Basin to haul ore from the Black Bear Mine. By the 1900s it had fallen into disuse, most likely with the arrival of the railroad in Telluride in the 1890s, the cheaper way to get the ore out was to use a tram down to the Black Bear Mill and then haul the concentrate down to Telluride.

Through the efforts of the Telluride Jeep Club the Black Bear Pass road was opened to traffic again in 1959.

Helmuth, Ed & Gloria The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87108-841-X, 1994. Print.

Description:
Black Bear Pass is actually a saddle between Three Needles and Trico Peak and gets its name from the Black Bear Mine to the north of the saddle. Black Bear Pass is one of the most well know passes in Colorado. It has been described as dangerous, deadly, and scenic. It can be dangerous due to the sharp switchbacks. You need to pay attention to driving the road when you decend the switchbacks. From a deadly standpoint, Schofield Pass has actually claimed more lives than Black Bear. The scenery is by far the best attribute of the switchbacks on Black Bear Pass. Views of Telluride during the descent are impressive, but there are also the Bridal Veil Falls, with the power plant above (now a private home), and Ingram Falls as part of the surrounding scenery.

From the parking lot on the west side of Red Mountain Pass there is a road that heads southwest, this is the start of Black Bear Pass. The road will do a few switchbacks as it climbs above Hwy 550. This part of the road is not very difficult. The switchbacks will have the most challenge.
Starting up the east side from Red Mountain Pass

photo by:
Adam M

Shortly you will be above timberline enjoying some scenic views back to the east. There will be a mild section of ledge road as you climb toward the east. You will come to a large sweeping turn and then coninue your climb toward the west.
Getting above timberline

photo by:
Adam M

You will cross a wide flatter area that is the lower east side of the saddle below Black Bear Pass.
Flat area before the pass

photo by:
Adam M

Once on top of Black Bear Pass you will find a few places to park as well as the Black Bear Pass sign. From here you get views to the east of the Red Mountain Pass area, and to the west toward Telluride (though you can't see the town yet).
View to the east from Black Bear Pass

photo by:
Adam M

Black Bear Pass sign

photo by:
Adam M

View to the west from Black Bear Pass

photo by:
Adam M

From the pass the road will head down into the bowl below and head north to a small spur of the ridge north of Black Bear Pass. After crossing the spur the road will head down further and start a long sweeping ledge road section that loops to the north, then to the west around the headwaters of Ingram Creek.
Starting down the west side

photo by:
Adam M

This is one of the more scenic areas where you can see other vehicles on the far side of the valley, above Ingram Creek, working their way along the ledge road.
Ledge road section

photo by:
Adam M

The road will head down toward the valley floor and work its way through the rocks and vegetation along the creek.
Heading down to the switchbacks

photo by:
Adam M

As you come to the main atraction of Black Bear Pass, the switchbacks, you will have a great view of Telluride in the wide valley below.
Telluride in the valley, center of image

photo by:
Adam M

Above this section of road to the right are tram towers that serviced the Black Bear Mine and brough ore down to the Black Bear Mill, just past the first switchback.
Old tram towers

photo by:
Adam M

From this point on the road is one way, down. One of the challenges on Black Bear is the short section that drops you over the lip of the upper valley to start the switchbacks. Besides being psycologically tough, with nothing in front of you as you make the turn while dropping over the edge, the road itself is fairly rough and steep.
Rough section around the corner

photo by:
Adam M

Rough section

photo by:
Adam M

Rough section in 1988

photo by:
Adam M

Looking back up at the corner

photo by:
Adam M

Just after you drop over the edge and navigate your first switchback you will pass the remains of the Black Bear Mill with its battery of stamps.
Black Bear Mill remains

photo by:
Adam M

Now that you have started down and taken in the first challenge, passed the mill remains, and viewed the great scenery of Telluride down below, it is time to focus on driving the road. From this point you will be doing a series of sharp switchbacks as you work your way down to the lower valley. The first and second switchback can be the hardest with very little room to make the turn. As you work your way lower down the cliff face the switchbacks become a little easier. At the 10th switchback, where you are back in the trees again, is a parking area for the Bridal Veil Falls. It is a short walk over to the falls for some nice pictures. From here the road will be two way again so watch for oncoming traffic. Also watch for the increase in bike and hiking traffic along this section.
Bridal Veil Falls

photo by:
Adam M

Past the falls the road will widen and do two more switchbacks before connecting with a county road that heads into downtown Telluride.
Data updated - April 22, 2016      4WD Road driven - August 13, 2015      Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016