Ophir Pass  
USGS 7.5' Map: Ophir, Silverton
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 3 FR679, FR630 14.41 9,261 to 11,789 ft. Ledge Road 2-3 hours
County: San Juan, San Miguel
Adopted by:      
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
Summary: Ophir Pass is a historic wagon road that crosses between Lookout Peak and South Lookout Peak, connecting Ophir with Silverton.
Attractions: Scenery, History, Ghost Towns
Natural - Closed by heavy snow.
Best Time: July - Late after spring snow melt
August - Best
September - Best
October - May be snowed closed
Trail Heads
Swamp Canyon Trail #634 - Hiking, Mountain biking, Horseback riding.
Camping: There are no good dispersed campsites. People have camped below Hwy550 at the bridge that crosses Mineral Creek.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp and explore the many other 4WD roads. On the west side Imogene Pass and Black Bear Pass are out of Telluride. On the east side there are many 4WD roads around Silverton.
Fall Colors: Good - There are aspen on the south slopes of San Joaquin Ridge and Silver Mountain above Ophir.
Navigation: From Silverton, CO head southwest on Greene Street toward 11th Street and go .4 miles. Take a slight right onto County Road 2 and go 417 ft. Take a slight right onto US-550 N and go 4.8 miles. Turn left onto Forest service Road 679, the Ophir Pass road.

From Ouray, CO. head south on US-550 S and go 18.1 miles. Take a sharp right onto Forest Service Road 679, which is the Ophir Pass road.

From Telluride, CO. head west on W Colorado Ave toward S Fir Street and go 0.6 miles. At the traffic circle, continue straight onto W 145 Spur Hwy/CO-145 and continue to follow CO-145 for 2.9 miles. At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto CO-145 S and go 7.3 miles. Turn left onto the Ophir Road.
History: Originally known as Howard pass, named after Lieutenant George Howard who was a prospector in the area in the 1870's, this route was used by the Navajo on hunting trips between the San Miguel Valley and the Animas Valley. Fur trappers were probably the first white men over the pass using it as a shortcut into the high country.

In May of 1878 the town of Ophir got a post office. The residents seemed to have named the town after King Solomon's mines described in the bible in 1 Kings 9:28: "And they came to Ophir and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon." Ophir is two adjacent towns, Old Ophir and New Ophir. In 1879 paid mail carriers began using Ophir Pass to bring the mail to the new town. One of the carriers did just one trip over the pass, then quite. One tragedy that happened on Ophir Pass was when mail carrier Swen Nilson insisted on delivering Christmas letters on December 23, 1883, even after the Silverton postmaster advised against it due to a snowstorm. Nilson failed to arrive at Ophir so a serch party was sent to look for him, but did't find him. Even through the summer people searched, but it wasn't until the summer of 1885 that his decomposing remains were found in a deep ravine, his mail sack still strapped to his back.

In early 1881 thirty men began building the Ophir Pass toll road under the direction of James Mountain who had been given the contract by San Juan County. The businesses of Silverton were interested in gaining access to the new strikes that were taking place in Rico, Ophir, and Telluride to supply them with materials and goods. The road from Silverton to Burro Bridge had previously been built by Mr. Mountain for San Juan County, so this was a natural continuation. The toll road followed one of the most heavily used Native American trails through the San Juan mountains. The previous work on the Silverton to Burro Bridge road was very good and the road to the top of Ophir Pass was also well built, but due to lack of money Mr. Mountain took the road almost straight down the steep scree slope of the west side of the pass. (The present road does not follow that original route.) By August of 1881 the Ophir Pass Toll Road was officialy open, at a cost of $15,000, but the western side brought instant cries for improvement.

By 1891 the railroad had made its way over Lizard Head Pass and on down past New Ophir using the Ophir Loop to Telluride. This decreased the cost of shipping ore out and goods in, but it also reduced the traffic over Ophir Pass. It became rarely used as a wagon road between Silverton and Ophir.

The current road over the pass was opened in 1953 for use by jeepers and others with four wheel drive vehicles.

Smith, P. David The Road that Silver Built, 1st ed. Lake City, Colorado: Western Reflections Publishing, 2009. Print.
Benson, Maxine 1001 Colorado Place Names University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0633-5, 1994, Print.
Helmuth, Ed & Gloria The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, ISBN 0-87108-841-X, 1994. Print.
Koch, Don The Colorado Pass Book Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, 3rd ed., ISBN 0-87108-879-7, 2000. Print.
Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 3, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 2001. Print.
Beginning from the west side of Ophir Pass you leave Hwy 145 just south of the Ophir Needles and head west through New Ophir toward Old Ophir. The road is well maintained past Old Ophir as you head further up the valley.
Heading up out of the town of Ophir

photo by:
Adam M

As you start to climb toward timberline you will start to get some views of Ophir Pass to the southeast.
Ophir Pass in the background

photo by:
Adam M

View of Ophir Pass from the Carbonero Mine - 1993

photo by:
Adam M

The road will climb above timberline and start a long curve headed up to the pass. The road will end up heading west before making a sharp climbing switchback and then returning to head east. This is the most challenge on Ophir Pass.
The west side of the pass

photo by:
Adam M

The road will climb up to a narrow notch in the surrounding talus of broken rocks bringing you to the pass. The pass itself does not have a parking area and non-descript. There are no real views from the pass.
Top of Ophir Pass

photo by:
Adam M

Once over the pass the road will head down into the trees. There is one section of ledge road with views of the creek far below. You will do one switchback and continue your descent through the trees following the Middle Fork of Mineral Creek.
The east side of the pass

photo by:
Adam M

The road will cross an open meadow heading northeast and make a turn to the southeast crossing Mineral Creek. The road will climb up to meet Hwy 550 after crossing the creek.

Ophir Pass can be run in either direction.
Data updated - April 22, 2016      4WD Road driven - August 13, 2015      Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2016