Best time to visit Colorado

Alpine Loop Scenic Byway in Colorado

Take a scenic drive through the American Switzerland

Best time: June–September

Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
Alpine Loop Scenic Byway
Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway is a spectacular 105-km (65-mi) drive through the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. The road goes from Ouray to Lake City, and Silverton, crossing two high mountain passes such as Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass. A high clearance 4WD vehicle with a short wheelbase is recommended for this trip.

When is the Alpine Loop in Colorado open

Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway has a narrow window for visiting—from June to September when it's snow-free. During the rest of the year, the Alpine Loop is closed for traffic due to snow and avalanche hazards. For the latest updates, please check with the Colorado Department of Transportation.

How long does it take to drive the Alpine Loop in Colorado

Alpine Loop drive takes 4–6 hours to cover the distance between Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton. You'd better allow 7 hours to fully enjoy the scenic beauty, however. Colorado's Alpine Loop is affectionately called the "Switzerland of America" for a reason!

The Alpine Loop starts with the historic high-altitude town of Ouray. The area that used to be home for Ute Indians is known for its hot springs. From there the Alpine Loop navigates through mountain peaks of the Rockies, alpine meadows, and tundra. Engineer Pass with an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,657 m) is a great spot to marvel at 14,000-ers Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn. Cinnamon Pass offers the views of Handies, Sunshine, and Redcloud.

On your way through Colorado's Alpine Loop, you can visit ghost towns that were set up for mining. Silverton also was a mining town, but its mines are mostly closed. Lake City is another perfect stop on the Alpine Loop that offers views of granite cliffs and fall foliage in late summer and early autumn.

Alpine Loop camping

The cities along the way typically offer numerous RV-friendly camping opportunities. You can stay at Ouray KOA Campgrounds. Besides, Williams Creek and Mill Creek Campgrounds near Lake City are nestled just along the drive, which makes them particularly popular options. Also, Silverton has a couple of Silverton Lakes RV resorts to stay overnight. Lastly, you can browse the Alpine Loop map for available hotels nearby. Whichever option you prefer, make your reservations well beforehand.

Practical info

When can you visit the Alpine Loop in Colorado?

The Alpine Loop, located within the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway, is accessible to visitors from June to September when the area is free of snow. The road is closed outside of this time due to snow and avalanche hazards, so plan accordingly, and consider visiting during the summer months. Show more

How long does it take to complete the Alpine Loop drive?

Driving the full distance from Ouray to Lake City and Silverton through the Alpine Loop takes 4-6 hours, but factor in extra time for sightseeing and potential stops along the route. It's recommended to set aside a minimum of 7 hours for the drive, and consider staying overnight to explore the region's variety of attractions such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and mining heritage. Show more

What is the recommended vehicle type for driving the Alpine Loop?

It's recommended that you use a high clearance, 4WD vehicle with a short wheelbase to safely navigate the challenging mountain passes and unpaved roads of the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. It's important to be prepared for obstacles such as rocks and streams for a more comprehensive driving experience. Show more

Are there hiking opportunities available along the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway?

Yes, you can discover hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty and interest along the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. The Ice Lakes Trail, Blue Lakes Trail, and American Basin Trail are among the many popular hikes. Most of these trails will require additional driving off of the main route to reach trailheads. Before planning your hike, check for trail closures and prepare accordingly for any potential weather conditions. Show more

What are some other scenic drives that are close to the Alpine Loop?

The San Juan Skyway, a 233-mile loop featuring Durango, Telluride, and Cortez, is widely considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Another option is the Million Dollar Highway, a stunning 40-mile stretch of US Route 550, which offers breathtaking views of the San Juan mountains as you travel from Silverton to Ouray. Both drives offer visitors exceptional scenic viewing opportunities. Show more

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