Black Bear and Imogene Passes in Colorado
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
On our summer road trip to southwestern Colorado, we enjoyed hiking, sightseeing, and Jeeping. Some of the Jeep adventures were fairly tame with amazing scenery and a few scary spots, but Black Bear Pass is known for its particularly challenging technical sections that are extremely rocky, super steep, and – bonus – along a shelf road with a treacherous drop-off on one side and a rock wall on the other.
At times, I closed my eyes. Other times, I took video to take my mind off of the danger in front of us. And at one point, I actually got out of the Jeep to stand by and watch.
Colorado Jeeping: Day Two
The four of us woke up Wednesday morning – following our trek over Cinnamon Pass, California Pass, Hurricane Pass, and Corkscrew Pass – in beautiful Ouray, Colorado, and headed back out on the incomparable Million Dollar Highway once again, but this time bound for the pinnacle of this trip's Jeep adventures: Black Bear Pass.
We departed from Ouray down the Million Dollar Highway, enjoying the incredible scenery along the way.
I knew going into it that this Jeep route over Black Bear Pass was going to have the most challenging sections as well as be the scariest of all the routes on this trip. Let's just say I'm glad I wasn't driving.
Early on, this route seemed pretty tame and we even got to hear a little "Tennessee Waltz" as we wound our way around the rocks, a song that will forever remind me of my grandparents.
Some of these expansive views were simply amazing.
Well, in no time at all, we reached the summit of Black Bear Pass at 12,840 ft. That didn't seem so bad. I found out that the "fun" begins on the way down the other side.
Taken while descending Black Bear Pass, and you can also see two other (tiny) Jeeps across the way.
A view of Telluride, Colorado, from up on Black Bear Pass.
This pass was loaded with Jeeps, all in a line, slowly negotiating their way around boulders and tight corners and carefully navigating over ledges and super-steep stretches. I learned later that a particularly notorious section of Black Bear Pass is called "The Steps."
This part of The Steps was really just an abrupt ledge, but for some reason, I felt like I couldn't be inside the Jeep when we went over it (or when we went over in it), so I exited to the side and decided to take video. Just after this rocky ledge was a popular resting point for several of the off-road vehicles in front of us (mostly Jeeps, but impressively, what we think was an old 2-door AMC Eagle with a lift and meaty tires was also in the group). A couple of these drivers came over and offered to provide some helpful spotting and instructions to us.
One thing is for certain: The intensity never fully comes through in photos or videos. And it's a really good thing this entire stretch is one-way traffic. Except the occasional trail runner...
After we successfully navigated over the ledge without incident, we were met by a (crazy) trail runner dashing up The Steps that we were trying not to slide down or drive off of.
Looking down The Steps toward Telluride. It's very narrow, very rocky, very steep, very bumpy, and pretty nerve-wracking, all around.
Steep. Steep. Steep.
We made it past the majority of the steepest, most treacherous stretches and continued on towards Bridal Veil Falls. In this shot with the Bronco, you can also see some of the lovely wildflowers along the route, as well as a crumbling old mine and small waterfall.
Getting closer to Telluride below.
This section was especially narrow in spots with an abrupt drop-off to my right.
Shortly after, we got our first glimpses of Bridal Veil Falls.
Much to my overwhelming relief, we safely made it down into Telluride, where I was more than excited to reach pavement again, but also to take on a steep hike to Bear Creek Falls so I could expel some of the stress that built up while traveling on Black Bear Pass!
After we had our tailgate lunch of PB&J and apple slices, completed the hike, and walked around downtown Telluride, we jumped back in the Jeep and headed for Imogene Pass before returning to Ouray.
This pass would be the highest one on this trip at 13,114 ft. The route was pretty enjoyable and, again, afforded some amazing views.
Here in the far off distance you can see Bridal Veil Falls, again.
Looking over at the part of Black Bear Pass that descends to Bridal Veil Falls and into Telluride.
Telluride ski runs from Imogene Pass.
Some steep drop-offs on Imogene Pass, as well.
One of the memorable views from Imogene Pass was this one of the zig-zag switchbacks we survived during the intense Black Bear Pass adventure earlier in the day.
And a tunnel!
Lots of Jeeps heading up to Imogene.
Made it to the top!
This is the famous mailbox at the top of Imogene Pass.
Four rigs with Wisconsin license plates traveling together, so naturally I had to take a photo and ask them where they were from. (They said the Appleton area and that they were in the region for a wedding.)
That poor skeleton of a mailbox has seen better days. But what an incredible view!
On our way down to Ouray, we had one final water crossing.
And then a few more miles on the dirt forest road before we reached pavement once again. It was another wonderful day of Jeeping, hiking, and sightseeing in Colorado.