Engineer Pass  
USGS 7.5' Map: Handies Peak, Redcloud Peak, Uncompahgre Peak, Lake City
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 2 Hinsdale Cnty 20
Ouray Cnty 18
23.62 8,700 to 12,800 ft. Rocky, Ledge Road 3-4 hours
County: Hinsdale, San Juan, Ouray
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Hinsdale County

San Juan County

Ouray County
311 N. Henson Street
Lake City, CO 81235

1557 Greene St
Silverton, CO 81433

541 4th Street
Ouray, CO 81427


Summary: Engineer Pass is a historic pass into the San Juan mountain region. It is part of the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. It connects Lake City with the ghost town of Animas Forks. It passes through the ghost towns of Henson, Capitol City, and Rose Cabin.
Attractions: Scenery, History, Ghost Towns
Natural - Closed by heavy snows
Best Time: July - Late after spring snow melt
August - Best
September - Best
Trail Heads

Camping: Their are dispersed sites at the very estern end of Engineer Pass near Lake City.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp. Other 4WD roads in the area include Cinnamon Pass, Wager Gulch, and Jarosa Mesa.
Fall Colors: Good -
Navigation: From Silverton, CO. head northeast on County Rd 2/Greene Street toward 11th Street. Continue to follow Greene Street for 0.7 miles. Continue onto County Rd 34 and go 0.4 miles. Continue onto County Rd 2 for 7.6 miles. Take a slight left to stay on County Rd 2. Go 5.1 miles and turn right to stay on County Rd 2. Go 0.1 miles and turn right to stay on County Rd 2. Go 0.4 miles and take a slight right to stay on County Rd 2. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.

From Ouray, CO. head south on US-550/Main Street toward 5th Ave. Continue to follow US-550 South for 3.9 miles. Turn left onto County Rd 18 and go 4.3 miles. Continue onto County Rd 17 and go 2.7 miles. Take a sharp left onto County Rd 2. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.

From Lake City, CO. head south on CO-149 South toward 4th Street. Go 0.3 miles and turn right onto 1st Street. Go 0.1 miles and turn left onto County Rd 20. This is the start of the Engineer Pass 4WD road.
History: Engineer Pass was constructed by Otto Mears and was completed in August of 1877. By 1880 the Rocky Mountain Stage and Express Company was providing daily stage service between Lake City and Animas Forks using Engineer Pass.

Koch, Don. The Colorado Pass Book, 3rd ed. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 2000. Print.
Helmuth, Ed and Gloria. The Passes of Colorado Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1994. Print.
The west end of Engineer Pass 4WD road begins high above timberline above the ghost town of Animas Forks to the south and the remains of Mineral Point to the west where County Road 17 and County Road 2 connect. You will immediately begin to climb up a series of short and long switchbacks as you ascend the side of Engineer Mountain. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges will be grand. At the second long switchback after starting Engineer Pass will be a side road that contines around a ridge. This road will dead end at a large rock outcropping. From here are views of the Henson Creek drainage on the other side of Engineer Pass. This road once dropped down into Hurricane Basin and Shafer Gulch, but today the talus slope below the rock outcropping has reclaimed the road.

Back at the switchback continue up along a long ledge road that loops around the west side of Engineer Mountain. You will pass some side roads to mine claims and faint trails to prospect holes. As you come around to the north side of Engineer Mountain you will drive onto a long saddle that is Engineer Pass.
Engineer Pass view

photo by:
Adam M

There is lots of room to park and enjoy the views of the San Juan mountain range. From the pass you will continue down into the Henson Creek drainage. This section of the road will have some rougher parts with areas where run off has rutted spots. The road will still be wide for the most part with areas to pass oncoming traffic. There will be more side roads to old mines, but the main road will be easy to distinguish.
Engineer Pass from the east (road is left of center)

photo by:
Adam M

As you drop down below timberline you will come to an intersection. The road to the right will take you to Shafer Gulch and Hurricane Basin, which dead ends at an old mine site. The left will continue with the main Engineer Pass road. About three quarters of a mile from the intersection is the site of Rose Cabin. The Shafter Gulch road will also tie back into the Engineer Pass road. Past this intersection you will come to the remains of the Bonanza-Empire mine.
1996 photo of Bonanza-Empire mine building

photo by:
Adam M

As the road continues following Henson Creek you will see lots of waterfalls on the opposite side of the valley flowing down the sides of Gravel Mountain. Some are small dropping down the steep slope, others are much larger.

After awhile you will enter into a large flat area where the North Fork of Henson Creek ties in. This is the site of Capital City, once a ghost town but you will find a few private residences in the area now. At the intersection in the road take the right to continue down the valley following Henson Creek. The left will take you up the North Fork of Henson Creek where the road will eventually dead end. The road will drop down closer to Henson Creek as you head down the valley. The next area where you find mine tailings and residences will be the town of Henson.

Just past the town of Henson are the Treasure Falls where Alpine Gulch drops down from Red Mountain. From here the Henson Creek drainage gets narrow again with short sheer cliffs along its banks. After a mile or so you will come out into Lake City.
Data updated - January 20, 2015        4WD Road driven - July 27, 2010        Copyright - 2000-2015