Toll Road Gulch  
USGS 7.5' Map: Mount Ouray, Poncha Pass, Bonanza
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 3 FR 869 7.14 8,680 to 11,200 ft. Ledge Road 2 2-3 hours
County: Saguache
Adopted by:      
Managed by: San Isabel National Forest,
Salida Ranger District

Rio Grande National Forest,
Saguache Ranger District
325 West Rainbow Blvd.
Salida, CO 81201

46525 State Highway 114
Saguache, CO 81149

Summary: Toll Road Gulch is a nice side trip around Poncha Pass and into the Kerber Creek drainage and the town of Bonanza. It is narrow on some sections, has great views of Mount Ouray and the lower range of the Collegiate Peaks, and connects with some interesting Colorado mining history. In the fall when the aspens are changing the colors add to the scenery. The gravel road out of Bonanza is about a 40 minute drive back to Highway 285.
Attractions: Ledge road, History, Scenery, Mines
South side by the Forest Service from March 15 to May 15
Best Time: June - The north side may still be drifted in
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best for fall colors
Trail Heads
Silver Creek FT 1336 (motorcycle)
Camping: There are a few dispersed campsites on the Silver Creek road, FR 201, before you start up Toll Road Gulch on the north side. The south side does not have any dispersed sites.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp to explore the 4WD roads around Bonanza.
Fall Colors: Very Good - The north and south sides of Toll Road Gulch have many stands of aspen trees.
Navigation: From Poncha Springs, CO. head south on US-285 South for 4.9 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 200 / Marshall Pass Road and go 2.3 miles to an intersection. Turn left onto County Rd 201 and go 0.2 miles to another intersection. Turn left onto County Rd 47Yy / Spring Creek Road and go 5.4 miles to a sharp turn back and up hill. This is the start of Toll Road Gulch 4WD road.

From Saguache, CO. head east on US-285 North / Gunnison Ave toward 6th St Continue to follow US-285 North for 18.5 miles past Villa Grove. Turn left onto County Rd Ll56, the road to Bonanza, and go 14.6 miles. Continue through Bonanza on Main Street and to 1.1 miles past the intersection near Exchequer, stay left on the main road. Continue on County Rd Ll56 for 0.4 miles and take a slight right onto County Road 46 Aa. Go 0.9 miles to an intersection with County Rd 47Yy back to your right and up hill. Stay on the main road to the left and go 0.9 miles to a turn / intersection. Turn left off of the main road. This is the start of Toll Road Gulch 4WD road.
History: "This document is in the public domain and may be quoted. Please credit either the Bureau of Land Management and/or the author, Frederic J. Athearn."

Kerber Creek was explored during the late 1870's by San Juan prospectors, and in 1880 the Exchequer mine was located. Just below it, the Bonanza Mine also struck rich ores, and the rush was on. The towns of Bonanza and Sedgwick sprang up along Kerber Creek in 1880, as did Exchequer, Bonito, and Spook City during 1882. These places were truly boom towns, complete with hotels, saloons, schools, churches and the famous brewery at Sedgwick. This "city" was so "civilized" that it boasted a bowling alley, a billiard hall and two dance halls. Bonanza kept up with the times through two newspapers, while stage and wagon roads connected the town with the Rio Grande Railway at Villa Grove. From the boom came the Kerber Creek Mining District, founded in 1881. These little places lasted into the 1890's, when silver prices fell. West of Kerber Creek, mining settlements, such as Sky City, Bowenton, and Biedell arose and died within a ten-year period. These places, unlike Kerber Creek, were not as rich or accessible as that mining district; therefore, they were not major mining centers in the valley.

Otto Mears of Saguache built toll roads to the Los Pinos Indian Reservation, west of Cochetopa Pass, then on to Lake City, Ouray, and finally into Silverton. In addition, Mears built a road over Poncha Pass to connect the Valley with the Arkansas drainage and other eastern trade routes. Thanks to Mears' roads, Del Norte became a supply base to the San Juans, as did Saguache. Into the 1880's, Mears continued building his toll roads. Finally, late in that decade, most were sold for use as rail grades or public roads.
From the start of Toll Road Gulch on the north end where the Silver Creek Road ends you will begin to climb up into the mountains following the creek in Toll Road Gulch. As you reach 10,200 feet you will loop back north and go around an outcrop of Porphyry Mountain and then climbing along a ledge road up to a large talus slope below the Continental Divide.
Ledge road

photo by:
Adam Mehlberg

Talus slope ledge road

photo by:
Adam Mehlberg

From here you will have great views of Mount Ouray and the Silver Creek valley below.
Silver Creek valley

photo by:
Adam Mehlberg

Mount Ouray

photo by:
Adam Mehlberg

Further north are Mount Shavano and the Collegiate Peaks. Just past this scenic view you will cross the Continental Divide at 11,200 feet. The road will now drop down through aspen groves to the head waters of Squirrel Creek.
Road to Squirrel Creek

photo by:
Adam Mehlberg

As you follow Squirrel Creek the valley will open up and you will cross through larger meadows.

As the valley opens up you will come to a large intersection. To the left is Clover Creek, FR876, and to the right is the continuation of Toll Road Gulch / Squirrel Creek. The large area just past the intersection is the reclamation of the Superior Mill site. Further down the road you will come to an intersection. The left will take you to the Rawley Mine complex and the right will take you to the Rawley Mine Portal. Stay to the right and after less than a quarter mile you will come to the reclamation work on the tailings from the Rawley Portal. There is a Forest Service restroom here as well.

Continuing down the valley you will drive two switchbacks and drop down to the junction of Squirrel Creek and Kerber Creek where FR869 ends near the old site of Exchequer.
Data updated - April 2, 2017       4WD Road driven - September 18, 2010       Copyright - 2000-2017