Imogene Pass, Telluride/Ouray Colorado, A trail Review.
Driving Imogene Pass in October, With snow at summit, Telluride Colorado. A trail Review.
Derek from the 4runner lifestyle Team here, I Recently had the opportunity to hit one of the more well known trails of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and maybe a personal favorite, Imogene Pass.
Today we want to give you some details and information about the trail, as well as our recommendations for the tools, Gear and preparations you'll need to accomplish this staple trail in the san juan mountains.
About the Trail:
For those of you who aren't Familiar, Imogene Pass is a 4x4 Road that connects the town of Telluride Colorado to the Town of Ouray. The 17.5 mile pass reaches a Summit of 13,114 Feet, making it the one of the highest altitude roads in the State of Colorado. Imogene Pass is well known for its Incredible views of the town of Telluride, mount Sneffles and the steep switchbacks, sharp cliffs and sudden drop offs leading up to the Tomboy Mining site and Ghost town as well as the steep switchbacks leading to the summit.
According to most websites and travel agencies, Imogene Pass is Rated as Difficult and it is recommended that you have 4 Wheel Drive, A short wheel base, Moderately High Clearance and Skid plates. Most notably we think that any person who has a fear of heights or driving along cliff faces, should not attempt this trail.
However... In our Opinion, if you are a thrill seeker or you enjoy what we would consider Imogene pass a moderately challenging trail for well prepared overlanders. We would strongly recommend high clearance and skid plates with a short wheel base. 4 wheel drive is a must on this one, although you could potentially make this road in 2 wheel, there were times where I had to use 4 low and crawl control over small areas of rock that had become slick due to snowy conditions.
We strongly discourage attempting this trail in the snow. Although passable I did encounter some slipping and less than ideal situations when trying to make summit in the snow.
Imogene Pass is also a great stop for any history enthusiasts or anyone who like to visit ghost towns or mining sites. Imogene pass passes through the abandoned Tom Boy Mining Site. A large mining Ghost town that was in operation in the 1800's. The site can still be visited with many structures in tact.
For seasoned Overlanders and 4x4 enthusiasts, Imogene pass is an absolute must when visiting Telluride or Ouray Colorado.
Checking Trail Conditions:
As mentioned before the road conditions can be dangerous if they are wet or there is heavy snowfall. However the road itself does actually have a gate that it closed each winter when the road is deemed impassable.
You can check to see the current road closure conditions on the County Government website here: https://www.sanmiguelcountyco.gov/406/Road-Conditions
My Experiences with the trail:
This was actually my fourth Time making the Pass in my 4runner, although this time I found that snow at the summit did make the pass significantly more challenging and at times dangerous. We would highly recommend visiting this trail when there is no snow or rain, as the trail does have several spots that can easily become more dangerous when wet conditions occur.
Imogene Pass is easily my Favorite road in this area (so far) I make a point of hitting this trail once every year because I love the trail so much. Each year I typically hit the trail between the 10th of August and the 10th of October. Usually snow settles in this area in early October and sticks around until the late spring.
I'd highly recommend this trail in the early mid or Late Summer months. Monsoon rain storms tend to hit around the middle of august and end of July so rainy conditions can be common during those times.
I really love doing this Trail from the Telluride side towards Ouray, although the trail can be traversed either way unlike blackbear pass, which can only be traveled from Ouray to Telluride one way.
In my experience airing down is one of the simplest and most effective ways to ease your passage. The trail itself is not extremely technical, but there are small patches where wheel placement, Airing down, and having 4 low and crawl control can be very helpful when getting over large boulders and deep holes. I have never personally hit a skid here, but seeing the rocks and the trail it wouldn't be a bad idea to have one.
Hitting the Trail in 2022:
I attempted the trail this year in my 4runner (2021 TRD ORP, 3" OME lift with 265/70/17 BFG K02's) on October 8th, 2022. I found that the immediate section of the trail from telluride was really easy, even doable in 2wd. From there the first set of swithbacks was intense, but not technical. I actually made it all the way to the tomb boy mine with no use of 4 low, crawl control or any kind of issues with traction.
From the tomboy mine I did encounter several larger rocks and deeper holes that I used 4 low and crawl control in one spot to clear.
When I reached the final switchbacks to the summit they where covered in roughly 6-8 inches of snow with some tracks from previous drivers. I was able to make it up to summit through the snow in 4 high with few issues, however I will admit it was pretty nerve racking and I did feel some loss of traction and slipping.
I made my descent back down quickly since we were loosing daylight and the switchbacks where now in shade, on my way down I went into 4 low and took it pretty slow. I had several slippage issues and at a couple points thought I was going to have a wheel go over the edge. Luckily that didn't happen and I managed to make it back down the snowy section just fine.
I had originally planned to go all the way to ouray however the back side switchbacks were caked in what looked like 8-12 inches of snow, and I watched a pretty well build tacoma really struggle to make it down, getting stuck at several points. I figured it wasn't the best idea given my traction issues coming up so I had to head back the way I had come.
Gear and Vehicle Requirements Needed:
Ok so you've done your planning, you've checked the safety conditions of the trail, and you've decided you want to hit the trail... What Gear do you Actually need to make this trail happen?
Trail Vehicle Requirements:
- 4 Wheel Drive
- High Clearance
- Short Wheel Base
Well I personally will tell you that you should have 4 wheel drive when doing this trail. Although I think an experienced driver with recovery gear like Maxtrax could potentially make it, there are enough spots where you need just that little umph to get over that I really wouldn't recommend it.
As far as clearance, I have done this trail in my 4runner when it was bone stock... but..... I would not recommend doing that, I managed to get up to the top ok but there where a couple light scrapes and rough spots where I needed 4 wheel drive and 4 low to clear. I did air down and I would Consider the ability to air down a must for this trail because you're gonna have a headache if you don't.
Trail Gear Recommendations:
- All terrain or Mud Terrain Tires
Having any or all of these will definitely make the trail much easier and the experience more enjoyable. I really recommend maxtrax as your recovery gear for this trail simply because large portions are barren tundra or rocky sections with no trees or anchor points for winches or other recovery straps to anchor too. There are little or no points at which the ground can be penetrated to utilize anchored recovery points as well.
Though I have never needed maxtrax or recovery gear, it is definitely a possible spot to have issues and its always better to be prepared, which is what we're all about there anyway isn't it?
Rock sliders and skids are one of those things you'll definitely have the opportunity to put to use here, but I wouldn't say you are guaranteed to hit them. I have never hit them on this trail when I watch my wheel placement.
Imogene pass is a personal favorite trail for me in the telluride area. I believe any experienced off road driver with the right conditions and vehicle would love the views and the historic sites along the trail. We inventory some of the best gear and tools out there to help you make the most of the trails like Imogene pass.
All of our products and gear can be found here on our site:
We hope this information was useful for you! and that it answers any questions you may have had about the trail or the gear!
If you have any questions or feel that we missed something, be sure to leave it in the comments below!
Thanks for stopping by, and we'll catch you on the trails 🤙