So. CO Trip Day 3 – Taking the scenic route from Crested Butte to Telluride

On the third day of our southern Colorado trip, we could have easily slept in and checked out as late as we wanted from our tent hotel on the Paradise Divide, but we also had an incredible itinerary ahead of us, and more importantly, today was the day we would check into our Mountain Village lodging outside Telluride. We couldn’t wait to start checking off the many sights planned for our trip!

As I had mentioned previously, we had departed from Denver a day early for our So Co trip, hoping to escape the wildfire smoke that was blowing into town, but no matter how much we kept traveling south, the smoke was still there. There was no telling which particular wildfire was the source of the smoke because at this point in the summer, several fires were present in Colorado, and there were even fires as far as California that were supposedly responsible for the smoke blowing in our state. Nonetheless, the smoke was inescapable!

While the smoke made for some gorgeous, colorful sunsets, the rest of the time, it left our throats on fire and coated the horizon of every mountain pass we drove. We could have made a beeline this day for our Telluride lodging three hours away and hoped that being inside an air-conditioned room would alleviate some of the havoc that the smoke had caused to our lungs and throat, but we decided we weren’t going to let it stop us from exploring the sights we had planned for the day.

After reaching Ouray, three hours south of our campsite outside Crested Butte, the Colorado scenery really began showing off. The colors of the landscape in the mining areas outside Ouray were incredible and demanded an impromptu, roadside stop.

Our first planned adventure was another half-hour south of Ouray. Porphyry Gulch, a steep 2-mile trail off the Million Dollar Highway south of Ouray, can either be hiked or driven in a 4WD vehicle. The trail leads to a small alpine lake and spectacular waterfall that had been on my Colorado bucket list for many years.

We had actually visited Porphyry Gulch earlier in the season, right after getting our Jeep, but we hadn’t been able to drive it the whole way up to the lake due to snow blocking the road. During this visit, we abandoned our Jeep and hoofed it to the waterfall below the lake. The waterfall was a unique sight in the winter-esque scene, with water pouring into the snow piles still standing at the foot of it, but we had also wanted to see it as it appeared in many idyllic photos, decorated with hundreds of colorful mountain wildflowers at the base.

As it turns out, while mid-June was a bit too early to visit Porphyry Gulch, mid-August was also a little too late. We were able to make it up to the waterfall without any snow obstacles, but by this time in the season, the waterfall was mostly a misty trickle and the wildflowers were on their last bloom. The scenery was still absolutely incredible and we actually spent so much time soaking in the views that we didn’t have time to make it up to the lake past the waterfall.

We certainly weren’t disappointed that we would have to add Porphyry Gulch back to our to-do list for a future July trip to see the lake and the waterfall at its peak beauty!

Downhill view of the steep and winding trail up to Porphyry Gulch.
Mining ruins at the top of Porphyry Gulch.
Waterfall tricking down from Porphyry Gulch.

After completing Porphyry Gulch, we were on to our next adventure a short distance away, Ophir Pass. If it hadn’t been for our off-roading vehicle, Porphyry Gulch Trail would have been unreasonable, out-of-the-way stop for our trip to Telluride, but thanks to the Jeep, we were able to cheat and take a 4WD “shortcut” back over to Telluride.

The scenic route from Crested Butte to Telluride involves going through the beautiful town of Ouray, but also requires a 4WD vehicle to get back west over a tricky, rocky mountain pass.

Hubby had thankfully taken the wheel for most of our So Co trip so far, but at his encouragement, I briefly and bravely agreed to drive the first portion of Ophir Pass, which hubby likes to call a highway because he thinks it’s so easy. We had driven this pass back in July (with hubby behind the wheel) and I knew that the first section of this road was wide and mostly tame.

At the top of Ophir Pass, I resigned from my driver role, not just because I definitely wasn’t going to drive down the other side of the pass that was much more challenging, but also because we had a little side adventure we were going to do — a hike up to Crystal Lake.

When we had driven Ophir Pass previously, we had no idea that there was a gem of a lake located at the top of Ophir Pass and it seemed tragic to have driven through there without visiting it, especially since it’s a short hike to get to the lake. As it turns out, even though it’s a really short hike (probably about half a mile each way), it’s also EXTREMELY rocky and steep. It’s so rocky that we ended up having to carry the dachs both up and down the “trail” just to help prevent them from getting their delicate backs injured, but it was worth the haul!

After our short hike, hubby drove the rest of the way down from the top of Ophir Pass to our lodging outside Telluride. We couldn’t wait to take a shower and kick off the rest of our So Co trip! The next day was our 7th anniversary and we had a much-anticipated activity planned!

The steep, rocky “trail” to Crystal Lake on Ophir Pass. Can you even spot me??
Finally in Telluride!

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