Alta Lakes s(u)
This high alpine lake area is a well know scenic area near
Telluride, that -for now- still retains a primitive,
undeveloped character, even though it is quite heavily used
(Sept 2011). There are signs that the primitive character
situation may not last much longer in a highly affluent and
developed neighborhood like Telluride.
There are many ways to construct a loop ride with the first
of the Alta Lakes at the highest point. However they all
have to contain the same route over the summit: part of
TR511 Alta Trail on one side, and the Alta Lakes dirt road
on the other side. The route shown in the profile tries to
maximize the approach height by adding lower sections.
START-END EAST: jct Co145 - Boomerang Rd - west of
2.(10200ft,mile04) Boomerang Rd stays left at this
3.(11070ft,mile06) Boomerang Rd enters ghost town of
Alta and turns onto single track trail on left
4.(11240ft,mile06) trail terminates onto dirt road
near western most Alta Lake. Profile turns left, away
from Alta Lakes
6.(9440ft,mile11) Profile turns left from Alta Lakes
Rd onto Co145 towards Lizard Head Pass
7.(9180ft,mile12) Profile turns right down Ilium Rd
8.(8070ft,mile20) START-END WEST: jct Co145 - Ilium
Rd, west of Teluride
From North.There are many options for the lower part
of this approach, thanks to the many trails and roads into and
through the Telluride Ski area. The profile shows the way that's
easiest to find. Leave the valley at the gas station, that has
the nicely sounding name "San Miguel" on the map. In
reality it's just another Shell station.
Here are a few other options, which require a little more
looking around for the right way. The first objective is to get
from Telluride to the St Sophie lift station in the ski area.
You can catch the lift from the western part of Telluride
village or from"Mountain Village", a misnomer if there
ever was one. What name would you give to this place ? The
easiest way to do this is to ride up Co149 towards Lizard Head
Pass and take a left after a few hundred feet of climbing.
A unpaved bike path starts to parallel the main road into this
development. The path takes considerably longer than the road.
Ideally you would pick up the "Village Trail" before
getting into the heart of this development, and follow it up to
the ski lift station. If you are drawn to keep following the
main boulevard into the heart of this development, just to see
what hotel monstrosities lurk around the next corner, it is also
possible to follow ski trails from the center, even if some of
them do not allow bicycles formally. Nobody stopped me. Another
Alternative for this first leg of the route is the lower part of
the Boomerang Trail, a dirt road that leaves the valley floor
between Society Turn and Telluride. Plenty of possibilities, but
simplest of all - take the free gondols from Telluride Village
The second leg of this mission, should you decide to accept
it - is to find the Prospect Trail from the gondola station.
This single track leaves between a maze of dirt roads, ski
tracks and maintenance trails, encirceling a few trees that are
allowed to remain standing in the area around the ski lift
station. A nice lady in a very small kiosk, about the size of an
out house, will be happy to point you in the right direction.
She was hired to do things like that. This perfectly smooth,
nicely prepared single track trail basically contours over to
the more remote part of the ski area, crossing ski runs
periodically, passing a lift station, the Ute Express, then
crossing a labeled streem, Prospect Creek. Past this point the
trail climbs a couple hundred feet, crosses a beautifully
partially cleared Boulder field (I don't know if this is a
ski run or not), then skirts uphill on the edge of a very wide
ski run. Here signs saying "Prospect Loop" start to
make an appearance. After paralleling a road in sight distance
for a couple hundred yards a sign to the left reads
"Boomerang Trail". Another option for this leg is to
pick up the Prospect Trail from the other end, leaving somewhere
in that place called Mountain Village.
The last leg of the uphill approach begins by following the
Boomerang Trail. This trail is really a road, and after a
junction with another dirt road, it is possible to encounter
cars on it. It climbs periodically and can be quite a bit wetter
than the trail sofar. It emerges between the fenced off ruins of
the old mining town Alta, to join the Alta Lakes Road from
Co149. When encountering this intersection from the other side,
it can give off the appearance of being on private land. There
is a "no Trespassing, private property on boths sides of
the road" sign, and the Boomerang Trail Road is clearly on
one of the sides of the road, occupied by the sign. This is
deceptive, and the road is public. But this intersection is
really only a shoulder summit. We need to go a just a little bit
higher. Back a hundred yards before this intersection a sign
pointing to a single track TR511 Alta Trail pointed to the left.
This short single track emerges right at Alta Lakes, with its
fluted cliffs backdrop.
From South. (described downwards). After encircling
the lake and being badgered by ducks for bread crumbs, looking
at the reflection of the sheer cliffs in the water, taking a few
pictures trying to avoid the jeeps and diesel trucks of the
other visitors, the road back down to the ghost town is quick.
Now it may be time to take a closer look at these decaying
structures. Is it ugly or is it picturesque ? It is definitely
history. The rest of the dirt road downhill has some of the best
views along the route, Mount Wilson next to the diminutive but
unmistakable Lizard Head Peak, Sunshine Peak in the shadow
foregrounding the road cuts of Lizard Head Pass. The profile
turns left, going up Lizard Head Pass on Co149, but doing this
while still going downhill. The profile turns right onto South
Fork or Ilium Road (same road, different name -unpaved) to join
Co145 below Telluride. An alternative for this road is to pick
up the Galloping Goose Trail, following an old railroad grade.
It does not reach quite as low as the road.
Cycling: An early guide book from
the 1980s (Bicycling the Back Country, by William Stoehr,
describes the out and back ride on the dirt road from Co145.
Today's tourist brochure, available from the Visitor Center at
the entrance of Telluride, has the loop route. Bicycle stores
also sell a plastic encased version of this map for 11 dollars.
You can save a grand total of 11 dollars by stopping by the
visitor center instead, what a grand savings !
Alta Lakes s(u): Society Turn (Co145 Telluride turnoff)
up Co145 > Mountain Village > various ski trails to St
Sophie Station > Prospect Trail south > Boomerang Trail
> TR511 Alta Trail > Alta Lakes > down Alta Lake Road
> Alta > Co145 south > down Illium/South Fork Road >
Co145 back to starting point: 32.4miles with 4040ft of climbing
in 4:01hours (VDO MC1.0 m3:11.9.26).