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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.

1.(8750ft,mile00) START-END EAST: jct Co145 - Boomerang Rd - west of Telluride
2.(10200ft,mile04) Boomerang Rd stays left at this jct.
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
5.(11270ft,mile07) TOP
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 (unpaved).
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 !

Dayride with this point as highest summit:

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).