Colorado 4X4 Roads: Stony Pass

When I decided to head home from Creede, I had a decision to make: what route would I take? It’s only 50 miles straight line distance between Creede and Ridgway but the highway route goes north to Highway 50 and is over 175 miles! My other options were Engineer Pass, a combination of Cinnamon/California/Hurricane/Corkscrew Passes, or Stony Pass.

I wasn’t really excited about either the Engineer or Cinnamon Pass options because I’ve driven them before and would rather wait to re-drive them until I am going up to hike something. I was down to either the highway route, which was mostly new to me road which would be fine, or Stony Pass (96 miles).

The weather looked promising, despite seeming threatening at Phoenix Park that morning, so I decided that Stony Pass would be my route home. The road all the way up the reservoir was an easy gravel road drive. There was minimal washboarding and barely any potholes and it went really quickly.

Beyond the reservoir, the road deteriorated. There were lots of mud puddles and it was hard to tell just how deep and how muddy some of them were. I hate mud. It makes me nervous when I’m out alone. I’m conservative enough that I don’t feel likely to get stuck on rocks since I can almost always back down something if I can’t get up but mud has the ability to make you actually stuck—especially if, like me, you don’t have a winch. These puddles didn’t really pose too much of a threat but I managed to splash mud all over the Jeep anyway since I was going to “keep up my speed” just to be safe.

Along the way, I ran into a gentleman driving a TJ coming down the road. I backed up into a pullout to let him by when he stopped to get out. “How much further?” he asked. I assumed he was talking about out to the east so I told him, “A-ways.” Turns out he was curious how much further to the top off the pass, the answer to which was also “a-ways.” He’d gotten about a mile further than where we were and turned around because it was “really rough.”

As I’ve discussed before, people’s definition of “rough” varies greatly but I was a little bit nervous since I did not want to drive all the way out and then around on the highway so I just laughed and explained that I lived in Ridgway so I was going to be fairly stubborn about making it over. He shook his head and headed on his way. (Actually, he made the sign of the cross over the hood of the FSJ. I hope he was kidding.)

I continued upward and found his rocky section and had no problem with it—it was simply a sustained (quarter mile?) section of steep and rocky but not anything that needed “crawling” over. The thing that almost made me turn around was actually the mud just before the rocks. I ran into a couple of dirtbikers as I needed to make a crossed up muddy stream crossing and it made me super nervous. Did I mention I hate mud? Seriously, the rocks were a relief!

(I really need to mount the GoPro on the front of the Jeep since capturing what “rough” means photographically is hard when you’re solo and the road demands attention not being a photographer.)

Past the top of the rocky section, it was smooth sailing. There were lots fewer puddles and the road smoothed out a lot. In fact, I’ll probably do this road again, just from the Silverton side and only down to Pole Creek and back.

The road runs right on the northern edge of the Weminuche Wilderness and, along with the adjoining Bear Creek Road and Pole Creek Trail, provides access to some amazing high country.

Even though things had gotten much easier near the top, I heaved a really big sigh of relief when I reached the top. I’d been told by some people that I trusted that the drive from the Silverton side wasn’t that bad (plus it was downhill) so I knew I was home free.

In the end, I’m really glad I drove Stony Pass. Besides the mud (which really wasn’t that bad, I’m just being a whiner) I found it to be something that pretty much any SUV with low range can traverse. There might have been a section or two where a lift might be helpful if you’re not an experienced off road driver but my Jeep only has a small lift and I had no issues.

10 Replies to “Colorado 4X4 Roads: Stony Pass”

  1. interested in hearing more about the “rocky” section of the route. I’ve driven from Silverton to Pole Creek and would like a comparison of that route to this trip. Don’t like the ledge roads, so trying to determine if this route to Pole Creek is easier.

    1. The rocky sections are largely in the trees so it’s not “ledgy” although ledges don’t really bother me so I might not have paid enough attention.

      1. Since I’m from the Midwest, the first part with the ledge coming out of Howardsville toward Stony Pass was unnerving for me. Thanks a lot

  2. Anybody know how far it is from Rio Grande Reservoir up to the headwaters of the Rio Grande? I plan on taking that trip this summer (2017), on a Kawasaki Mule.

    Any tips or information would be very helpful since Ive never done anything like this in my life. I guess its a new adventure for a retired ole boy like me from Texas.


      1. I’ve since read that it is about 20 miles up to the top. I’ve wanted to see where the Rio Grande river starts. I’ve been going to that part of the country almost all my life.

        I bet it is a rough rocky road and I’m sure there’s probably a deep creek or two.

        Any advice would be very helpful.

        Thanks You Maam

  3. Just went from Silverton to Pole Creek in my 2009 F250. I didn’t let enough air out of my tires and my wife let me know it. It was a rather long trip as we went pretty slow due to the high pressure in the tires. We were there specifically on July 28th. There was some rain here and there but nothing that was a downpour at that time. Pole Creek was rather high I thought and it came up to the bottom of my truck. I have larger than normal tires with a lift and it still came up that high. We turned around immediately after the creek and went back to Silverton. It was a fun crossing, and nothing too terrible. I only had to perform a couple 3 point turns in my crew cab short bed throughout the whole journey. I felt as if the trail was plenty wide to accommodate my truck and other vehicles at times. But it was definitely wrought with stones- they don’t call it Stony Pass for nothing.

  4. Has anybody been up to the pass from the east that can give me some into of what I might expect? I plan on doing it this summer on a Kawasaki mule.


  5. I have driven the Stony Pass road from the Rio Grande Reservoir over Stony ( the continental divide) down to Silverton and back. I drove the road in a 4 wheel drive without any problem. At the top of the pass was a large snow pack.
    Is Stony pass the head water of the Rio Grande since the water from the snow pack melts and the flows to the Rio Grande Reservoir?

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