Ty, the pups, and I spent the long 4th of July weekend overlanding, exploring, and photographing the San Juans in southern Colorado. It was an incredible reprieve from both the heat of the Sonoran Desert and the overall chaos that is consuming the world around us right now– if only for a few days. We found some KILLER elopement locations and spent four days in some of the most beautiful locations we’ve ever been together.

My grandparents lived in Durango for roughly a decade of my childhood. I didn’t spend a ton of time there, but I remember catching fireflies in their backyard and absolutely living for the cool mountain air. I loved the San Juan mountains and wanted to return even after they moved back to the desert. Ty, on the other hand, spent a ton of time in southern Colorado growing up. He’s a snowboarder, so he spent a bunch of time in Telleuride, Silverton, and Durango over the years. After we bought our 4Runner last winter, we agreed our first major trip would have to be the San Juans.

In full disclosure, we are really new to the world of overlanding and off-roading. We don’t have a fully-loaded rig or even trail tires yet, but we have 4 wheel drive and the desire to get the heck away from the crowds and find our own little pieces of quiet in the backcountry. We planned this trip based on which trails we were comfortable navigating as well as considering which trails our car would physically be capable of handling (we would need a bit of a lift before some trails would be possible for us).

The rough game-plan was to drive into Durango, gas up, and head into the mountains west of Durango for the night. After that, we would head up to Telleuride, through Imogene Pass. We’d spend the night there, drive into Ouray, and finally finish the trip on the Alpine Loop north of Silverton. That’s not what we ultimately ended up doing but you really can’t go wrong Overlanding in the San Juans, so here’s that story:

Day 1: The Drive in & Kennebec Pass

The drive was about 8 hours, but once we finally arrived on the trail, it was WORTH IT. We passed some campsites, a few STUNNING cabins, and then the road opened up and it was pretty much just us. We passed a couple of Jeep tours, but other than that, we were alone in the forest. Once we found our spot, we set up camp, made our bed in the back of the car, and set up the hammock so we could get dinner going. It was a little disappointing to be under fire restriction, but we actually really enjoyed just stargazing and drinking wine in the hammock. The pups also thoroughly enjoyed their freedom to fetch in peace.

Did I mention we ALL slept in the back of the car together?

Day 2: Kennebec Pass to Alpine Loop & BLM

We started off day two hopeful that we’d be able to get to Imogene Pass by 2:00ish. The morning was sunny, beautiful, and perfect for trying out a moderately difficult trail, but as we moved into the afternoon, the weather turned on us and we were stuck in a downpour. We made a last-minute change of plans and decided instead to hit the Alpine Loop which was far less treacherous and easily navigated in the rain. We passed through Silverton, and even though this was a holiday weekend, we practically had the place to ourselves.

It took awhile to settle on the *perfect* campsite, but once we found it, it was seriously magic. It’s possible that it took us a little TOO long to find, though, because as soon as we finished setting up camp and getting dinner ready, thunder rolled in, and we saw rain on the horizon.

We barely made it into the car with our pots of black beans, chorizo, and taco fixings before the downpour began. It stormed for about an hour, but we were extremely cozy in the car, and we watched a gorgeous sunset while we played some cards and comforted our Koda girl who HATES thunderstorms.

Day 3: Mineral Creek to a Killer View in the San Juans

Day three is where we really veered off course. After yesterday’s rescheduled route, we hoped to get to Imogene Pass for the 4th of July. The two of us ate breakfast, let the dogs run around like maniacs (they’re allowed off-leash on BLM) and enjoyed a gorgeous morning walking around and exploring the Mineral Point Ghost town. We needed to get into Ouray in order to get to Imogene Pass, so we took what we thought was the shortest route– Mineral Creek. We were… wrong.

In fairness, Mineral Creek is only rated a 5 out of 10 for off-road difficulty, so we thought it’d be no biggie, but then it started to rain. A lot. Not only that, but this trail takes place entirely on the edge of a cliff that falls into a canyon. On top of that, we really could have used an extra couple inches of clearance. It took 3 hours to go downhill SEVEN MILES.

I was in and out of the car (in the rain, mind you) several times to drag logs and fallen rocks out of the road, spot Ty as the truck climbed down obstacles, and honestly just catch my breath. It was… a lot. We scraped our skid plate a few times, and I think I almost died of an anxiety attack, but we made it. When we finally hit the freeway into Ouray and stopped to air up the tires, I was exhausted.

It was also already 2:00 PM– WAY later than we wanted to start on Imogene Pass. Not only that, but the trailhead was swamped, and that trail was rated even harder than Mineral Creek. That’s gonna be a no.

We scrapped that plan and decided on another campground near by. Neither of us were stoked on a traditional campground, since we vastly prefer the quiet an solitude of dispersed camping, but we figured we’d make it work, and BOY did we!

We found a turn off in the campground for a 4×4 leading up to a lake, so we figured we’d try that out and hope for the best. Here’s the view we found:

I purposely excluded the location because it was perfectly secluded and quiet. It would have been PERFECT for an elopement, and I don’t want that quiet to get disturbed 😉 If you do some research on all-trails or google earth, I’m sure you’d be able to find it, though!

We set up camp, Wilbur chased a Marmot, and enjoyed a much-needed beer and pasta dinner while we watched the sun set. This day felt like pure, unadulterated chaos in the moment, but this final site seriously was so worth it.

Also, please note the lack of photos for that Mineral Creek trail. I just couldn’t do it.

I mean, look at this elopement spot.

The last day

We started our final day of Overlanding in the San Juans exploring an alpine lake just above our last night’s campground. A gorgeous morning was made even better because we rescued someone’s punctured packraft with duct tape, successfully kept Wilbur out of the water, and then we were on our way back to the desert.

We would do this trip 1000x over. Our only regret was not having more time there, but we will be back! We HAVE to do Imogene Pass, so we’ll be back for the San Juans for another overlanding adventure in no time.

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Overlanding in the San Juans



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photography by Kiley Harmon  |  design by Foil & Ink