Silverjack Reservoir is a favorite destination in these parts, with easy access for camping, including places to bring in travel trailers. This post provides and describes the GPS track—the photos of Owl Creek are here, West Fork here, Middle Fork here, and East Fork here. All of the campgrounds are primitive and are most usually not marked as campgrounds. This area is easily accessible by pick-up truck, Jeep, ATVs, and motorcycles. Much is also accessible to a normal 2WD automobile, including the trip from Ridgway up over Owl Creek Pass and then north to Cimarron. I gathered the GPS data for the track shown on June 19th, 2010. The resulting map is physically quite large, so please continue reading to see it.
Let’s start on the left hand side. To get to the Owl Creek/Silverjack area from Ridgway, Colorado, travel north on US Highway 550. Not very far north you’ll find Ouray County Road 10, with a sign pointing to Silverjack Reservoir and Owl Creek Pass. Take County Road 10 until it intersects County Road 8 near the headquarters for the Sleeping Indian Ranch. From there, take County Road 8 east.
Note that the base map shows CR 8 as somewhat south of my track. My track is correct. The old CR 8 they show is now an ATV double-track trail (and a nice one, I might add). You can access this intricate double-track trail system from View Point (shown on map), the Stealey Mountain Trailhead further east (well marked with parking), or from a remarkably difficult-to-find intersection between the double-track and CR8 even further east. I’ve been into this trail complex many times, but I can’t find where I’ve posted a GPS track. But do check out this post, which offers some wonderful wildlife pictures taken in the Stealey Mountain Trail Complex on July 9th, 2010.
Continuing further east will give you some stunning views of Chimney Peak. Traveling further east finds you to Owl Creek Pass. Don’t blink! The pass is heavily forested with very little view. The sign is on the left (north) side of the road. If you take the road to the left, it opens into a parking lot that has some views to the south and east, plus there’s a portable pit toilet there. The pass marks the boundary between Ouray and Gunnison Counties.
A rather short distance further east brings you to West Fork. As you travel south (and into Hinsdale County), the road affords many views of the back of Chimney Peak and some other mighty interesting features. The further south you go, the rougher the road becomes. The last part should only be attempted by ATVs and dirt motorcycles as it is extremely rough. It fords the river at one point—I’ve only been across once, and that was in 2009. The road stops at a “parking lot” (ha!) at the Wilderness Area boundary. That last bit of road is just plain rough, but the views are stunning.
Back north along the road winds for several miles, actually following West Fork down to a formally-designated campground called Cimarron Forks. From the campground you can enter another double-track ATV/motorcycle/hiking/horse trail complex. I’ve been through much of it, though not all as I ran out of daylight. Also I would note that it’s really made with ATVs in mind. The northern fork of the track takes you right down to the lake, which is Silverjack Reservoir, not the “Hanging Lake” which is an error on the base map.
Back to the main road, you turn right (south) onto the Middle Fork road. This fork has a vast abundance of campsites, all primitive, meaning no amenities such as toilets or potable water. (I should mention in passing: don’t drink creek water in Colorado at any elevation because of the giardia bacteria.) The road continues south, in excellent shape with only a few rough spots. Watch for a couple places where drainage has been diverted across the road—if you hit these going too fast you run the risk of becoming unseated!
Middle Fork ends at the boundary with the Wilderness Area. You can park and walk through a few trees to come out into the open river-bottom area with some splendid views, particularly of the dramatic Precipice Peak.
I want to say something about speed limits in these areas. They’re posted rather low and whaling down one of these roads can net you a ticket (no, I haven’t received one, knock on wood). But more important is that the place is crawling with campers, including little kids who think nothing of running across the road. This is especially true of Middle Fork. Keep your eyes peeled!
Motoring back down to the main road, turn right again onto East Fork. I might point out that this intersection is a great place for pictures in all directions. One could spend hours within a mile of this intersection and fill up a memory card in no time.
East fork provides more camping, though not nearly as much as Middle Fork. The road quickly ends at a parking lot and trailhead for hiking and horses.
Back down to the reservoir, you’ll find a couple places that provide views over the lake. I’ve marked one because it has a nice, level parking lot, pit toilets, and picnic benches. When I was there in mid-June, the place was awash in wildflowers.
(There is, from a nearby trailhead, a very advanced single-track trail that heads east. You need to be a very advanced rider to attempt it. I spoke with one, Kevin Anderson of PlanetMoto, shortly after he’d completed it. All he could talk about was the number of switchbacks—he’d counted well over two hundred!)
The main road north from the Reservoir is wide, well-kept, dusty, and has low speed limits. You’ve got more than 20 miles to go before getting to Cimarron at US Hwy 50. I don’t really recommend these 20 miles, to tell you the truth. There are a few views, but by far the best views are back where you came from. So, rather than making a loop, after I’ve spent some time at the view area, I retrace my steps back to Ridgway.
If you’re on a motorcycle, plan on an entire day to do all of these roads, starting rather early in the morning. The southernmost portion of West Fork is pretty challenging, but otherwise this is an area of very easy, beginner-level riding. Do beware that the county spreads gravel over the roads from time to time—these can make the bike feel a little squirrelly, but if you’re prepared for it, it shouldn’t bother you.