Colorado offers plenty of fun dirt roads, but you’ll need a 4-wheel-drive for most of them. One exception is a rewarding journey up Boreas Pass Road from Breckenridge.
[tmt_info]From Interstate 70, take exit 203, Colorado Route 9 south. Drive through Breckenridge (either on Main Street or the slightly speedier alternate route around town). The next light after Route 9 and Main Street rejoin is Boreas Pass Road. Turn left. The pass is 9 miles away.[/tmt_info]
Rotary Snowplow Park
Almost immediately after you’ve turned onto Boreas Pass Road, you’ll pass Rotary Snowplow Park. There’s a good amount of interesting, historic railroad items on display here…
… including Engine #9, the last engine to pull passengers over Boreas Pass, back when the road over the pass was a railroad. Engine #9 operated from 1884 to 1937, and it still sits on the original narrow-gauge high-line track on which it operated a century ago.
Snow presented a big challenge to the narrow-gauge railroad, and the solution was this rotary snowplow, which could shovel away a huge amount of snow, clearing the tracks, and allowing the train to pass over the 11,481 foot/3,499 meter pass.
[tmt_info]During its time as a railroad pass, Boreas Pass was the highest-elevation railroad pass in the United States.[/tmt_info]
After leaving Breckenridge, Boreas Pass road climbs up a steady 3% grade, following the old rail bed. You’ll catch a nice view of Goose Pasture Tarn, a restricted-access lake for residents of the community of Blue River. Keep going…
… and you’ll squeeze through passes like this one — just wide enough for one narrow-gauge train, or one car. A bit further…
… and you’ll want to stop at Baker’s Tank. This water tank gave steam locomotives the opportunity to refill with water for the trip uphill.
A few miles further uphill, you’ll reach Boreas Pass, along the Continental Divide, at 11,482 feet. Behind the sign, you’ll find several reconstructions of historic buildings. The biggest of these buildings is the Section House, which was used as a headquarters for the railroad crew. Nowadays, the Section House provides camping facilities for snowshoers in the winter, and serves as a staffed welcome center in the summer (although no one was there when I visited).
Across the road, there’s an old rail car, that looks like it, too, might be open for visitors during the summer months. The railcar was built in 1910 in Denver, but by the 1980’s, it ended up in Alaska. In 1987, it was purchased, moved back to Colorado, and served on a tourist train for a while, before ending up at Boreas Pass.
All of this railroad history sits in the shadow of Boreas Mountain, elevation 13,082 feet/3,987 meters.
Here’s a closer look at the Section house…
… and another neighboring building, labeled as “Ken’s Cabin”. I believe all of these buildings are available for rent, by backcountry skiers in the winter.
You’ll find some more remnants of, well, something along the road near the summit. Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a large snowshed built over the rails, to keep the tracks clear at the top of the pass — it burned down and was rebuilt repeatedly until 1934. More likely, this is part of an old snow fence, that was built to shield the tracks from massive drifts.
[tmt_info]Remarkably, more than 150 people lived at Boreas Pass during the railroad days, despite the remote location and harsh weather.[/tmt_info]
At the pass, you have access to an excellent (and not too challenging) trail that leads to another pass, Black Powder Pass, located at the saddle between Boreas Mountain and the next peak to the north, Bald Mountain. I’ll tell you about my hike on this trail, on the next page.
After the hike, I decided to drive a few miles further south on Boreas Pass Road.
Along the way, there were some nice views of the surrounding mountains, including this look at Mount Silverheels, elevation 13,829 feet/4,215 meters.
The road continues to head downhill, towards US 285, and from there you could drive a few miles further south to Fairplay. With enough time, you could make a loop of it — at Fairplay, US 285 runs into Colorado 9, for the trip north, through Alma, over Hoosier Pass, and on to Breckenridge.
There wasn’t enough daylight for me to make that kind of trip, so I made a U-turn at some random place along Boreas Pass Road…
… and headed back towards the pass. There weren’t many good photo opportunities along the way, but I did like this spot, where the setting sun hit the trees and cast long shadows over the mountainside.
As Day 7 came to a close, I drove back to Silverthorne, for my third night at the big Quality Inn overlooking I-70. But before we move ahead to Day 8, check out my account of the hike up to Black Powder Pass, by following the link below.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Breckenridge, then up and down Boreas Pass Road.