Colorado 4×4 Trails – Chaffee County

Located south of Vail and I-70 in the Rocky Mountains, Chaffee County has some amazing scenery and places to take your vehicle off-road. If you’re looking to take your 4×4 in this area and explore scenery and face some challenges, consider any of these fantastic trails.

4x4 mud trail

CC Image courtesy of Tours and on Flickr

Baldwin Lake

Skill Level: Medium

Trail Length: 3.5 Miles

Nearby Towns: Buena Vista

Elevation: 11,000 to 12,600 feet

This is a moderately challenging trail in the area that will put your vehicle to the test.  It begins by a creek off of the nearby country road and ends west at an old mine shaft and has some fantastic scenery.  The lake itself has some decent cutthroat trout fishing. A high-clearance vehicle will be needed because at the top there are large boulders that will impede your path. A 4×4 vehicle is also required.

Start at the Baldwin lake trail which is located where you cross the creek near the start of the Mount Antero trail. Instead of going up the creek to continue onto Mount Antero, head straight to take the Baldwin Lake trail. After the first hill climb, there is a big camping area by the creek where the trail starts to get much steeper. The trail then becomes a short and narrow road. At the end of this section, you can take a right turn to go to the Boulder Mountain Trail or stay left to continue on Baldwin Lake trail.

Eventually you’ll find the first of the Baldwin Lakes which have camping sites. The rest of the trail after this becomes more difficult with larger rocks and increased trail roughness. If you take this section you will eventually reach Baldwin Mine which marks the end of the trail.

Billings Lake

Skill Level: Easy

Trail Length: 12 Miles

Nearby Towns: Salida

Elevation: 8,200 to 12,025 Feet

The Billings Lake trail has some amazing scenery and the lake itself has some fishing available. The trail starts out paved for the first 2.5 miles then transitions onto an easy dirt road. At about six miles from the turn-off on highway 50, look for a gorge just off the trail on the left side. If you park and walk to the edge of the gorge, you’ll be able to see a large waterfall which should yield some great photographs.

If you continue up the trail and stay to the right you’ll be on track to hit the North Fork campground. The trail will continue to take you up above the tree line and partially around Billings Lake. This section of the trail is a little more challenging since it’s rougher and requires more ground clearance. The trail ends at the Pride of the West Tunnel entrance,  a very old tunnel which will be very photogenic.

Carnage Canyon (Buena Vista)

Skill Level: Extremely Difficult

Trail Length: ¾ Mile

Nearby Towns: Buena Vista

This is an extremely challenging and trail and is only recommended for experienced, hardcore off-road enthusiasts with the proper aftermarket parts and 4×4 accessories. Huge tires are recommended and don’t be surprised if you were to flip your vehicle or damage it here, so proceed with caution. If you’re looking for the challenge of all challenges, this is the place to go!

The trail starts at the parking lot of the Chinaman Gulch trail and ends less than a mile into it. It follows a wash and is very rocky throughout with massive boulders to climb. The most difficult part of the trail is known as the “V-Notch” and it’s the spot the majority of people will scrape their vehicle. Longer wheel-bases will have the advantage here.

It’s a very good idea to walk this trail first and always bring a friend and have a winch attached to your vehicle.

Clohesy Lake

Skill Level: Medium

Trail Length: 3 Miles

Elevation: 9,900 to 11,030 Feet

This is a fun trail to take your 4×4 on to experience some scenery, an old ghost town, get some off-road experience in and visit a lake. Start by following signs to Clear Creek reservoir from Highway 24. Continue along the dirt road, where you’ll pass by a few old cabins along the way. There are a few buildings and leftover equipment from the old mining operation. After reaching the old town of Vicksburg, you’ll reach Rockdale, the next ghost town. Here you’ll see old buildings in the trees to the left of the main road. This is the trail which will lead you to Clohesy Lake.

Before taking your vehicle off-road, make sure to visit your 4×4 mechanic for a full inspection and 4×4 service. Make sure all aftermarket parts and truck parts are installed correctly, and always try to use the buddy system on your journey.

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