CO Flag


Fact Table:

Location Southwestern
High point 10250 ft
Max Grade 8%
Arv Rt Grade 2.5%
Dist to High pt 15 mi
Elev Gain 1950 ft
Rating Moderate
Access City Telluride


Location Southwestern
High point 10250 ft
Max Grade 7%
Arv Rt Grade 2.9%
Dist to High pt 12.5 mi
Elev Gain 1900 ft
Rating Moderate
Access City Rico


Ride Tips:

  • Carry wet and cold weather gear with you at all times
  • No services between Telluride and Rico. Carry extra food and water
  • Telluride side has a lot of shade. Can be quite cold in morning


View from Mountain Village
View near Ophir
View during climb on Rico side
Top of Lizard Head Pass
View of climb on the Rico side of pass
Top of Lizard Head Pass
Climb on Telluride side of pass
Lizard Head rock formation

Pass Summary Lizard Head Pass

This is one neat pass and Telluride is a great place to spend some time after a bike ride.  I’ve ridden this pass six times, three times from Mancos/Cortez/Rico, three times from Telluride, and have gotten wet five of the six times.  The rains in this part of the world keep the pass and the surrounding area very very green and lush, but it can make for a cold ride.  As with just about any Colorado, you increase your chances for a dry ride by riding the pass in the morning.  In fact, the best ride I had, Telluride to Cortez, had me crossing the pass in the early morning.  The other cases had me crossing the pass in the afternoon.  So, from my experience, this is a pass that should be done early in the day.
Also, in this update, I changed the easy rating the Rico to Summit part to Moderate.  No, the pass itself did not get harder, it’s just that people tend to ride this pass from point to point (e.g. Rico to Telluride) rather than doing a Rico to summit round trip.  Rico to the summit is fairly easy.  However, throw in the speed bump between the summit and Telluride, and factor in that it is a 12 mile climb from Rico to start with, and you do move this ride to Moderate.  Also, from the mental side, finding a long climb in the middle of your downhill run is a touch depressing. 

As for the pass itself, the north side of the pass offers much more scenery. It’s green and rugged and you are surrounded by valleys and high mountain peaks.  Assuming the sun is out, you will truly be struck by the beauty of the area.  From the center of Telluride, the first three miles out of town are flat to slightly downhill.  Make sure you ride from Telluride to get your legs warmed up because as soon as you turn onto CO 145, you start climbing and hit an 8% wall almost immediately.  The climb to Mountain Village is fairly short, a little over 2 miles, but it is steep.  From the Mountain Village turn-off, you will have another three or so miles of climbing in the 2% to 4% range.  At about mile 8, you start a short downhill and, unfortunately, have to give up some of your hard earned climbing as you drop into a valley near the town of Ophir.  It’s a nice downhill but hard to enjoy because it is fairly short and you know in the back of your mind that you’ll have to work to take back the lost altitude.

When you come out of the valley, you’ll have a good mile of climbing at around 6% before the grade backs off to an easy 1%-2% for a couple of miles.  Get your energy back here, eat a snack, and hydrate yourself as just past mile 12 and for the next three miles (which is short by Colorado standards) you’ll be climbing a 6% to 8% grade.  Again, the scenery is beautiful and if you are riding in the morning, it will be cool and hopefully sunny. 
Once at the top, you don’t have an immediate downhill.  It’s actually rather flat, and any kind of head wind will negate the 1% or so downhill grade.  It’s not until you pass the Lizard Head rock formation on your right that you will begin to feel the real pull of gravity.  The roads are fairly wide and in good shape, but you won’t get too much speed as the south side is just not that steep.

If climbing the pass from Rico, you’ll have a 3% to 4% grade immediately out of town for a couple of miles and then the grade really backs off for five miles.  You can really get into a nice rhythm pedaling here as it just is not all that steep.  The real climbing start about nine miles out of Rico and only goes for two or three miles at 5% to 6%.  You do hit a very short stint of 7% in this area but it’s only about a quarter mile long.  The scenery is not as dramatic on this side of the pass, but it is still nice and green.  As you get to the top of the pass, you will be rewarded with a nice shallow grade:  Mostly 1% and 2%.  Unlike other passes, this is steeper toward the bottom and easier at the top.  And, as mentioned before, if you go to Telluride, remember that climb you’ll have in the middle of your downhill, and a portion of that climb will be in the 6% to 7% range.

Alternate Routes

Alternate rides around this pass are limited.  You can extend your south side ride by starting or ending in Cortez or Mancos, or you can head out of Telluride and hit the Dallas Divide.  For the masochists out there, you can do the Death Loop, a one day ride taking in Red Mountain, Coal Bank, Molas Divide, Dallas Divide, and Lizard Head. Of course, if you are mere mortal, you can turn the loop into a good three day ride.

Also, you may want to consider hiking or four-wheeling in the San Juans.  There are a huge number of ghost towns worth visiting and some truly spooky roads to drive on. 
The road out of Ophir over Ophir pass can be done with an SUV or 4WD car.  Black Bear mine out of Telluride, well, use a jeep.  Animas Forks out of Silverton is a fantastic ghost town with lots of remaining buildings to explore and it can be reached by car.  Beyond Animas Forks, however, use a jeep for some real back country adventure.  Don’t bring your SUV or Outback on these roads, you won’t have enough clearance and the edges will seem awful close.  Have fun.