Brown Mountain

Round Trip Distance: 9.7k/6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Skill level:
Elevation: 9,728 - 11,232 feet
Elevation gain: 1,793 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Ironton Park
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views, amazing downhill

Brown Mountain is in the Ironton Park Nordic Trails area south of Ouray, Colorado. The trail begins near the junction of the Townsite Loop and the Saratoga trails. From there it follows Forest Service Road #884, aka The Brown Mountain Road, as it climbs past a number of abandoned mines that are strung out along the route. This is one of those trails that you can bite off what you think you can chew and go from there. For this post we bit off a big chunk of the mountain and didn't turn around until we had climbed past the 11,200 foot mark.

The Ironton Park trailhead is about 8 miles south of the town of Ouray on Highway 550, the Million Dollar Highway.

From the trailhead follow the Townsite Loop to the left and cross the bridge over Red Mountain Creek. Continue around the high bank of the tailings pond to the fork in this picture.

Another fork comes up almost immediately after turning off of the Townsite Loop. There is a sign at this point for the Saratoga trail which continues along the groomed path to the left. Go to the right at this junction to follow the unmarked Brown Mountain Road.

The trail starts out easy enough along a mostly level grade. It spends a short time traveling through the trees before crossing a small stream as it passes a modern looking shed.

From this point forward the trail begins a relentless climb. Around the 0.2 mile point from where the road turned off of the Saratoga trail it passes the Gray Copper trailhead.

At the 0.6 mile point the trail comes to a big switchback where it crosses a stream and kisses up against the Brooklyn trail. The banks of the stream can be pretty steep and depending on snow depth it can be a precarious crossing. The popular route to avoid the crossing is to hug the inside bend and shortcut the corner.

Near the 0.8 mile point the trail climbs past the 10,000 foot elevation. This picture was taken around 10 am in the middle of February and the trail is still covered in shade.

Another road branches off on the right around the 1 mile point and around the 1.4 mile point it passes through an abandoned mining camp. We are pretty sure this is the site of the Silver Mountain Mine. There are enough buildings that it resembles a small ghost town. We were showing an elevation of 10,359 feet at this point. Judging from the tracks in the snow most people were turning around at this point and heading back down the mountain.

When we set out we were thinking that it would be nice to get at least 1000 feet of elevation gain but once we reached the Silver Mountain Mine and had already racked up that amount and more we decided that we wanted to keep going to the 11,000 foot elevation. The trail is steep enough that you don't have to go too far to see the elevation gain really add up yet not so steep that it kills you to do it.

When it is as pretty as this and the weather is calm the mountain tends to urge you to go on.

We kept going until the elevation reached 11,217 feet and we could see over the tops of the trees.

The views of the surrounding peaks are incredible and the elevation is even higher than Red Mountain Pass which has a summit of 11,018 feet. While skiing the other trails in Ironton Park you are continually looking up at all the peaks but from up here you are looking over at them.

There are good views looking down also. This picture is of Gray Copper Falls which looks frozen in time as a huge column of blue ice.

Most people aren't only interested in the view. The big draw for backcountry skiers is the mondo downhill which in this case is almost 3 continual miles of moderate downhill.

Judging from some of the snow drifts above the 11,000 foot mark the weather isn't always calm on the mountain. There didn't seem to be any avalanche danger, or past signs of avalanches, until the trail started getting above timberline. That was the biggest reason we turned around where we did. Whether you are looking for a short moderate climb or want to tackle the whole mountain the Brown Mountain trail is a good option. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is grab your skis or snowshoes and 'Take a hike'.