North Pipeline

Round Trip Distance: 1.9k/1.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
XC Skill level:
Elevation: 9750 - 10,006 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Ironton Park
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views

The North Pipeline trail is part of the Ironton Park Nordic Trails system south of Ouray, Colorado. The trail begins and ends off of the Townsite Loop with a short out-and-back section thrown in that leads to an overlook above Corkscrew Gulch. The pipeline was used to slurry tailings from the Idarado Mine to the large tailings pond in Ironton Park. When the pipeline reached Corkscrew Gulch a bridge was built to carry it across the chasm. For the Ironton Park Nordic trails the route along the pipeline is split at Corkscrew Gulch into the North Pipeline and South Pipeline trails.

The Ironton Park trailhead is found along the Million Dollar Highway, U.S. Highway 550, about 8 miles south of the town of Ouray. If you don't get there early enough to find a parking spot then keep driving another quarter mile or so to one of the other pullouts.

Follow the groomed Townsite Loop trail to the left from the trailhead to the starting point of the North Pipeline trail.

North Pipeline is an ungroomed backcountry trail that starts out following the road that angles up the side of the mountain.

The climb is relentless for the first quarter mile or so gaining about 180 feet of elevation. It is no where near as steep as some sections of the Brooklyn trail but there are spots where the grade gets up to 24%.

The trail branches off from the road at the 0.31 mile point. The intersection has a sign so even if there are other tracks that continue to follow the road you won't have to worry about being led astray.

After turning off the road the trail continues climbing but with a much easier slope. The trail isn't nearly as wide as the road was at this point but it is still a little wider than a normal singletrack would be.

A fork comes up at the 0.6 mile point. The main trail continues straight ahead to where it ends after another quarter mile. The out-and-back only adds another half mile which isn't all that much for an already short trail.

The last stretch of the trail adds another 60 feet to the elevation gain.

The trail comes to an abrupt end when it reaches Corkscrew Gulch.

If you look through the trees you can see the pipeline bridge that spans the gulch. At one time the slurry pipe bridge that spans Corkscrew Gulch was the longest suspension bridge in the state of Colorado. There isn't anyway to safely get over to it from here and if you try 'YOU WILL DIE'. The sides of the canyon are incredibly steep.

The view of the peaks that tower above Red Mountain Pass are pretty impressive from the end of the trail.

It is an easy glide to get back to the last fork which is now at the 1.09 mile point.

The last stretch of the trail that runs back down to the Townsite Loop is less than a quarter mile but the trail is much more primitive than the main trail is. On the plus side this section of trail is well marked with blue diamonds making the task of route finding through the trees a lot easier.

The trail rejoins the Townsite Loop near its midpoint so either way you choose to go to get back to the trailhead is going to come out to about 1 mile. The route to the left is a little prettier and it will take you by the ghost town of Ironton. If you add the distance that the Townsite Loop requires to get to and from the North Pipeline trail the round trip will come out to about 2.5 miles. The North Pipeline trail is a good workout that is well worth the effort. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is grab you skis or snowshoes and 'Take a hike'.