Ohio Pass to Lake Irwin

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Gunnison, Colorado
Date Published:
July 4, 2022
Gravel Ratio:
90% Gravel
Difficulty Rating:
Enjoyability Rating:
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This is an astoundingly beautiful route. Normally we prefer a loop route for variety, but the views are equally beautiful and different when you are going up vs going down. At the beginning and end, the Ohio creek is running alongside the road and you will have great views of the Anthracite Mountain Range and distant Castles Rock formation. There were open green meadows, ranches with picture-perfect barns and horses, bounding deer, thick aspen groves, fragrant pine trees, wild flowers galore and a serene alpine lake. 

The road surface was pristinely packed and smooth for us. We road it in the morning after a rain and the roads were dust-free, slightly tacky and fast rolling.

We rode this on the 4th of July holiday weekend, and still, vehicle traffic was minimal, especially on Ohio Pass Road. (We saw a few more cars when we hit Kebler Pass Road (12) and Lake Irwin Rd (826), but cars were slow and polite.

Lake Irwin makes for a lovely place to rest before turning around. There is a small picnic area near the lake outlet and a lot of beach real estate for swimming and fishing. There are great views of the surrounding mountains, and the lake offers a tranquil place for paddling kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.


There is no cell phone service at all on this route. Plan accordingly by pre-loading the route, letting someone know where you will be and consider taking a SOS device, like a Garmin inReach Mini.

Do this ride if you are in the town of Gunnison or Crested Butte and you are looking for a picturesque and remote gravel climb up to an alpine lake. The climb is challenging but the road surface is very smooth and the scenery is unbelievably beautiful!

Other Notes:

We parked at a pull-off at the junction of Ohio Creek Road (730) and Carbon Creek Road (737), which is where the pavement ends and gravel begins. It was big enough for a car or two and we were sure not to block the entrance to a ranch that was there. It is about 12 miles up Ohio Creek road from where you turn off the main highway (135). There are no bathrooms or services here. Cell phone service was also not available.

There are two bathrooms/vault toilets on route. One is at the Swampy Pass trailhead which you will pass at the beginning around mile 6 and then again on the way back down around mile 22.
The other vault toilet is at the top of the climb at the Lake Irwin Campground parking lot (approximately mile 14).
There is no place on route that has water or food.

There are a few steeper pitches that get into grades of 10-15% but they are relatively short and non-technical.

This route is ideal in the summer when snow has melted and wild flowers and deer are abundant. We imagine it would be equally amazing in the fall with the amount of dense Aspen groves!

Stock up on water and food in the town on Gunnison before heading to the start of this ride. There is a nice locally-roasted craft coffee shop right when you turn off from 135 to Ohio Creek Pass called Camp 4 Coffee. They offer a variety of sweet pastries, cookies, and donuts, as well as savory-filled croissants.

Driving Directions

Route Contributor

Laura Karpinski

I got a bike as a young child and quickly set off making trips up and down the driveway then loops around my neighborhood, but I fell away from the joy of cycling as more and more of my free time was occupied by ballet training (around age 10). It wasn’t until I gave up my professional dancing career and moved to Colorado in 2000 that I began cycling seriously.

From infancy, and well into my late 20’s, I suffered from exercise-induced asthma and was afraid of cardio activities that made me wheeze. If my asthma was triggered by an intense activity, I was advised to stop immediately and use an inhaler.

I was into yoga and Pilates back in 2000 (Still am today!), so when one of my friends suggested we go to a spin/yoga class (30 min of spin, followed by 30 min of yoga), I was game to at least try something new. Even though I had trouble breathing in the classes, the safety of an indoor spin class gave be the ability to choose how hard to push myself, and at just 30 min, I slowly learned to tolerate the stress on my lungs. The fact that the spinning was followed by yoga gave me space to work with calming my thoughts and my head which said: “I can’t do this!”. As I got stronger and more confident and my cardio endurance increased, my asthma problems became less and less, and therefore, my willingness to try more adventurous and strenuous activities increased! I went from seeing cyclists biking up Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO and thinking, “they are crazy!”, to, “that looks kind of fun and I wonder if I can do that?”. And then I bought a bike, joined a club and tried biking up that mountain! My Asthma is nearly non-existent and I have been hooked on outdoor biking ever since.

I currently live in downtown Denver and have been car-free for about 10 years, typically biking 7,000+ miles a year between commuting, road riding and gravel bike adventuring. I have been a member of Naked Women’s Racing Team, and Colorado Women’s Cycling Project.

I teach Pilates and Yoga for a living and have been doing it for over 15 years. Just this year, I went out on my own and began a private-practice Pilates Studio called Align.Move.Breathe. I am a self-proclaimed “body nerd”, constantly reading, attending continuing education workshops and learning as much as I can about movement, bio-mechanics, alignment, anatomy and Ideokenesis.
I love to teach my clients how to relax and have fun with all movement, as well as have new and positive experiences with their bodies while gaining strength and flexibility in body, mind, and spirit. I strongly believe in both Pilates and Yoga as safe, supportive, and healing practices which can profoundly transform one’s every-day life!
If you are in the Denver area and interested in the intersection of biking and Pilates or Yoga, contact me at align.move.breathe@gmail.com.

Laura’s favorite Gravel Route: There are so many great rides it is REALLY hard to decide, but if there was one ride I would do over and over, it would be Four Mile Canyon and Switzerland Trail to Sugarloaf. It’s quiet, beautiful, challenging and fun!

Laura’s Gravel Bike: Rodeo Adventure Lab's Titanium Flaanimal 5.0 custom build with SRAM Force AXS 1x12 mullet (10-50 cassette) and Panaracer GravelKing SK+ 700×38C tires.

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