Lime Creek Campground To Cascade Village ~ Old Lime Creek Road Jeep Trail
The first half of this Jeep trail tour was previously published in the Old Lime Creek Road To Adrenaline Falls & Lime Creek Campground article. In the first article, the location of the starting point on Highway 550 is mentioned and so are the dirt road conditions for the first section, which is fairly easy going during the first half of the trek to the creekside campground. The second half of the Old Lime Creek Road tour is a bit rougher and the degree of difficulty can be much higher if obstacles are encountered. A narrow wheel base 4×4 vehicle is best for the second half of the Old Lime Creek Road tour, because there is a dangerous narrow one lane section that often presents challenges. If a smooth easy exit from the Lime Creek Campground is the choice, then it is best to backtrack to the north access point on Highway 550.
Unofficially, from the Lime Creek Campground going south, Old Lime Creek Road is a one directional road. All of the warning signs face north and there are no signs facing south, which can be an indicator of this road being one directional, but this is no guarantee that oncoming traffic will not be encountered. It is always a flip of the coin when determining who will have to put the gear box in reverse when encountering oncoming traffic on a narrow road, so be prepared to rely on social skills. Backing up over a narrow road on the side of a cliff for a long distance is not easy to do, but fortunately, Old Lime Creek Road is a seldom traveled dirt road, as can be surmised by the lack of tire tracks..
The biggest challenge on Old Lime Creek Road when going south from the Lime Creek Campground is the obstacles. There will likely be some obstacles to negotiate, especially if the winter snow pack was heavy or the snow melt season ran late into summer. The National Forest Service does not always clear the secondary roads till well after the main dirt road travel routes in the mountains are readied for touring, so if you arrive too early in the summer season, you may have to do some remote road clearing of your own.
Going south from the Lime Creek Campground is a long stretch of narrow one lane road that climbs in elevation up the side of the bluffs. This Old Lime Creek Road section is so narrow in some places, that the passenger side door cannot be opened, because of the solid rock wall. The view from the driver side window in this section is a sheer vertical drop straight down and there is barely enough room to keep the tires on the road! If trouble occurs, exiting the vehicle will be difficult to do for some people and cel phone communications are nonexistent in this area, so if you cannot climb out the window on a hard top vehicle, then you will likely be sitting there for a very long time in the event of a breakdown.
Trouble frequently does occur along the narrow one lane section of Old Lime Creek Road, because this area is prone to rockslides and fallen trees. Loose rubble from a rockslide can cover the very narrow road, which is barely wide enough for a traditional Jeep in the first place. In this case, the choice will be slowly going over the rubble in low gear and risk sliding over the edge of the steep mountainside or carefully exiting the vehicle with a trusty shovel in hand to clear a safe pathway through. I encountered a fresh rockslide rubble pile that covered the narrow road. The rubble pile had a 25º slope to the edge of the road, which then dropped a few hundred feet straight down. Low gear and four wheel drive got me through, but if the rockslide was any bigger, there would have been some serious shoveling to do.
Because of the possible obstacles, it is best to pack a shovel and the old military surplus shovels are the best choice when vehicle storage space is limited. Tow ropes, an axe or a chainsaw may be needed if trees are knocked down across the road, which as can be seen in the photos does happen quite often. Being ready for the moment is part of the Jeep trail challenge and overcoming obstacles definitely is part of the game!
The grand finale of the narrow cliffside section of Old Lime Creek Road comes at a blind turn that goes around a narrow ledge. Back in the days when Old Lime Creek Road served the mining industry in Silverton, the local civil engineers installed stone and concrete barriers to prevent vehicles from going over the edge of the ledge, which are a very welcome sight to see!
After negotiating the scary blind turn on the high ledge, it will be all easy going through the lush green forest on the way back to the southern exit point where Old Lime Creek Road meets the highway. The dirt road can be swamped with water in the aspen forest section, so expect to encounter some slick muddy conditions. A lot of water meanders from Cascade Creek into this picturesque beaver pond area, so it is best ask the Nation Forest Service Rangers about the road conditions after a recent heavy snow melt, in order to avoid getting stuck in the mud.
There are several side roads that spin off Old Lime Creek Road in the soggy aspen forest section that lead to San Juan National Forest back country campsites and alternate exit points to the highway. Most of side roads in this area are not marked on maps because of leasing agreements, so a GPS will come in handy.
Finally the snow season gate will appear at the end of the line and the Old Lime Creek Road Jeep trail ends at Highway 550 at a roadside staging area next to Cascade Creek. For those who wish to continue on with the dirt road driving spree, the Cascade Creed Jeep trail awaits on the other side of the highway. The Cascade Creek Trail goes to an old wooden flume up on the mountain, which is an interesting engineering marvel to see!
There really is not much information to be found about Old Lime Creek Road on the internet and even the 4×4 enthusiast websites make little mention. Hopefully this article will be of help for those who are looking for something fun and challenging to do when touring the dirt roads way up in the San Juan Mountains!