Colorado off-roading: 4×4 gives you more

Off-roading is a great activity to include during your elopement or engagement session. In this blog post, you’ll learn why 4×4 is so important, and some tips & tricks we’ve collected during our adventures!

     Driving along some of Colorado’s rough trails without 4×4 or all-wheel drive is like showering without the sticky bits that help you grip the floor of the tub… you could do it, but man is it more comfortable to have your grip guaranteed. We had the choice of getting a vehicle with off-road packages or getting a 2 wheel drive car for cheaper. My family and friends jumped on me to spring for the AWD. Well…they were absolutely right. 

     We ended up getting a vehicle with AWD for this trip and boy oh boy did it come in handy on MANY occasions. We had 3 off-roading elopements that had us venture on rough trails, peering over huge drop offs just a foot or two away, and traversing jagged rocks (sharp as hell, almost like they were holding a grudge). Before we actually got on the trail, I would look at my wife, hope and determination glimmering in my melodramatic eyes, and I would tell her something stupid like: “time to engage MAXIMUM POWER” as I calmly reached over to the drive mode selector, and put our fancy truck into the off-road option. 

      Maybe I’d get a laugh, usually just ire in the form of discontented staring over the fact that I’m acting so nonchalant over the steep rock faces and unsteady gravel and rocks below us. Don’t get me wrong, these roads aren’t crazy dangerous, requiring a good sense of judgment and a vehicle that can tackle it, but wifey wanted me to be a bit more cautious with her and our precious cargo in tow: the couple! Pretty sure I got a laugh from the couple for my dumb antics by the way, but then we would press forward and continue our drive.

Couple looks out at the mountains during their Ophir pass off-roading engagement session.

Climbin’ up the trail

     The trail was winding and had a decent incline on some parts, but our goal was the beautiful Ophir Pass. Ophir had two points which you could venture on the trail, and we decided to take the entrance by Ouray, since, at first glance, it looked a bit easier on the vehicle. It goes without saying (I hope)  that you should ABSOLUTELY check the status of the trails on national forest/county websites to see if they are open, if there are any hazards, and recommendations by rangers and trail-goers. Our tires were new and were an all-terrain package, the brakes were new (not for long heh…), and the clearance under the vehicle was respectable. During the drive up to Ophir, we encountered no issues with the divots in the Earth, the vehicle was small enough that it made some of the tighter turns with ease, and our engine sputtered along happily. On many occasions we would pass by other vehicles, not a single one of them strayed from the 4×4 or AWD formula, and all of them seemed content with their vehicle. 

     The drive up was pretty uneventful, we would dismount every now and then to capture our couple basking in the mountain view, the light bouncing off the facades of the mountains facing us, and the valley green as can be. Other drivers would be descending while we were driving up and we would either pull off to make space or find another safe way for both vehicles to maneuver. In general, when it comes to mountain roads, the vehicle facing downhill should yield to the vehicle facing uphill. In an ideal world, people would follow these directions, but always stay on the side of caution and watch what the other driver is doing. 

Good clearance is key

     At some point we noticed a sedan coming down, almost looking like the woody’s from the 1980’s. You know the ones I’m talking about, the station wagon from shows like Malcolm in the Middle or the car driven by Skyler in Breaking Bad. I realized just how important good clearance from the bottom of the car to the ground was, as the station wagon slowly and painfully bottomed out on a portion of the trail that formed a v shape. The scraping was pretty bad, I imagine if he was going any faster, there would have been some damage to the drive train or undercarriage of the car. Nevertheless, the car made it, but just barely. I would never subject my car to that kind of abuse. When we are looking to purchase a vehicle, we’re gonna go with the best option for Colorado roads: AWD and a shit ton of clearance. 

     I have to mention the importance of AWD or 4WD over 2-wheel drive vehicles. The drive up to Ophir pass was normal, minus the station wagon grinding its bottom along the floor like a dog doing that weird scoot thing, rubbing it’s ass along the floor of your mom’s expensive carpet. The drive down the hill was a bit more eventful…

The Descent

     We noticed some smaller vehicles, sedans and the like, that would struggle to get half of their vehicle moving up the trail. You would notice only the front or back set of tires spinning, trying to get traction, and then the noticeable smell of rubber that we all surely love, permeating our noses. We would pull off and give them the space necessary to hit the gas and brave through the mud and dirt, thankfully never having to deal with a situation like that due in part to our choice of vehicle. I’m sure our couples were happy to see our choices made the travel a breeze. Would have been awkward to miss the gorgeous golden hour at the top of the pass due to tough roads, but the vehicle ensured we would make it with plenty of time to get some amazing shots. 

    When driving on these roads, it’s important to keep your car in first gear (low gear) during descent. Constant braking and reducing speed can make these turns tough to maneuver, and I’m sure your brakes won’t be happy to be worn down quicker than expected. We made two full trips to Ophir. The first was to scout and verify the conditions of this trail (as we always do), and the second was during the shoot with the couple.

On the first trip, I didn’t take the descent as well as I should have, with constant braking and having our automatic transmission do all the lifting for us. Bad idea… Our brakes would get pretty damn hot, the tires reeked of burning rubber, and our vehicle’s undercarriage got pummeled by small rocks and pebbles. The second go was much better. I left the car in 1st gear(low gear) and applied the brakes much less. The ride wasn’t as bumpy this time, my wife made sure to compare this performance from the previous trip in GREAT detail. The rest of the drive back to Ouray was nice and calm, and our couple was super excited to see the photos in the coming weeks.

Here are some tips for when you’re off-roading:

  1. Always choose a suitable vehicle. Make sure it has proper clearance and some sort of All-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive.
  2. Always check trail conditions before departing.
  3. Give your car a break… or try not to brake too much to avoid overheating. Brake smart!
  4. Keep your vehicle in 1st gear or low gear to avoid gaining too much speed when descending.
  5. If you do get a rental, make sure it can be used for off-roading. Make sure to clean the car a bit after your trip, maybe a car wash or hose it down. It’s gonna get messy out there.
  6. Look at Jeep rentals! Jeeps tend to be pretty effective on rough trails and are perfect for Colorado off-roading elopements.
  7. If choosing your elopement location on one of Colorado’s off-road trails, check with the national forest or county if you need an elopement permit.

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