The Devil’s Punchbowl

Adventures32 Comments

We arrived in Crested Butte last night after a 5 hour drive from home. Crested Butte is a mecca for off-roading and mountain biking. After studying my off-road books, we decided to start easy the first day — not! I am doing the baddest trail they have to offer in this place. Bring it on!

Driving North out of Crested Butte, I dropped the trailer and unloaded. We road up and over Scofield Pass. We buzzed by nearly 100 bikers on the way up there. After winding through some cool trail mostly through the trees we arrived at the first warning for the upcoming trail.

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The trail got more interesting from the point but wasn’t that terrible. Then we came to the final warming sign before entering the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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A final stream crossing before the Punchbowl begins. Time to get your brakes all nice and wet for a grueling descent. Nature must have a sense of humor!

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The Devil’s Punchbowl has swallowed up several cars over the years as people have attempted this very challenging off-road route. People have a tendency to get freaked and make a bad move and their car rolls off the shelf into the canyon some 150 feet below sending them to their deaths. The worst off-road accident in Colorado history happened here when a Suburban drove off the side with 8 people inside, including children. Let’s go! Here is the start looking down into the Punchbowl.

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Here I am shooting back up the descent at Kim as she starts making her way down.

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In all my trips out there, I only saw 2 trucks attempting the Punchbowl.

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About half way down at this point. The trouble in the middle of the trail is the large rocks in the trail. Its kinda like that game Plinko on The Price Is Right — your tires go down and hit one rock and fall in a groove. You hope that the groove that your tires go into is one that is closer to the safe side of the trail vs. the steep dropoff. If you miss, your only hope is to hit reverse and try and move yourself back to safety.

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We made it. A cool waterfall at the end.

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The main part is over but there are still obstacles in the trail as we head to our destination, the Crystal Ghost Town.

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At the North end of the ghost town sits the Crystal Mill. This site is said to be one (if not the) most photographed spots in the state of Colorado. The mill has been there for over 100 years. A great picture indeed.

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So we did it, 20 miles out to the mill through some of the toughest terrain in the state. What a beautiful area out there — the Devil sure knows how to make something cool!

  • Jenn (AKA-MAMA)

    You two look like you’re 18 still!!! Must be that easy Colorado living;-) Or I’m just getting really old.

  • You have like 2 kids (nearly) now!

  • Jim Carpenter

    Brandon, My folks had a summer home in Crested Butte from 1964-1979 and we spent every summer out there! We heard a lot about the Punchbowl but Chickened-Out every time. Guess Dad did’t want to tear up the Bronco! I have wondered for 30 years what it looked like. Thanks for answering that for me. Just curious, where do you live? I still live in good old Kansas City,Missouri.

  • No, problem. We are in Longmont, CO.

  • Rob Bardgett

    I went to school in Gunnison for a year, and I think i have heard of the Devils Punch Bowl. Is it the road that connects to aspen? I have a Nissian Xterra, and I was wondering if it could handle the road? You also mention about the difficulty of some of the spots I was wondering if you had more pictures, I really didn’t get the absolute dangerous aspect that the road signs made it out to be, or i’m just reading the pictures wrong. Either way super awesome shots, I might have to get out there sometime looks amazing.

  • Debbie

    We’re from Iowa and drove our ATV’s though Devil’s Punch Bowl in July 2006. It was quite an experience. It wasn’t too bad going down, but driving up out of there was a little scary! The scenery and waterfalls were beautiful. Great presenation here on Devils Punch Bowl! We saw the Crystal Mill and went on to the Marble Mine.

  • Doug Grosjean

    Nice job!

    I accidentally rode a Kawasaki KZ-650/4 down from CB to Crystal, back in 1980. My older brother Ken did the same (we were together) on a Honda CB-750/4. I know it doesn’t sound possible, and it still sends chills through me when I recall it. Story and some photos (sorry – ancient 1980s era Kodak Instamatic), here:

    http://www.concours.org/co/rpt8008_grosjean.htm

  • Jerry

    Hi There

    I drove Scofield Pass in my Chevy Tahoe about 4 yrs ago. We were in Crested Butte and wanted to go to Glenwood Springs. If we took the freeway around we figured it was about 2 hours. My wife saw a shortcut on the map and we decided that was the way to go.I’m a pretty seasoned off roader and have done many trails in Colo. I have never been so scared as taking the short cut on Scofield Pass. It took 3 hours to drive and 3 days to settle down. We got down to Crystal Mill and I parked the truck. I chugged a half a quart of whisky there. Not Kidding! That rock in the middle of the road above the punchbowl was the most intimidating thing ever. Plus to add to my stupidity I had my 6 yr old son in the back. I would love to go back as it was incredibly beautiful. Maybe on a dirt bike though!

    Jerry from Minnesota

  • Doug Grosjean

    Hey Jerry,

    I want to go back on foot. Take a 4wd from Crested Butte over the steep ledges and to the Crystal River, but then park it and hike down to Crystal City. Seems that would give all the scenery, but with none of the terror.

    Doug Grosjean

  • Mike Fischer

    Map Quest sent my Daugher this way. What a big mistake. Her Nissian Xtera did not make it past the big rock at the punch bowl, I think see will have nightmares about it for the rest of her life. But knowing her, she will be back next year on her bike or on foot. Mike Fischer 07/25/07

  • Jonathan

    I loved this trail in my toyota truck. I did it back in 1999. I lost a backpacking pillow and a pad on this trail but it was awesome.

  • dessa hand

    My father took Mom and my 3 brothers down the pass when I was 13?? I am 52 now. Mom made us walk behind the 1958 Willies Jeep. I remember how beautiful it was and recently asked Dad about it. He has been on every trail in Colorado and said it scared the daylights out of him. I plan to do it on the ATV before I die. Thanks for the pictures, but I remember the color of the water and the cliffs and pictures don’t do my memory justice.

  • mountnbob

    My how you remind me of me and my wife. Next time you go up there to the pass, at the top there is Elkton Park. A left hand turn off of the pass through the trees will put you there. Across the creek and turn right. Go to the north west end of the park to a mine tailing. There you will find an old mill stamp. Be quiet. You will hear a water fall. Walk down the end of the tailing into the canyon. There you will see a fall that is better than the punch bowl. Now, if you look closer, you will see a mine behind the fall. It goes back 30′ and T’s left and right a short ways more. I know. I put on chest waders, crossed the pool and explored that hole. Makes you appreciate the love of gold those old timers had.

  • mitch

    Earlier today I pulled a one ton dodge dually up the second half devils punchbowl in a stock 96′ f150. I was biking down towards the punchbowl after parking at that first sign warning about the difficulty when i saw a guy stuck half way up, so i went over there looked at it, and asked if he would like me to try to pull him up, he said that would be great so i got my truck, slowly drove to his location, used snap straps and pulled him all the way to the creek. This guy must have had brain damage, it was a brand new cummins with a large camper in the box. He ripped out the rear driveshaft while on his way to where he got stuck in the punchbowl, shredded an inside rear tire, hit the top of the camper on a cliff overhang at some point, and rocks rolled down and bashed the passenger side doors. As far as I know he got out, he had friends behind him but they couldnt do anything when he got stuck. I was impressed by my truck, though im still shaking. Dont ever let someone try to take something like that up that trail, the guy nearly slid off the trail and probably would have died. He said he is a famous photographer and had alot of nice camera equipment, also said his brother placed bronze in 2002 winter olympics in boardercross (snowboarding) so if you happen to know this guy dont trust him with a vehicle.

  • Mark

    Wow, I did this on a yamaha dirt bike in 05′. It was hairy, went through 2 snow banks and had to concentrate so hard that I don’t remember alot. It was pretty though. I do remember riding the shelf in neutral so I would not have to keep my finger on the clutch. WOW, what an experience.. The road was closed from the Marble side so I went around to Crested Butte and it was open so I did it. What an experience….

  • Robin

    Wow!!! Thanks for the pictures!! I now have a better perspective on my stupidity. We just drove from Denver to Crested Butte – The snow was about 5 feet deep and we tried to drive through this area. We ended up getting stuck at 3 am and sleeping in the car. We searched for help in the morning and the towns people were super friendly and towed us out. Thank goodness we got stuck or we would have fallen off the mountain!

  • Jack Bomar

    My son Brant Bomar & I drove a 1 ton long bed 4 door diesel 4×4 F 350 Ford Pick Up the entire trail from Scofield to Marble. During one part of the trip I got out and walked behind the truck. All the time I was wondering how I was going to get my son out of the river below. I really thought that he would not make it. Some jeepers that saw us stopped us in Marble and said to their amazement they did not know how we made it.

  • I am responding to Jack Bomars comment on March 22nd. As we did not have a camera that day I would like to ask if anyone remembers that truck, a white 1996 F350 long bed 4 door 4X4 in August 2003, to respond to this site to help verify mine and my dads story. My two brothers went thru the same route in a short wheel base high clearance 4X4 jeep and have a whole new respect for our story. Thanks for the memories. Brant Bomar

  • Ben

    I traveled that very pass up and down with my 1650cc dune buggy a couple years ago. A group of us were heading up to the Marble mines, very nice terrain. The view is by far more than your pictures can even attempt to represent. Thanks for the memories.

  • Ronnie

    I’m glad to know my wife and I weren’t the only 2 victims of the punchbowl.I don’t know about when most of you made the trip, but there were no signs warning of the severity of this passage way.Although….,I did manage to find where they were supposed to be, AFTER, we spent 11 hours stranded in our vehicle (night),and had to pay a 500 dollar towing bill.I got suspicious when the guy knew exactly where we had gotten stuck. Plus he was really sure of his self retrieving our vehicle since he had already retrieved 4 since January.sneaky way to earn some fast money!All I can say about that trip is that with every plane that flew over I was sure wishing I knew morse code cause I was blinking some headlights!we also wound up hiking out of that hole (about10 miles before we met anyone) and on the way,we saw a mountain lion.My wife hiked a little closer after that.I have to admit,I was worried myself.the weather was terrible.about 28 degrees with about a 40 mph wind.The only way we made it out was pure determination and 2 walmart rainsuits.I can say this with absolute certainty,God is great, and God is good!

  • Sarah Swisher

    In when I was a teenager in 1970 I rode the pass with my Dad, who was at the wheel of his rusty 1942 Wilys Jeep. My mom and younger brother stayed behind at Crystal. I chewed through a leather cap I was wearing and my daredevil Dad had the time of his life. He died 2 years later and the memories of that trip are some of my sweetest. I think it should be called God’s Puchbowl, because I felt mighty close to heaven in that rugged cool valley. I hope that is what Dad’s heaven is like.

  • Greg

    Wow, nice pictures.. I drove this pass back in 1995 in a 1990 Izuzu Trooper II, stock.

    We came in from the Schofield side and didn’t take any heed to the signs… I was 16! Heading into the canyon, we reached a point where we realized it was far too late to turn around, as the road was so narrow, and ended up just having to slide over some of the giant boulders in the road, lost the exhaust on one of them. (Took it out with us tho!) We eventually reached the creek crossing right before the watermill, and we stopped.

    Looked at it for a few moments, looked down the side of the cliff, saw the piles of vehicles down there, and decided we had to go for it.

    Made it across, Got back out to chill out after that bit, and noticed a sign facing in the direction of Marble side that read, “Caution, 14 Deaths here”

    We happily drove out and back over McClure pass, then around Kebler, back to Crested Butte.

    What a scary drive, but very pretty.

    I am pretty sure in the last 10 years or so, the 4×4 club out there has done a lot of maintenance on that trail to make it a little more safe. Not sure about that though.

    Anyway, It was nice to see your pictures and comments.

    Ciao!

  • Randy

    Just did it yesterday on the atv. Got out early and back to the truck by 10:3o am. Left from the CB side. Sure would not want to meet someone comeing the otherway. Should be like blackbear road, one way only. I will never forget it. RP

  • Arissa

    Do you think it’s something a woman can do alone when renting a quad? Trying to get time alone and experience nature?

  • Justin Rice

    Btw my father, grandmother, housekeeper and brother did schofield in a jeep wagoneer before they dynamited the entrance by the punchbowl. My father remembers many times the front tire left or right was off the road lol. Fun memories of when i was six. Also we got stuck on pearl pass for 20 hours, were in an avalanche @ outrun in 93 lol fun memories of cb.

  • H J Simpson

    What a fecking knob-head. Must be a yank

  • Greg Hobson

    Been there and done that. Trail was a piece of cake. OK ok my Grand Cherokee is lifted 9 inches, has ARB lockers front and rear, and it scores perfect on a RTI test, but the first time I did the trail it was stock and on 2 bald tires, still wasnt all that hard. Ask the locals when it safe, alot of the difficulty of that trail is due to inclament weather. Hell my brother did it in a VW bug back in the 70’s, and then again in the 80’s in a 4×4 van.

  • zack

    who ever wants to listen to that sign?!

  • Wow, I must have been clueless or just plain stupid! I was 19 yrs old when I worked for the Colorado Outward Bound School in the summer of 1965 as an Assistant Instructor and Camp Driver. I use to drive from Marble to Crested Butte and back about every two weeks in a 1964 Jeep Pick-up. I remember always having a difficult time maneuvering through and around the “Punch Bowl” but I never thought of the drive as being dangerous. I got stuck on “The Rock” once and used my electric winch to get me off but that was the most excitement I remember. Looking at the photos today, I am thankful to be occupying space above ground.
    Thanks for the photo’s and comments.
    Joe Cuttriss
    Chevy Chase, MD

    • Johnskinny

      Today was exciting. We are on our honeymoon and wanted to see our beautiful state in our ’06 wrangler unlimited we started on the marble side and continued past the mill and up to devils punchbowl. Yes it was narrow but I never had trouble engage the lockers… until we passed emerald lake and came across an avalanche that had not been cleared all summer long. Not wanting to turn back we hit the slushy slick snow at about 15 MPH and drove sideways all the way across the snow slide. Made but not recommended since we found ourselves on the wrongful side of a road closed sign.

  • Charlie Sargent

    One dangerous jeep road and you had better be good to drive it and a little stupid…

  • Jill Morden George

    We just rose from Marble past the Crystal Mill and finished on the upside of Devil’s Punchbowl. We’ve four wheeled in Colorado and Wyoming the last four years so are not “novice” riders. We took our Polaris 850’s through. They had no problem handling the trail at all, but it took several years off my life on the uphill portion. I watched as my husband hit the two red sections of the trail and had three of his tires free spinning. Thank goodness we had helmet communicators or because I told him was was not riding that portion. He came back after getting his machine through and rode my machine through while I walked the first rocky section of the trail. Repeat for rocky section number two. Other than those two sections, my biggest fear was the potential of having to pass someone on the trail. This trail does NOT allow for passing and would require monumental backing up the steep, rocky shelf road to the one spot that does allow it. I held my breath but we never had to pass someone. Praise God! When we made the trek back down the Punchbowl to Marble, I rode the entire thing without issue. Not sure why down is easier than up for me, but it is. We hit the BBQ place in Marble for my celebration margarita, (ok, plural) for riding this trail. I feel accomplished for having sucked up my fear of heights and tackled this bad boy. We’ll probably go back but I’m still not riding those sections!