Coal Bank Pass is in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado. It is traversed by the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Highway 550) which is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. Coal Bank Pass is part of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic route. (Partner Pass: Molas Pass)
Begin your ride in Durango
Head North on US 550 to Coal Bank Pass Summit--mile 34
Continue on US 550 to Molas Pass Summit--mile 41
Finish in Silverton--mile 47
While the north side is gentle, the descent on the south side is very steep at about 6.5 percent, and has a runaway ramp for trucks that lose control. It is basically downhill the entire way to Durango.
Durango, 35.7 miles to the south
Silverton, 14.1 miles to the northeast
Coal Bank Pass is covered in what appears to be coal, but is actually black shale (ergo the name “Coal Bank”).
Seven miles north of Coal Banks is Molas Pass. These passes were ancient trails later used by trappers and traders. The San Juan Mountains are called the “Alps of the Rockies”.
The annual Ironhorse Bicycle Classic is a 47-mile bicycle race held between the towns of Durango and Silverton over Coal Bank and Molas Passes.
This race was created by Tom Mayer and his older brother Jim in the late 1800s. Jim worked as a brakeman on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad which had run the steam powered locomotive between Durango and Silverton since the 1880s. Brother Tom was a young bicycle enthusiast who grew up alongside the tracks to Silverton. Tom challenged Jim to a race to Silverton. As the train came by the house, the steam whistle screamed and Tom climbed on his trusty steel framed 10-speed, and pedaled up and over the two passes descending into the mining town of Silverton. The train took a shorter and easier route, but with limited speed, so it is truly a race between man and machine.
This is your opportunity to race the train over two mountain passes with big descents and minimal oxygen!