Oh My God Road: Fantastic Hike or Drive Near Idaho Springs
Nestled in the heart of the Colorado mountains lies a hidden gem that offers a thrilling adventure for daring travelers – the Oh My God Road. This historic and scenic byway, officially known as Virginia Canyon Road, connects the charming mining towns of Idaho Springs and Central City. While its nickname may evoke a sense of awe and trepidation, the road promises a unique experience filled with breathtaking views, rich history, and a touch of adrenaline.
The Oh My God Road stretches approximately 8.5 miles (13.7 km) through the rugged and picturesque Colorado landscape. This primarily unpaved, dirt and gravel road has been a witness to the state’s Gold Rush history and the rise and fall of mining towns in the area. As you embark on this journey, be prepared to navigate steep inclines, sharp turns, and narrow sections without guardrails, all while marveling at the panoramic vistas of mountains, valleys, and remnants of a bygone era.
Although the road requires caution and a suitable vehicle, the rewards are plenty. Explore the historic towns of Idaho Springs and Central City, where you can learn about their role in the Gold Rush, visit museums, and even try your hand at gold panning. The Oh My God Road is more than just a thrilling drive – it’s an invitation to connect with Colorado’s past and immerse yourself in its stunning natural beauty.
Note: This is a road – not a hiking trail. I recommend driving it during the summer and busy weekends. It is best hiked during the spring and fall season when there is less vehicle traffic on the Oh My God Road.
Oh My God Road | Fast Facts
Oh My God Road Guide
From Denver, Colorado:
Take I-70 west from Denver until you see signs for Idaho Springs. Take exit 240 into Idaho Springs. Take Colorado Boulevard and Virginia Canyon Rd to Two Brothers Road and begin your drive.
You an make this drive from either direction, but most people start in Idaho Springs and end in Central City. After you turn onto Two Brothers Road, follow it as you start to ascend up the gulch. After 1-2 miles, reach a sharp turn and take the road that continues to gain elevation.
The next several miles of road switchbacks up the mountainside past a number of mine ruins and waste piles. All of the brightly colored piles of rock above and below the road are the remains of gold mining operations from more than 100 years ago. This area has the densest concentration of mining ruins in the state of Colorado.
Watch the map closely to make a sharp left turn and begin heading west again along the mountain side. There are several large mills and mine structure above you off to your right, and some buildings on your left further up. Crest the mountain pass and start your descent into Russel Gulch.
This section is less steep and has the greatest concentration of mining ruins in the area. You can park at a pull-off along this section and do some hiking along many of the 4WD roads that criss-cross the various mining claims. Be careful around these old ruins and stay out of structures and tunnels as they are unstable and can collapse without warning.
Complete the drive down into Central City with one final switchback before you rejoin the main street in the town center. From here, you can head back the way you came to Idaho Springs or take the Central City Parkway back to Denver directly. I hope you enjoy your visit to Oh My God Road in Idaho Springs.
If you visited this area, please leave a review further below with your feedback to share it with the community. Safe travels on the trail!
Digital maps like this are helpful planning tools, but you should always bring a paper copy as a backup. Phones break and batteries die – especially in cold, high-altitude environments. Be prepared and print out a map or buy one online to bring with you.
Here are some of my favorite photos from previous visits to Oh My God Road.
Although the Oh My God Road is not as high up as other trails in the area, weather conditions are still variable at this elevation. Below is the forecast for the area from the National Weather Service to help plan your drive or hike to the area.
The right gear and equipment will make your visit to the Oh My God Road more safe and more enjoyable. Here are some recommendations for your hike.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support. Buy at REI →
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22
Osprey is known for the quality of its bags and backpacks and the Talon 22 is no exception. The Talon 22 is my standard choice for day hikes, with enough space for the ten essentials and some extra food and water, along with helpful accessories like a place to stash your trek poles and climbing helmet for class 3 and 4 routes. I highly recommend it for day hikes and 14ers too. Buy at REI →
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain. Buy at REI →
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or a life straw.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit with matches and tinder for starting a fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For Oh My God Road, you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will very happy you brought it with. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Many areas in the National Park do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features. Buy at REI →
Looking for somewhere to stay before or after your backpacking trip? Here are some excellent places to stay before or after visiting Oh My God Road
Camping near Lost Creek:
- Echo Lake Campground
- Central City KOA
- Columbine Campground
- Cold Springs Campground
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along the forest roads around Idaho Springs. Learn more about nearby dispersed camping by talking to a ranger at one of the nearby National Forest Visitor Centers in Idaho Springs or Georgetown.
Lodging near Idaho Springs:
Not a fan of camping? Here are some great motels and hotels in Idaho Springs or Central City. They are only a few minutes away from Oh My God Road.
- Argo Inn and Suites – Idaho Springs, CO
- H & H Motor Lodge – Idaho Springs, CO
- Uplift Inn – Idaho Springs, CO
- Bearadise Motel – Idaho Springs, CO
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Idaho Springs and the other towns along I-70. They’re a perfect solution for staying the night before or after your backpacking trip.
Note: As a Booking.com affiliate I receive a small commission if you book a room using the links above – but your price remains the same. Thanks for supporting The Next Summit.
This area is full of a rich mining legacy and natural wildlife, but more people are visiting with each passing season and the impact is growing. Help us preserve the natural beauty of these mountains by practicing these Leave No Trace ethics during your hike.
- Plan Ahead: Check the weather and trail conditions so you can bring appropriate clothing and gear to stay safe.
- Dispose of waste properly: Use the pit toilets when possible and pick up and carry out any litter or trash you encounter.
- Stay on designated trails and campsites. Don’t wander off-route or clear new campsites as this speeds up erosion.
- Give wildlife 75+ feet of space and avoid feeding them either purposefully or by accidentally leaving food out.
- Minimize campfire impacts: Only use pre-existing metal and rock rings, keep fires small, put them out cold, or skip them entirely.
- Practice proper trail etiquette. Smile and say hello to others. Yield to uphill hikers. Don’t listen to music with speakers, and help others when you can.
- Leave What You Find: Don’t take any artifacts, lumber, or other remains from mining structures or ruins. Leave them for others to discover and enjoy in their original location.
Hiking in the mountains can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Here are six safety tips for mountain hiking:
Plan and prepare: Research the trail, its difficulty, and weather conditions before you start. Obtain a detailed map, and familiarize yourself with the route. Make a realistic plan for your hike, considering your fitness level and daylight hours. Let someone know your plans and estimated return time.
Dress appropriately: Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the terrain and weather conditions. Dress in layers, as temperatures can change rapidly in the mountains. Choose moisture-wicking fabrics, sturdy and comfortable hiking boots, and don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Carry essential gear: Always bring the “Ten Essentials” for outdoor activities, which include a map, compass, extra clothing, rain gear, a flashlight or headlamp, first-aid kit, firestarter, knife or multitool, extra food, and water. A fully charged phone and a portable charger are also helpful.
Stay on designated trails: Follow marked trails and avoid shortcuts, which can lead to erosion and harm the environment. Staying on the path reduces your risk of getting lost or encountering dangerous terrain.
Know your limits: Be aware of your physical limitations and do not push yourself too hard. Take breaks, stay hydrated, and maintain a comfortable pace. Turn back if you’re not feeling well or if the weather conditions worsen.
Be aware of wildlife: Understand the types of wildlife that inhabit the area you are hiking in and learn how to react in case of an encounter. Keep a safe distance from animals, store food properly to avoid attracting them, and never feed them. If you encounter a potentially dangerous animal, follow established guidelines for how to respond.
The “Oh My God Road,” officially known as Virginia Canyon Road, is a historic and scenic byway that connects the towns of Idaho Springs and Central City in Colorado. The road earned its nickname due to its steep and narrow nature, as well as the breathtaking views it offers.
The history of the road dates back to the late 19th century, during the Colorado Gold Rush. In 1859, gold was discovered in the region, leading to the establishment of several mining towns, including Idaho Springs and Central City. The road was built to facilitate transportation between these towns, allowing miners and supplies to move back and forth.
During its early years, the road was traveled by horse-drawn wagons and stagecoaches. As the gold mines began to deplete and the mining industry declined, the importance of the road diminished. However, with the rise of tourism and the appreciation for Colorado’s scenic beauty, the road regained popularity as a sightseeing route.
Today, the Oh My God Road is a well-known destination for adventurous travelers who want to experience a thrilling drive with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The unpaved and winding route requires caution, especially in some sections with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. However, the road provides a unique opportunity to explore the area’s history and natural beauty.
Keep in mind that the road may be closed or impassable during winter months due to snow and ice, and a high-clearance vehicle with good tires is recommended for navigating the rough terrain.
Here are some additional websites with information about the Oh My God Road near Idaho Springs, Colorado.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A: Oh My God Road, also known as Virginia Canyon Road, is located in Colorado, connecting the towns of Idaho Springs and Central City.
A: Depending on where you start, the road is approximately 7-8.6 miles long.
Answer: Oh My God Road is primarily a dirt and gravel road, with some sections that are narrow, steep, and winding. It is not fully paved.
A: Although the road can be challenging and requires caution due to its steep and narrow nature, it is generally safe for experienced drivers with appropriate vehicles. A high-clearance vehicle with good tires is recommended. Always check the weather conditions and road status before embarking on your journey.
A: A high-clearance vehicle with good tires is recommended for navigating the rough terrain of the road. Four-wheel drive may be useful, especially during wet or snowy conditions that are common in the spring and fall. I do not recommend driving with a trailer, RV, or large vehicle.
A: Yes, the road can be used for biking or hiking, but be aware of the rough terrain and potential vehicular traffic. Exercise caution and make sure you are well-prepared for the conditions.
Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.
The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.
By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses.
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.