The pass straddles a divide that separates Ouray and San Juan counties. The pass is named for the nearby Red Mountain 1, 2 and, 3 on the northeast side of the pass. The name is derived from the iron oxide laden rock that forms their slopes.
The pass is known for being treacherous in the wintertime due to the steep 8% grade on the north side facing Ouray, though the entire road is paved. In addition, there are very few guardrails on this side and passing is difficult, if not impossible.