Explore Yankee Boy Basin and the San Juan Mountains

U.S. Route 550, Ouray, CO

Catch beautiful mountain vistas without having to hike to them. View wildlife like elk, marmots, and pikas. Visit abandoned ghost towns. See amazing displays of wildflowers.

While its nickname "The Switzerland of America" may have been invented by some overzealous marketers, Ouray, Colorado and the surrounding San Juan Mountains is a destination you won't want to skip. Expansive green valleys blanketed with wildflowers, distant snowcapped peaks, and hidden lakes will quench any explorer's thirst for beauty while crumbling ghost towns, precarious cliffside roads, and disorienting mountain passes will provide the adventure. And the best part is you don't even have to leave your car.

Begin your exploration of Yankee Boy Basin in Downtown Ouray. If you don't have a four-wheel drive vehicle with high suspension, I suggest renting a jeep from one of several off-road outfitters in the town. We had a great experience with Switzerland of America Jeep Rentals. Head south out of town on the Million Dollar Highway, a series of steep switchbacks climbing out of Ouray's gulch, and head off the pavement onto Camp Bird Road (the turnoff is pinned on the map).

Follow Camp Bird Road for about 8.5 miles up to Yankee Boy Basin. Keep your eyes out for the ruins of an old mill, abundant wildlife, and the Colorado state flower, the Colorado Columbine, but more importantly, keep you eyes on the road. It would be generous to call Camp Bird Road two lanes and if you meet a car on one of the narrow, cliff edge turns, your driving skills will be tested.

Once you reach Yankee Boy, get out of the car and take some time to explore. Take the path to a small lake or continue up to the peak of Mt. Sneffels. Elk and marmots are abundant and the summer green is refreshing in what is otherwise a pretty dry state.

If you started early in the day, you probably have time to explore other jeeping roads, so head back to the Million Dollar Highway and take the route to California Pass, Red Mountain, or Animal Pass Ghost Town. All three of these destination begin at highway 18 just a few miles further south on the Million Dollar Highway, but bring a good map! There are many unlabeled spur roads and its not difficult to get lost if you aren't paying attention. Pay close attention to landmarks like lakes and ghost towns that are clearly marked on the maps.

Finally, at the end of the day, head back to Ouray and treat yourself to a burger and brew at the Ouray Brewery's rooftop patio.

Pack List

  • Detailed Map
  • Compass
  • Hiking Boots
  • Lunch
  • Water
  • Camera
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Activities Chillin, Photography
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Summer, Autumn
Features
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Gorgeous

Beautiful area full of adventure. skiing, hiking, jeeping. a special place

Exploring the San Juans is a little broad but Yankee Boy Basin is one of the best places in the range. For added adventure climb nearby 14er, Mount Sneffels.


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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