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U.S. Forest Service

Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area


Castilleja rhexiifolia Paintbrush (Castilleja rhexiifolia). Photo by Dave Armlovich, U.S. Forest Service.

Cardamine cordifolia Bittercress (Cardamine cordifolia). Photo by Dave Armlovich, U.S. Forest Service.

Helianthella quinquenervis Little Sunflower (Arnica mollis). Photo by Dave Armlovich, U.S. Forest Service.

Yankee Boy Basin

Forest: Uncompahgre National Forest

District: Ouray Ranger District

Description: Yankee Boy Basin is nestled beneath some of the San Juan’s most breathtaking peaks: Potosi Peak, Teakettle Mountain, Cirque Mountain, Stony Mountain, Gilpin Mountain, and the most well-known, Mount Sneffels, which is over 14,000 feet in elevation. The drive to this green-carpeted valley presents spectacular alpine scenery, abundant wildflowers, waterfalls, a high-walled canyon and old town sites in a once-booming mining area. This is a great drive out of Ouray that can be combined with a side trip to Box Canyon Falls early in the drive, and the drive over Imogene Pass. Medium-to-high-clearance vehicles are required to reach the Basin and 4-wheel drive is recommended beyond the basin to Mt. Sneffels trailhead. From Yankee Boy Basin, many summit the 14,000’ Mount Sneffels or hike over the pass into the Mount Sneffels Wilderness to Blue Lake Basin. One can also walk up the more difficult sections of this road beyond the basin to the trailhead.

Viewing Information: Wildflowers are abundant from mid-July through early August. Some of the more common blooming species include Monument Plant, Paintbrush (of varying colors), Columbine, Larkspur, Chiming Bluebells, Orange Sneezeweed, Cow Parsnip, Wild Iris, and Dwarf Sunflowers, just to name a few.

Safety First: Travelling to Yankee Boy Basin should not be attempted by low clearance passenger cars. Yankee Boy Basin is above timberline. Thunderstorms often develop in the afternoon in the Colorado high country. Visiting early in the day and back in your car by the afternoon is advisable. Be aware of high altitude sickness, which can be life threatening, and drink plenty of water. There are no services available. Be sure to take water and lunch on your visit. The last mile stretch of road is gravel and rough, high clearance vehicles are advised. Take your time and stay on your side of the road.

Directions: Drive out of Ouray on CO 550 about 0.3 miles heading south towards Silverton. At a bend in U.S. 550 (the San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway), turn south onto County Road 361 (Camp Bird Road). Look for the sign: Camp Bird Mine, Yankee Boy Basin, and Box Canyon Falls. Continue up this road, which -turns from a graded dirt road into a narrow shelf blasted road into the canyons west wall. The road beyond the basin to the Mount Sneffels trailhead is a steep, rough, rutted road that requires high clearance and low gears. At mile 6, at the confluence of Sneffels, Imogene and Canyon creeks, the road to the left leads to the Camp Bird (gold mine) and Imogene Pass. The road narrows and continues up the canyon of Sneffels Creek. At mile 6.3 it passes through the site of Sneffels, a town founded in 1875. At mile 6.9, a fork to the left goes to the site of Ruby City and up to Governor Basin. The road to Yankee Boy Basin is rocky from here and continues to climbs steeply for another mile or so into the basin. There are public vaulted toilets in the basin. Crowds (and traffic) tend to be higher on the weekends. There are many jeep companies in the nearby town of Ouray that will do the driving to Yankee Boy and provide historical information on the mining history of the area. Contact the Ouray Visitor Center at (970) 325-4746, or (800) 228-1876.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, San Juan National Forest, Dolores Ranger District (970) 882-7296; and, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Norwood Ranger District (970) 327-4261.

Closest Town: Ouray, Colorado.

Camping Areas:

  • Amphitheater Campground is located just south of the town of Ouray off CO 550 (Forest Service owned, concession operated - reservation recommended).
  • Thistledown and Angel Creek Campground are located along Country Road 361 Camp Bird Road (Forest Service owned and operated - no reservations required).