Yankee Boy Basin is a perennial favorite destination, known for its wildflowers in late July and August, as the trailhead for climbing Mt. Sneffels, the iconic Twin Falls, and stunning scenery. It’s easy to get to from Ouray, but you’ll need 4WD, an ATV, or a dirt-bike motorcycle to do it. The photo below, taken on June 14, 2011, shows some dramatic scenery, and below that are directions to get there from Ouray, Colorado.
Now, for detailed directions. This post has a GPS map plus lost of photos, so if you’re using a mobile device, please be patient. I tried to make the photos as small as I could and preserve quality. First, the GPS map. The starting point, at the upper right hand corner, is downtown Ouray, Colorado.
I want to describe what vehicle you’ll need. If you have a regular 2WD street sedan, do not attempt to travel further than the Weehawken trailhead. Past the Camp Bird cutoff, you should have a high-clearance 4WD. If you try it with a low-clearance 4WD, such as a Subaru or a Blazer, be exceptionally careful—this is not a casual drive! (Yes, I’ve had the Blazer there. I made Tuesday’s trip on my Yamaha XT-250 dirt bike, which had no problem at all.)
Drive south from downtown Ouray on Main Street, which is US Hwy 550. At the south end of town, the road turns sharply right (west). After a couple hundred yards, it turns left until you’re pointed east. That’s where you make the turn to the right. You’ll see this sign:
You’ll travel up this road for quite awhile. The lower part of the road travels through a residential area: please observe speed limits and the amount of dust you raise.
If you have ATVs or non-street-legal dirt bikes, note there is no parking. You should drive up the road a couple miles to the first bridge across the river—lots of parking there, but observe the signs.
You’ll be traveling on some shelf roads, as shown in the picture below.
This is a good time to remind you that the only person responsible for your safety is you, and you alone. There aren’t any guard rails and the corners aren’t marked. I suggest you not try this road after dark. Vehicles traveling uphill have the right of way and there are spots where two vehicles cannot pass each other. Use common sense. If you want to take a picture, pull your vehicle over where it’s out of the way, get out, and take your pics. Do not block the road—it’s heavily used in the summer and early autumn.
Once you get to Camp Bird (a rather huge old mining operation), bear right onto Ouray County Road 26. The road gets rough and steep, and will get rougher as you go. Now for one of the most interesting and photographed features: the overhang!
Don’t try to avoid the water here—the road is plenty sturdy even when covered with water. From here you continue on the road. Note that there are some little side roads that tend to wander off the main road. Most of these are short and go to various mining remains. Be careful as these roads can get very steep in a hurry.
From here the road gets quite steep and rough. If you are in a Jeep or pickup truck, there are times when you want to put a wheel on the obstacle rather than let it rip off your oil pan! ATVs and motorcycles should have no problem, but note there is moderate scree and a number of places where water runs across the road. The road (as of last Tuesday, and I have no reason to believe things have changed) is cleared as far as the Forest Service bathroom.
The bathroom (fully functional) is “ground zero” as a reference point for everything in Yankee Boy Basin. Actually, I like the views a hundred yards or so back down the road where you see the red pin on the GPS map. There’s a parking area. In late July and through August this is ablaze with wildflowers including Colorado’s state flower, the columbine. You can also walk easily to the iconic twin falls. As of last Tuesday, the area is still mostly snow-blanketed, but that will change. The photo below shows the snow beyond the bathroom.
People don’t travel to Yankee Boy Basin for the road, but rather to see the scenery. The picture at the very top of this post looks east from Pin 1 on the map, which is where you park for Twin Falls.
Safety, safety, safety! There are no guard rails, nor is there anyone close at hand to help. But, if you’re careful, you’ll find some incredible views! As a last photo, I show my trusty Yamaha XT-250 with Twin Falls in the background.
If you’re careful, you should be able to get to Yankee Boy Basin. There are a few rough spots toward the end. However, don’t attempt Imogene Pass in the Subaru, nor the road to Engineer Pass (Ouray CR 18), and I recommend strongly against trying Corkscrew, Hurricane, Cimarron, Engineer, or California passes. You can, however, drive US Hwy 550 to Silverton (note: there is ongoing road construction) and then from there drive up to Animas Forks ghost town. You can certainly drive over Owl Creek Pass. Usually Ophir Pass is approachable fairly easily.
Can I get up to the higher trailhead in a Subaru Outback if I’m really careful? Is the risk a flat tire or losing an oil pan or something like that? Or is the risk getting stuck? Thanks!
This is great information… I will be in Ouray on july 17 and hope to make YB basin& twin falls. Tried it once before in 1998 but got turned back by a serious t storm