Who doesn't get excited seeing wildflowers in full bloom? That is one thing we always look forward to in summer in the high mountains of Colorado. One of the places to see an abundance of them is in the American Basin near Lake City. This place is well known for its incredible display of alpine wildflowers which are usually at their peak from mid-July to early August. Finding wildflowers is one of the perks of hiking in summer, even more so if you find the landscape covered with them, such as in the photo below.
American Basin is located in Gunnison National Forest in the San Juan Mountains. It is a high alpine basin surrounded by high cliffs on the west and mountain peaks on the east and south, reaching from over thirteen thousand feet to over fourteen thousand feet (White Cross Mountain (13,542 feet) and Handies Peak (14,048 feet) on the east, and American Peak (13,806 feet) on the south).
TO GET HERE
There are different ways to reach American Basin, either from the towns of Ouray, Silverton or Lake City. We stay at Lake City which is 22 miles away, via county road 30. Outside of Lake City, you will pass the second largest natural lake in Colorado, Lake San Cristobal. This lake is 2.1 miles long and 89 feet deep. Here’s an activity you can do if hiking is not your thing. You can spend the day, or two, fishing or boating in this lake, it is stocked with rainbow trout.
Driving to American Basin is not for the faint of heart. The road meanders on the side of a deep ravine in some areas. The photo here shows part of the road. As you can see, driving a 4-wheel drive and high clearance vehicle is best. This is a rough road, especially as you get closer to American Basin.
For those who want to climb fourteeners, the Sunshine South Trailhead and Grizzly Gulch Trailhead are also along this road. You will pass these trailheads before you reach the American basin. Hermann climbed several fourteeners here but not on this trip.
So, to reach the trail to Handies Peak or to Sloan Lake, you will cross Lake Fork of the Gunnison River - below you can see a couple of 4-wheelers crossing the river (just a mountain creek at this elevation). You don't have to cross it if you don't have the required vehicle, you can park before the crossing, but that will add some distance to your hike. Not much though, just about a half mile.
ON THE TRAIL
Even at the beginning of the trail, you will get distracted by the wildflowers. Add the stream and mountain landscape to the view and it is just a perfect scene mother nature offers anyone who comes here.
You can't blame us for stopping often along the trail. Who can resist an amazing landscape like this? What can I say. Our hike was cut short because we spent a lot of time photographing these wildflowers. We didn't want to get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm which is typical in the high mountains. We went as far as the little waterfalls we found off the trail. I didn't get to see Sloan Lake, but I don't mind.
To better view the wildflowers, I compiled some of the best photos we took and created a short video. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Check it out.
If you are staying in the surrounding area, make sure to visit Whitmore Falls. Also, just in case you missed it, halfway between the Historic Town of Creede and the Historic Town of Lake City is the North Clear Creek Falls, the most photographed waterfall in Colorado.