Yankee Boy Basin, high in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, is one of the premier wildflower locations in the West. Joan and I have photographed this high basin half a dozen times the last ten or fifteen years . The huge meadows of Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, daises, and bluebells surrounded by towering peaks is truly an enchanting place.
The peak of the wildflower bloom in high basins like Yankee Boy varies from year to year but is usually best sometime between early July and early August. Mid July is often a good time to go. It's hard to say when it will be best this year. We had a hot early spring but there was a good bit of snow in the mountains last winter. I talked to a young couple on Memorial Day who said they had just gotten back from a great ski trip in Yankee Boy the weekend before. My guess is that mid July should be good this year.
Yankee Boy Basin is not far from Ouray Colorado. Head south out of Ouray and turn right onto Camp Bird Road just as you leave town. This road is marked as County Road 361. The last time we were there, a sign for Yankee Boy Basin also marked the way. It is somewhat of an adventure getting up to Yankee Boy but if you take it easy it should be no problem. To get up into the basin itself you do need a four wheel drive vehicle, however some people do take a regular passenger car to the foot of the basin and then walk the half mile or so up into the basin itself. Four wheel drive is definitely much better though, especially if you have little experience with Colorado back-country roads. The four wheel part of the road is not tough; any SUV will have little problem. It is about seven miles from Ouray up into Yankee Boy basin.
If you are not up to driving to Yankee Boy Basin yourself, there are a number of tour places in Ouray that offer jeep trips into the surrounding mountains. They all offer trips to Yankee Boy as well as other trips over Imogene Pass, the Alpine Loop, Engineer Pass, Black Bear Pass, and much more. http://www.ouraycolorado.com/Jeeping will get you all kinds of information on jeep trips and other guided trips in the Ouray area.
The first part of the road to Yankee Boy Basin is easy and very scenic. After several miles the good gravel road becomes a bit more narrow and challenging however. About halfway up to Yankee Boy, you cut across the face of a steep cliff with the river far below on your left. There are a few blind curves on this section also. Be sure to take this part of the read slowly and carefully and watch for cars coming the other direction. There are spots where one car will have to get into a pull-over to let the other pass. If you have trouble with heights it might be a good idea to let someone else drive this short stretch. Actually, the road is not as bad as I'm making it sound; it's a good two wheel road, it's just a little bit scary.
You come to Camp Bird after five miles and the road gets a little narrower. At one place, you drive under a huge chunk of rock that overhangs the road. At 5.9 miles you will find the turn-off for Imogene Pass on the left. You go on straight for Yankee Boy Basin. At 6.6 miles the road forks again; bear to the right for Yankee Boy. If you go straight at this point a fairly difficult four wheel road takes you on to Governor Basin, another beautiful basin full of even more wildflowers. The last time I was up to Yankee Boy, all these turns were signed for Yankee Boy Basin. The Governor Basin road makes a really nice hike if you have the time. Only experienced four wheel drivers should drive on up to Governor Basin. The turn off for Governor is a good place to leave your vehicle if you don't want to drive the last bit of more difficult road that goes up into Yankee Boy Basin. We usually drive on up into Yankee Boy Basin on the moderately difficult four wheel drive road as far as the public toilets on the left and park there.
Yankee Boy Basin is actually private land and open to the public only by the generosity of the owners. They may be charging a small fee to go into Yankee Boy now. I've heard something about this but I'm not sure if it's actually happening at this point. When you are up in Yankee Boy, you should stay on the road or the trails and try not to smash any of the wildflowers. Please don't pick any wildflowers either. There are tons and tons of them there but there is evidence that they have been dwindling over the years.
There are lots of great places to hike in Yankee Boy Basin. There is an obvious trail off to the left just after you get into Yankee Boy that goes a few hundred yards to a great double water fall and then beyond. The waterfall is actually the one that is pictured on Coors Beer cans. (At least I guess it's still there, it's been a long time since I've had a Coors). Another great hike is to simply follow the jeep road which turns into a trail that takes you to the end of Yankee Boy Basin which is Blue Lakes Pass. From the pass, The Blue Lakes Trail snakes down inside of the Mount Sneffles Wilderness area to Blue Lakes which you can see from the pass. Back on the floor of Yankee Boy Basin, as you look west, up the basin, the huge peak to the right, toward the northwest is Mount Sneffles, one of the most beautiful of the Colorado fourteeners. Yankee Boy Basin is the starting point for the climb up Sneffles. Don't attempt this though if you aren't an experienced climber. Sneffles is a long and serious climb that the uninitiated can get into serious trouble on.
Be sure to bring your camera and a tripod if you have one. The pictures in Yankee Boy are some of the best in Colorado. Another item to bring is some kind of rain gear. All those flowers in Yankee Boy aren't there by accident. I've never been to Yankee Boy Basin when there wasn't a pretty significant afternoon shower. The very first time I was in Yankee Boy basin, back in the early 1980's it was on a family backpacking trip with Joan and our three small boys. We got caught in a horrendous August storm and ended up getting six inches of snow. Needless to say we spent most of our time in two small tents drying boys and clothing in front of a roaring fire. Actually, it was one of the best and most memorable trips I've ever taken. The boys still talk about it almost thirty years later.
Yankee Boy Rainboy, Yankee Boy Basin
Yankee Boy Creek and Trunks