American Basin Trailhead


Range: San Juan Mountains
Coordinates: 37.92028, -107.51639
14ers: Handies Peak
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Road Difficulty

Easy 4WD, good clearance recommended. 3   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
Rough 2WD dirt to 10,400' at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH. Easy 4WD to 11,300' at the turn-off for American Basin. 4WD to 11,600' at the TH.

Driving Directions

From Lake City, drive 2 miles south on Colorado 149 and turn right on the Lake San Cristibol road (County Road 30). This is the southern entrance to the "Alpine Loop" scenic byway. Follow the signs to Cinnamon Pass. Drive about 20 miles to a signed fork in the road. Left is to American Basin and right is to Cinnamon Pass. Turn left. If you do not have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance, park in the pull-offs near the start of this road. It's 0.9 mile to the trailhead from the start of the American Basin road. After 0.2 mile, cross a stream which can be fairly deep in spring. If you don't feel comfortable driving through the water, there are some parking spots in the area. Continue to the end of the road where you'll find a large parking area and marked trail.

Winter Access

Closed far below the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH.

More Info

Important Notes: Due to inaccuracies, do not use Google/Apple Maps directions to get to the American Basin trailhead. Please use the instructions on the trailhead page.
Status Updates 
Posted By: john curtis
Info: Several patches of snow (not deep) up to the Cinnamon Pass/American Basin split. American Basin is only passable to the 3rd pull-off. I parked my Jeep Wrangler at the second pull-off at 11,352 ft. Deep show drifts cover the road the majority of the way to the trailhead for Handies Peak.
Posted By: -wren-
Info: With careful line choice, I was able to make it up and down to the upper trailhead without scraping in a 2003 Outback (7.9 inch clearance, AWD). On the way back I had to get out and look more closely at a couple of the nastier spots that are more blind on the descent. Low gear was helpful on the descent to creep over the sharper stuff with extra caution. Backing up for another vehicle would be a huge pain in the ass in a similar vehicle and would definitely call for a spotter. Any car with 7+ inches of clearance should be able to get just past the creek crossing fine with 2WD.
Posted By: Pedro F
Info: FROM SILVERTON -- Google maps is accurate, at least from a routing perspective (2 to Animas Forks, 5 to Cinnamon Pass, 30 from Cinnamon Pass). Road is not too bad through Eureka; don’t be fooled though, it gets a good amount worse after Eureka, becoming more like a 4 rating, IMO...certainly worse than coming the opposite way from Lake City. I was squarely in 10mph (sometimes less) territory basically the whole way from Eureka, so Google maps claim of 45 min Eureka-TH is optimistic. Regardless, it gets tedious dealing with that for some 9 miles straight. Downdrive from Cinnamon Pass to the TH was relatively easy.
Posted By: wanderingsteve
Info: I made it to the upper 4WD trailhead in a Subaru Outback without any issues. It did require a bit of careful driving beyond the lower trailhead and I would not recommend attempting with any less clearance. The toughest section is a mound maybe 0.25 miles from the upper trailhead (I went to the right). The creek crossing is easy in any vehicle right now. I think the 2WD road below Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch is a fair bit rougher than last year. We got a VW Jetta up there last year without much trouble, but I would not attempt to drive that section with such little clearance right now.
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: Hey everyone, quick update: the San Jauns are not in a happy place right now**, monsoons are upon us. Significant rock/mudslides in the American Basin area tonight. Hinsdale County EMS and SAR are on scene to recover 20+ persons. More rain conditions expected throughout the week, consider trails/roads suspect for travel in and out for most of the San Juan areas. I also encountered a mudslide north of Powderhorn with some noticeable force (driving a heavy duty ford 250), and then again south of town after the bridge: there was over-road flooding, definitely made you slow down. Recommend exercising caution, off-roads are sticky and can shift easily.

**edit: or maybe the mountains are rejoicing?
Posted By: tdurty
Info: Made it to the very upper TH in a stock Subaru Crosstrek with AT tires. Only one spot that required a spotter and careful line choice.
Posted By: tstorm5
Info: INFO: 2017 Stock 4WD Tacoma with long bed (I sleep in it) 8 inches of clearance and K02’s
The road up to Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead is accessible by almost any vehicle if you follow the easy to see lines. Lots of potholes to dodge and a handful of larger rocks. Past that and on to the 11,300 Trailhead you will cross 3 creeks, the largest creek crossing is the last one and there is one large rock there that could ruin your trip. I stopped at 11,300 trailhead and walked up to 11,600 to see what was there. Glad I did. I love my truck to much to drive it up there. It could have easily made it but it gets pretty rough (large rocks) up on the last .5 mile of road. Everyone should see American Basin at least once in their life. Toughest obstacle may be dodging all the Razor traffic.
Posted By: kimbuk2
Info: Driving 2016 Land Cruiser, no lift, 9.1~ of clearance with KO2 tires.

Drove in from Silverton over Cinnamon Pass. No issues or clearance concerns. Some tight switchbacks but easily doable (with no reversing) with the right line choice.

At American Basin proper, could drive up to 11,600 TH no problem, but any less clearance or lack of 4WD, Id recommend parking at the lot near 11,300 (only .5 miles away on the road). Water crossing was Subaru-able, no issues, low.
Posted By: coffbrauhaus
Info: Road is heavily potholed and has a lot of interesting obstacles if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle. We made it to about a mile below the actual trailhead and shortly before the turnoff for American Basin in a sedan with 6.3 inches of clearance on 6/30, but I can’t in good conscience recommend doing that unless you have an experienced off road driver with patience and a good eye for a line behind the wheel. Take the uphill line at the stream below American Basin, there’s a pretty deep spot when you first cross it.
Posted By: Kiefer
Info: Cinnamon Pass is open both ways. Road is open to the lower parking area for American Basin. The stream crossing is roaring but a Subaru can still make it across. In another week, the upper 4x4 trailhead will be accessible.
Posted By: tfrye
Info: Conditions at the American Basin trailhead last weekend.
Posted By: AlexeyD
Info: Road is clear and drivable to the Cinnamon Pass junction. A bit of clearance and AWD/4x4 recommended as the road gets a little rough, especially in the last few miles.
Posted By: RWSchaffer
Info: The road to the trailhead is closed at a winter closure gate about nine miles below the trailhead (picture 1). The first half mile beyond the gate is plowed and dry to allow workers access to a road drainage construction project. The next mile or so alternates dry patches with shallow, supportive, crusted snow. Farther along the road, snow becomes deeper, more continuous and less supportive.

At the Silver Creek / Grizzly Gulch trailhead, snow is a good foot deep and mostly not supportive, consisting of a few inches of fresh snow atop a base that collapses almost all the way to the ground when stepped on in snowshoes. Farther along the road, snow continues to increase in depth, but also becomes more supportive again. By timberline, snowshoes no longer posthole. Still, marginal supportiveness makes travel slow and arduous for the first two miles beyond the Silver Creek / Grizzly Gulch trailhead.

Also above the Silver Creek / Grizzly Gulch trailhead, the road is frequently marked by tall sticks wired to T-posts (pictures 2 and 3). This was really useful for following the road, especially in areas that had been obliterated by the avalanches of ’19.
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: Cinnamon pass is closed for the season.
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: Heard from some hunters that American Basin is accessible. Roads proved too muddy with snow melt and with rock slides, did not attempt in a Subie Crosstrek. 4WD recommended assuming its accessible.
Posted By: HikesInGeologicTime
Info: Summer conditions. Made it to the American Basin turnoff in a 2015 Subaru Outback with M/S tires that are 57,000 miles into their estimated 60,000-mile lifespan, then proceeded up and over Cinnamon Pass. Having a spotter was very helpful for the last half mile to Animas Forks, if anyone wants to take a shortcut to or from 550.
Posted By: Jnaffy
Info: Easy road. Only one spot that takes any knowledge of lines. Never needed 4wd. Stock wrangler
Posted By: kspitzer1987
Info: Took a stock F-150 with crew cab and long bed up this with no issues. As long as you have a decent idea what you’re doing off road, you’ll have no issues in something with good ground clearance. Shorter wheelbase will be of benefit on this trail, but even with my long wheelbase, I didn’t scrape, though I did have to carefully choose my line a few times. Stream crossing is very minor and any vehicle can make it across. Fun drive up from Lake City, but definitely DON’T try this road in a car. Unless you’re coming from west of Handies, ignore google maps if it tries to take you any way other than the directions on from Lake City. Follow the directions and you’ll be golden.
Posted By: barryfagin
Info: The instructions to the trailhead are exactly right, trust them and you’ll be fine. Ignore Google Maps if it tells you something different. Pavement ends on County Road 30 after five miles or so, turns to gravel, then pretty dramatically turns to 4WD as you pass through some sort of abandoned quarry or construction site. The last seven miles are pretty rough. Took me about an hour and a half from Lake City.

I made it to the trailhead in my 4WD Subaru Impreza, but I wish I hadn’t attempted it as I bottomed out a few times, desipte being as slow and careful over the tricky spots as I could. I saw cars parked at the American Basin turnoff that were even less suited to the road than mine, but I still regret the decision. Maybe I’m just more hung up about the condition of my car than they were. Remember that 4WD for a trailhead designation also implies the need for high clearance. Another inch or two on my car and I would have felt a lot better. Next time I’ll rent a jeep in town or something more off-roadish from a rental car agency.

Conditions at the trailhead were excellent, given the concerns above about getting there. I arrived at 0730 to find plenty of parking, dry conditions.
Posted By: jordanthebuff
Info: Definitely need highish 4WD, but this road is no worse than other 4WD roads to 14er trailheads. Its about 4 miles from the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek trailhead to American Basin and the cutoff is very obvious. We ended up parking just after turning onto the American Basin road. We could have driven all the way up, but we were looping the Handies southwest slopes and the east slopes, so we’d need to get back to the car eventually anyways. If your car can make it up to the American Basin road, you can make it too the trailhead. Neither creek crossing (first on the CR30 and second on the American Basin road) was deep and could be passed in any vehicle at this point in the summer. I though the toughest sections of road were about 1/2 - 3/4 mile past Grizzly gulch and then again about 1/2 mile before the American basin road. I was driving a stock 2016 Nissan Rogue and I would say any Subaru or crossover/mini SUV could make it to the trailhead. I would say this road is comparable to the Mt Huron road above Winfield.

There is some great camping in and around the Grizzly Gulch TH. We found a spot 0.4 miles past there. If you are only doing Handies, then you could camp closer to the American Basin TH as there were plenty of spots the entire length between Grizzly Gulch and American Basin THs.
Posted By: Schuck
Info: Question - can I make the drive on CO 30 from Lake San Cristobal to the lower trailhead in a Honda Odyssey? Don’t have our Suburban on this trip and not sure how far I could get in the van. Plan to drive to the lower trailhead and hike the extra ~1 mile to the upper trailhead, if possible.
Posted By: mwhat
Info: Directions on the trailhead page are from Lake City. Are Google Maps directions accurate, if coming from Silverton?
Posted By: Tim Fab
Info: Does anyone know what to expect from the road condition this Tuesday afternoon 7/28? Given all the rain and the flash flood warning issued for Monday I am wondering if the road is at risk of wash-outs or if the creek crossing will be too high for a Subaru.
Posted By: aseamans
Info: Just a question: how does the route look going up 30 from Lake City to the TH? Is the creek at Cleveland Gulch pretty nasty or doable? We have a stock 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and are looking to drive up there to do Handies. Any info or advice would be much appreciated.
Posted By: E_A_Marcus_949
Info: I didn’t drive this but walked it back from Handies TH to Grizzly Gulch. There are a few tough spots but saw one Subaru Crosstrek that made it to about 11,400’; the rest of the cars at the upper trailhead were trucks, 4runners, ATVs, razers, lifted SUVs, etc. Too many vehicles were parked on the tundra, grass, and flowers. Honestly most of the road was well maintained - if you know how to pick your lines you’d be able to make it somewhat far. The roughest part seemed to be near the upper trailhead. Attached are photos of the two creek crossing (horizontal is first; vertical is second, closest to upper TH - Subaru I mentioned before made it right past this second creek crossing).

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