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BLM>Colorado>Field Offices>Gunnison>Recreation>Hiking Information>Hiking Trails>American Basin Trail
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American Basin Trail

Length: From the Trailhead it is 1.3 miles to Sloan Lake; 1 mile further to Handies Peak. Add another .9 mile if you start walking from the Alpine Loop Turnoff.
Difficulty: Moderate walk at high altitude to Sloan Lake and Handies Peak
Season of use: July through October
Amount of Use: Light to moderate hiking; moderate jeep traffic along the road to the trailhead.
Elevation Change:
  Beginning: 11,600 ft. at Trailhead
  Ending: Handies Peak 14,048 ft.

Location Map

Topo Map

How to Get There: From Lake City take Highway 149 south, 2.5 miles. Turn right onto the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow paved road approximately 4 miles, then continue on dirt road for about 16.3 miles. The American Basin road begins at a fork where a sign reads "Cinnamon Pass/American Basin. American Basin is to the left. It is a rough 2-wheel drive road to the American Basin turnoff and a 4-wheel drive road to the trailhead. No motor vehicles are allowed beyond the trailhead.

Trailhead Parking/Camping: Parking is available at the trailhead and a few small places along the side of the main road. Minimum Impact Camping is permitted near the trailhead.

Photo of Sloan Lake and American Peaks
Photo by Arden Andersoncopyright

Attractions: This trail offers views of one of the most scenic basins in the San Juan Mountains. It is especially spectacular in late July & early August when showy Alpine wildflower displays form a colorful carpet in the basin. Scenic Sloan Lake, home of the threatened Colorado cutthroat trout, can be reached by way of the American Basin Trail. Hiking can continue up to Handies Peak, one of five l4,000 foot peaks in the area. The view from the top of Handies Peak is one of the best in the San Juan Mountains

Narrative: Impressive scenery in American Basin attracts jeepers throughout the summer. For those with 2 wheel drive vehicles, park along the side of the main road and an easy 3/4 mile walk can be made to the trailhead near the site of an old mine. From there, motorized use stops and the hiking trail climbs to Sloan Lake to offer nice views of Handies Peak and the surrounding basin. The trail to Handies Peak continues on from Sloan Lake. Please be careful to stay on the trail to avoid erosion on the fragile tundra. The peak, at 14,048 feet, offers a panoramic view of the San Juan Mountains.

Hazards/Considerations: Be prepared for typical July and August afternoon thundershowers. Avoid the peak, ridges and open areas during a storm. It is best to get an early start. Plan to be off the peak by noon or 1:00 p.m. Be sure to bring along sunscreen, rain gear and drinking water. Remember, hiking at high altitude requires more time and energy. Take your time, enjoy the scenery and avoid overexertion. Be sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.

Additional Information: A loop trip can be made by combining the American Basin Trail with the Grizzly Gulch Trail. For a downhill hike at the end of the day, begin at the Grizzly Gulch Trailhead, hike up to Handies Peak then down through American Basin to the main road and back to the Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. This is a 10 mile loop

American Basin Trail Location Map


Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact:
Jim Lovelace

Last modified: January 6, 2011