Driving through the Old West on Colorado's Byways
Location : Southwest of Ouray, Ouray County. San Juan Mountains.Uncompahgre National Forest, although most of Yankee Boy and nearby Governor basins are private land.
Highlights : Spectacular alpine scenery, abundant wildflowers, waterfalls, a high-walled canyon and old town sites in a once-booming mining area. This is a great drive out of Ouray that can be combined with a side trip to Box Canyon Falls early in the drive, and the drive over Imogene Pass.
Difficulty : Easy to moderate. Rocky, steep and narrow in places. This is a popular drive, so watch for traffic. There is avalanche danger on Camp Bird Road. Mine sites are dangerous.
Time and distance : 2 3 hours; 17 miles round-trip. Longer if you hike from the end of the road to beautiful Blue Lakes, in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness.
Maps : Trails Illustrated No. 141 (Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, Lake City); Uncompahgre National Forest.
Information : GMUG, Ouray Ranger District. At about mile 6.7, at the entrance to Yankee Boy and Governor basins, look for a metal box containing informative brochures.
Getting there : About 0.3 mile south of Ouray, at a bend in U.S. 550 (the San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway), turn south onto County Road 361 (Camp Bird Road) at the sign for Camp Bird Mine, Yankee Boy Basin, and Box Canyon Falls.
Rest stops : There are primitive campsites along the way, but much of the land is private. You will find a toilet at mile 7.8 from the highway. This sensitive alpine zone is a popular place, and while there are many places to stop and view the wildflowers, do not pick or trample them. If everyone who visited picked flowers and tramped through the meadows, there soon would be nothing left. You might also visit beautiful Box Canyon Falls and Park, near the start.
The drive : Very good Camp Bird Road climbs up the deep canyon of Canyon Creek, through pine forest dominated by glaciated peaks and basins that soar well above 13,000 ft. At about mile 2.8, across a one-lane bridge, the asphalt ends and the road becomes a narrow shelf blasted long ago into the dramatic canyon's west wall. Note the waterfalls cascading down from the hanging valleys above the canyon.
At mile 6, at the confluence of Sneffels, Imogene and Canyon creeks, you will pass the left turn to Camp Bird, a gold mine named for the food-stealing Canada Jay, and Imogene Pass. From here the little road courses up the canyon of Sneffels Creek. At mile 6.3 it passes through the site of Sneffels, a town founded in 1875 at an elevation of almost 10,400 ft. after gold and silver deposits were discovered. Originally called Porter, it once had a population of 2,000.
At a fork at mile 6.9, at the site of Ruby City, keep right. (The narrow road left, up to Governor Basin, starts out easy as it climbs and switchbacks to another stunning alpine basin, but it becomes rough and narrow. It is worthwhile, however, to drive up it for 2.1 miles from this junction to a pullout with a terrific view.) The road to Yankee Boy Basin, rocky from here, climbs steeply for another mile or so.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication