American Basin, Colorado

American Basin, Colorado, courtesy US Forestry Service

American Basin, Colorado, courtesy US Forestry Service

Part of the Gunnison National Forest, American Basin is a high alpine basin at an elevation of 12,365 feet surrounded by vertical cliffs. American Basin is located on the Alpine Loop Back Country Byway in southwest Colorado. The entire Alpine Loop has several other fine wildflower viewing areas. Parts of Cinnamon and Engineer Passes have exquisite pockets of alpine flora.

Accessible by vehicle, a foot trail starts in the valley and goes up to Handies Peak. Elevations range from 11,300 to over 14,000 feet at the peak.

It is well known for its spectacular display of alpine wildflowers in mid-July to early August. In a brief but dazzling show of wildflowers such as marsh marigold, Parry’s primrose, Colorado columbine, owl’s clover, larkspur, monkshood, sneezeweed, king’s crown, rose crown, elephant’s head, gentians, and many others may be enjoyed.

The road to the basin is best navigated with a jeep or ATV but an experienced driver with a high clearance vehicle can navigate to the entrance of the basin in a two-wheel drive. Access the trailhead within the basin requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

American Basin, Colorado, courtesy US Forestry Service

American Basin, Colorado, courtesy US Forestry Service

The American Basin Trail is a four-mile moderate round-trip hike that takes about three hours to complete. The trail features a waterfall and Sloan Lake at the end of the trail. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on a leash.

Most of the American Basin is above the timberline. Thunderstorms often develop in the afternoon in the Colorado high country. Visiting early in the day and being back near or in your vehicle by afternoon is advisable. Be aware of high altitude sickness, which can be life-threatening, and drink plenty of water. If you are not acclimated, do not overexert. There are no services available. Be sure to take water and a lunch for your visit.

It will take roughly one hour to reach the basin from Lake City. To get to the American Basin, drive south on Colorado 149 from Lake City for about two miles, then turn right on Hinsdale County Road 30 for about 16 miles. Turn left off CR 30 to Co Rd 12 for .3 miles to enter the basin. Two-wheel drives are advised to park in the first parking lot as they enter the basin and walk the rest of the way, about 1 mile to the trailhead. As part of the Alpine Loop, a longer return trip to Lake City can be made over Engineer Pass.

Waterfall at the American Basin in Colorado, courtesy James Harris Photography

Waterfall at the American Basin in Colorado, courtesy of James Harris Photography

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2021.


Also See:

Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway

Byways & Historic Trails

Colorado Ghost Towns

Lake City, Colorado


US Forestry Service