Colorado's San Juans Wildflower Explosion
The majestic San Juan Mountain range is often called America's Switzerland. -- and the wildflowers match.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The majestic San Juan Mountain range, with its many jagged, sky-high peaks, is often called America’s Switzerland. It follows,
then, that 14,150-foot
Mt. Sneffels must be the
Matterhorn of southern Colorado.
The peak is the high point of the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, a sweep of craggy, towering terrain that each summer is home to an explosion of wildflowers rivaling any display in the Swiss Alps. The kaleidoscopic riot of color breaks out near the foot of Mt. Sneffels and fills every
valley and meadow with a rainbow’s worth of blooms.
Yankee Boy Basin is the best place to start. (Be forewarned: The flowers are so thick here that you’re in danger of becoming spellbound at the trailhead.) The 2.5-mile climb on the Blue Lakes Trail to a stunning campsite at Blue Lakes sounds short, but plan to stop and smell the flowers, repeatedly. Every imaginable color and type of bloom can be found here. Columbine-the blue-and-white intricate and unmistakable state flower of Colorado-is indescribable. This flower joins lupine, larkspur, paintbrush, penstemon, phlox, and arnica to serve up eye-popping shades of deep purple and lavender, bright red and brilliant yellow, as well as soft azure, bold cerulean, and intense blue and white.
Just below Blue Lakes Pass on the Yankee Boy Basin side, look for a well-used route up Mt. Sneffels that ascends to a saddle east of the peak. From there, a
tough scramble awaits for those who want the eagle’s view from the summit. If you feel the urge, go ahead and yodel.
From just south of Ouray, on CO 550, turn south on the signed Yankee Boy Basin Road (Forest Service Road 853). Drive 4 miles to the trailhead. A four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is required for the last mile.
Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Peterson Field Guide, by Craighead, Craighead, and Davis (Houghton Mifflin Co., 800-225-3362; $18). The Complete Guide to Colorado’s Wilderness Areas, by John Fielder and Mark Pearson (Westcliffe Publishers, 800-523-3692; $24.95).
Ouray Ranger District, Uncompahgre National Forest, (970) 240-5300.