San Juan Mountain backpacking/road questions

Dustin Gent

Jun 22, 2015
my buddy is flying into SLC from Portland on Thursday, and we are heading over to the San Juan mountains to do some backpacking/photography. Ice Lake Basin/Blue Lake Basin is for sure, but we are interested in Velocity Basin - but am unsure about the roads.

I don't have a true 4WD - just an outback. Quite a few roads are doable in the Outback, but just wondering if anyone has been there.
I've been into Ice Lake a bunch of times, as I used to live in both Ridgway and Montrose. All you need is a bit of high clearance, but I don't know if the roads are muddy or not, but I would guess they're probably OK. The hard part is driving over Red Mtn Pass - LOL. Blue Lakes is the other side of the mtns and you access from the Ridgway side and I think it will be OK also. Neither of these are real high altitude roads, and I've been into them many times in June and even May, depepnding on the snowfall. Both roads are doable in an Outback. Not sure about Velocity. My cousin Chris Miller is head of the Ouray County road dept - why not give them a call, they can give you all the details. I have never had to put my FJ into 4 wheel in those mtns, not even for the big passes like Imogene and Black Bear - it's all about clearance, though it is nice to have those lower gears to slow you down.
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ok cool, great info! we will have basically Friday Sat and most of sunday - then head back, so not trying to do too much in a small amount of time.

any other recommendations that are amazing but not super time consuming driving to? I have kept an eye on the trailhead and peak conditions to give me an idea of what to expect

Ice Lakes Basin is a one-day hike, but you can pack in and stay. There's some cool peaks you access from there, like Golden Horn, but they're probably still snowed in. If not, go climb one and spend the whole time there, it's awesome. Lots of wildflowers, esp. columbine, though it may still be too early for them.

Ditto with Blue Lakes, if not snowed in, pack to the upper lake and then go on over the pass and climb Sneffels. That is also a good more relaxed three dayer, but the wildflowers aren't as good. But that's probably a moot point this time of year. Last I heard, Blue Lakes Pass was snowfree, but not sure about Sneffels. There's a point on the road into the lakes where everyone goes to shoot Sneffels in the fall, should make for some nice evening shots. This is right before you drop down into the valley where the trailhead is.

Another great place is the Cimarron out of Ridgway (Owl Creek Pass) - go camp there and climb whatever's accessible, even Courthouse is well worth it and an easy day climb. Any of the three forks will take you to good places.

But to try for all three places you mentioned is just gonna be frustrating. Pick one and do it. Also, check out Jack Brauer's site, I believe it's Mountain Photographer, as he spent a lot of time in that country and has some awesome backcountry shots of all these places. You could also call Ouray SAR and those guys can give you high altitude snow conditions. But since you're coming from the west side, I would do Blue Lakes or Owl Creek and save that long drive over Red Mtn. I might add that you really should call the road dept as they clear these roads and something I say is doable w/o a 4x4 may have deteriorated since I was there last. Stay away from the Yankee Boy side of Sneffels as it's nothing but rabid ATVers these days. And come prepared for mosquitoes - not as bad as the WInds, but still bad enough to be pesky.
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