Tackle a 14,000 ft peak. Amazing Wildflowers. Beautiful Scenery. Elevation Gain: Approx. 3,600 ft from Grizzly Gulch to Handies Peak.

There are 54 official peaks over 14,000 ft in Colorado, but few can offer the beauty and solitude of those in the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state. This hike gives you the opportunity to scale one of the most scenic 14ers in the San Juan's, and see two of the most beautiful approaches of any mountain. Handies Peak is most often hiked from the scenic American Basin Trail because of it's short approach and relatively easy hike. Although this route is beautiful you miss out on one of the most classic trails of any 14er, Grizzly Gulch. For this hike we recommend ascending Handies from Grizzly Gulch, and Descending via American Basin. This gives you the opportunity to do the classic Grizzly Gulch route, and still see the beautifully scenic American Basin. In addition the road to Grizzly Gulch is much more approachable, and doesn't require 4wd to reach.

The best way to hike Handies is to camp at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead the night before (Pic 1). There are plenty of flat places off the road to pitch a tent. Get up early the next day and begin your hike up Grizzly Gulch. It's important to note that the Silver Creek trail also leaves from the Grizzly Gulch parking area, and heads to Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks. The Grizzly Gulch trail climbs quickly in and out of forested areas before reaching treeline. Once you reach treeline you're treated to an amazing view of Handies Peak (Pic 2) and it's easy to see the route that lies ahead. Continue along the creek (and across it several times) and ascend the ridge to the north of Handies Peak. Once on the ridge the trail then heads south towards the summit.

Once you reach the summit you'll be treated to a 360 degree view of the San Juan Mountains. Spend some time taking it all in, but don't linger too long as you're still a long ways from the finish. Leave the summit on the American Basin trail, and continue south and west towards scenic Sloans Lake (Pic 3). The trail winds past Sloans lake and enters American Basin. Over the next mile you'll drop through fields of wildflowers and eventually to the American Basin Trailhead. From here you'll need to walk the dirt road to it's intersection with the Cinnamon Pass Rd, and then head east for almost 3 miles back to the Grizzly Gulch TH. If you're lucky, you'll be able to hitch a ride back to the trailhead with one of the many 4 wheel drive vehicles that pass you.

  • Distance: Nearly 11.5 miles RT
  • Approx. 4.5 miles from Grizzly Gulch TH to Handies Peak
  • Approx. 2.5 miles from Handies Peak to American Basin TH
  • Approx. 4.5 miles from American Basin TH to Grizzly Gulch TH via road

  • Elevation Gain: Approx. 3,600 ft from Grizzly Gulch to Handies Peak

  • Approx. -2,500 ft from Handies Peak to American Basin
  • Approx. -1,100 ft from AB TH to Grizzly Gulch TH

This is only meant to be a rough overview of the hike, please don't use this as your only guide. There are plenty of resources with more information for planning. Hike at your own risk and know your personal limits! Hiking can be dangerous, especially at high elevation. Remember lightning is one of the biggest dangers when hiking above treeline, and plan accordingly. Only attempt this weather permitting. Please make sure you are prepared.

Pack List

  • Hiking Boots
  • Backpack
  • Rain Gear
  • Warm Clothes
  • Compass
  • Map
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food
  • Water
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RT Distance 11.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 3600 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Nearby Adventures

More Nearby Adventures

Hike Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks

The easier drive to the Silver Creek / Grizzly Gulch trailhead is reached by traveling south from Lake City and turning right onto County Road 30.

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Camp in American Basin & Hike Handies Peak

Handies Peak (14,048’) might be the easiest of the 14ers in the San Juans to climb, but its gorgeous setting high above the incredible wildflowers of American Basin make it more than worthwhile.

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Summit Wetterhorn Peak via the Southeast Ridge

Starting from Lake City, make it up towards Matterhorn Creek trailhead. How far you drive depends on if you have 4WD or not. There is a sign indicating the correct direction to reach this trailhead.

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