This popular trailhead in the San Juan mountains is used primarily for climbing nearby fourteener Handies Peak, but is also used to climb American Peak, the distinctive Centennial Thirteener that sits at the head of the basin.
Because of the popularity of nearby Cinnamon Pass with the 4x4 crowd and the presence of a fourteener, this trailhead can be very busy on summer weekends. Still, this is undeniably one of the prettiest places in Colorado.
Because of the popularity of the area, the forest service often plows the Cinnamon Pass road in late May or early June.
Lake City Approach
The most common approach to this trailhead is from Lake City. If approaching from the north, pass through town on CO-149 until you reach the Lake San Cristobal Road (approximately 2 miles from the center of town). You will also see a sign for the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Turn right here. If approaching from the South, this turn-off comes shortly after the base of the pass (and it's a left turn, obviously).
You will follow the Lake San Cristobal Road for approximately 14 miles, and then follow the signs and bear right for Cinnamon Pass and the Alpine Loop. From here, the road becomes much rougher, but is still passable for most passenger cars. As you head up the valley, the road becomes a spectacular shelf road, blasted into the side of the mountains, hundreds of feet above the valley floor. You will pass the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, which might be a good place to stop for a low clearance car.
From here, the road gets quite a bit rougher, and as of August 2005, there were a few places on the road which would be dangerous for a car without good ground clearance. The turn-off for the trailhead is just before the first major switchback up Cinnamon Pass, and is approximately 22 miles from the start of the Lake San Cristobal Road. The road up the pass continues around the switchback and to the right, the trailhead is on your left. From here, 4x4s can continue further into the basin to the 4x4 parking area at 11,600 feet.
This trailhead can also be approached from Silverton by those with a high clearance vehicle. From Silverton, follow CO-110 to the ghost town of Animas Forks (and be sure to look out for the abandoned house with the big bay window). From Animas Forks you will head up and over Cinnamon Pass. Once on the other side, the trailhead will be your first right.