Yellow Mountain South

Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 37.81856°N / 107.83421°W
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Elevation: 13177 ft / 4016 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Northeast face of Yellow Mountain, Left to right: Points 13177 ft, 12838 ft (flattop), 12765 ft, many others and 12933 ft extreme right.

Northeast face, Left to right: Points 12933, 12820 & 12713 ft

Yellow Mountain is a 2.5 mile long ridgeline that rises near Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The ridgeline runs northwest to southeast and gives rise to many high points/peaks. The highest point rises to 13177 ft and sits at the southeastern end of the ridgeline. This point is known as “Yellow Mountain South”. The point has only 200 ft of prominence and is therefore not a ranked peak. To the northwest, Point 12933 ft has more than 300 ft of prominence and is considered to be the summit of Yellow Mountain although it is lower.

Yellow Mountain is so called because of the autumn-time color of Aspen tree leaves on its southwestern face that rise above Trout Lake near Route 145. Trout Lake is famous for its view of the jagged peaks that surround it. These include: Pilot Knob (13738 ft), Golden Horn (13769 ft) and Vermilion Peak (13894 ft), to name a few.

Yellow Mountain South can be climbed from the north starting at the town of Ophir. You can follow a trail into the appropriately called Waterfall Creek Valley where you will sequentially go up into 3 different basins that are separated from each other by waterfalls. You will then reach the saddle between Yellow Mountain South and Pilot Knob where the summit can be accessed.

Southwest face of Yellow Mountain, Right to left: Points 13177 ft, 12838 ft (flat-top), 12765 ft, many others, 12933 ft and 12820 ft

Getting There

Directions to Waterfall Creek Trailhead;

From Telluride, CO, drive on main street a few miles west to reach Route 145. Turn south onto 145 and drive roughly 7.5 miles to a hairpin turn. On the east side of 145, you will see an unsigned dirt road. Turn left (east) onto this road and drive a little more than 2 miles to the town of Ophir (this section of the road is well graded and is passable by most/any car). Ophir has a western and an eastern section. Go beyond the western section and park at the edge of the eastern section. You will see a stone memorial tablet to the Ute People at the start of the trail.

Route via Waterfall Creek Valley

Map of Yellow Mountain South from Waterfall Creek ValleyMap

Trailhead Elevation: 9760 ft
One Way Distance per my GPS: 3.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 3420 ft

View of Waterfall Creek Valley and Peak 12933 ft from trailhead.

Waterfall Creek Valley from trailhead, Point 12933 ft seen

Follow an abandoned Jeep road down a little to reach the creek and cross it over a pedestrian bridge then follow the trail as it turns south and enters the Waterfall Creek Valley.

Trail coming up into Waterfall Creek Valley

You are now in the first basin. The northern peaks of Yellow Mountain will be visible to the west.

Northern peaks of Yellow MountainPoints 12933 ft & 12765 ft
The northern peaks of Yellow Mountain from the first basin
First basin, Waterfall Creek Valley
First basin, Waterfall Creek Valley
Northern peaks of Yellow MountainPoints 12765 ft & 12838 ft

The trail remains on the east side of the creek. As you near the southern end of the first basin, the trail begins to go up very steeply. A waterfall will come to view.

Waterfall between second and first basins

The trail goes through a rocky area. You can now look back to see the first basin below you and Silver Mountain across the valley.

Looking down into first basin, Silver Mountain 13470 ft seen

You will then enter the second basin. Trees end although you are only at 11200 ft. The trail may not be visible here but you can easily hike parallel to the creek.

Second basin
Second basin

At the south end of this basin you will see two cliffs. A waterfall comes down between the two cliffs.

Waterfall between cliffs at the end of second basin

U.S. Grant Peak will now come to view.

US Grant Peak 13767 ftUS Grant Peak

Hike south to reach the waterfall between the cliffs.

Waterfall Between third and second basins

Go to the left (east) side of the cliffs and hike up the grassy slopes to enter the third basin. Looking back down into the second basin.

Looking down into the second basin

You can now look down at the waterfall between the cliffs pouring into the second basin.

Looking down the waterfall that separates the thrid basin from the second

Another view of U.S. Grant Peak and Peak 13528 ft.

US Grant Peak 13767 ftUS Grant Peak

Peak 13528 ftPeak 13528 ft

The jagged summit of Pilot Knob will now be visible.

Stream & Pilot Knob 13738 ft

Pilot Knob 13738 ft

The beautiful third basin.

Upper Waterfall Creek Valley

The summit of Yellow Mountain South will finally appear.

Summit of Yellow Mountain South, 13177 ftSummit

You can go to the saddle with Pilot Knob or walk up any path to the summit. I encountered a not too bad scree slope.

A section of scree below the summit
Just below the summit of Yellow Mountain South

Views from the summit of Yellow Mountain South.

San Miguel & Grizzly Peaks, 13762 & 13738 ftSan Miguel & Grizzly Peaks
Sheep Mountain 13188 ft & Route 145Sheep Mtn & Route 145
The lower peaks of Yellow MountainYellow Mtn Ridgeline
The Wilsons, Trout Lake and Lizard Head Pass on Route 145The Wilsons & Trout Lake

Vermilion Peak 13894 ft & Pilot Knob 13738 ftVermilion Peak & Pilot Knob
St. Joaquin Ridge & Mt. SneffelsSt. Joaquin Ridge
Lookout Peak 13661 ftLookout Peak
US Grant 13767 ft, V4 13540 ft & Peak 13528 ftUS Grant Peak, V4 & Peak 13528 ft

Red Tape

No permits needed.