The Stage 3 fire and access restrictions to the San Juan National Forest have been rolled back to a Stage 2 condition which means access to the forest is once more open to the public. However, fire conditions still remain high and we are currently in the middle of a strong heat wave. Consult current regulations with the San Juan NF before planning any trips. Fines for violations are significant.
Drive to the "Switzerland of America," Ouray, by whatever route you please. In Ouray, continue on US550 south and begin the climb out of town toward Red Mountain Pass. At the top of the first switchback, watch for the turnoff for "The Camp Bird" road. (CR26 or Ouray County 361) If you have time, stop and take a look at the gorge created by the Uncompahgre River. Then continue driving SW up the graded dirt road for the first few miles. About 4.5 miles up the road, stay right and continue on FR853.1B. (The other road that goes left takes you over Imogene Pass to Telluride.) Most passenger cars can make it comfortably to here. Continue across a spectacular shelf section of road (where things can become a little rough) and at about 6.7 miles in from the beginning of 361, there's another intersection where the road for Governor Basin turns off (FR853.1C) Turn down onto the Governor Basin road and find a place to park if you've made it in a passenger vehicle of some kind. It's all 4WD from here. The trailhead coordinates provided are for parking in this area.
If you do have high clearance 4WD, you can drive up the Governor Basin road about as far as the Virginius Mine remains, about 2 miles up. Otherwise, be prepared to walk up the same road. Park at 12,080 ft., where another old road bed takes off to the NE, then switchbacks to the south to eventually gain the saddle east of Mendota Peak. Local jeeping groups in Ouray rate this road a Class 4 or 4.5 on a scale of 1 - 5 for jeeping difficulty. There are some very steep, rocky and difficult sections to negotiate. We made it up here years ago in a Jeep Cherokee Sport.
For this access, there are a limited number of camp spots as you drive up the first few miles of Ouray County Road 361. One spot is called "The Angel Creek Campground," followed by the "Thistledown" campground. (See links below) Be careful regarding private property. In past years, we had been able to car camp in the vicinity of where the Governor Basin road turns off from the Yankee Boy Basin road. This may no longer be allowed. Then, there's a good campsite if you're able to drive up the Governor Basin road at one of the switchbacks at about 11,360 ft. at these coordinates: N 37° 58' 37.52" W 107° 45' 42.57"
Link to Angel Creek CG http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=32524
Link to Thistledown CG http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=32818