Round Trip Distance: 5.5 miles
Elevation: 9,688 - 11,806 feet
Elevation gain: 2,860 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Attractions: Amazing views
The Full Moon trail is located in the Ironton Park area of the Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado. The trail begins off of the Mears trail where it climbs along Full Moon Gulch to Full Moon Basin and ends at a junction with the Richmond trail. Spectacular views of the Red Mountains and Abrams Mountain reward all those that venture up the to the basin. The long ridge of Hayden Mountain forms the back of the bowl of Full Moon Basin with Hayden Mountain South towering at 13,206 feet being the high point.
To get to the Hayden trailhead begin measuring at the Ouray Hot Springs and drive 6 miles south on Highway 550. After passing through the scenic Uncompahgre Gorge the highway levels off and enters Ironton Park. The trailhead is on the right near the Crystal Reservoir. The official parking area is near the stone building on the east side of the road but you pretty much have to be a local to know that.
From the Hayden trailhead proceed across the dam. After crossing the dam the Hayden trail branches off on the right and the unmarked Mears trail continues following the old road around Crystal Reservoir. The Full Moon trail begins around the 1.25 mile point of the Mears trail where you can sign the register before continuing. Trail registers provide important information of Search and Rescue if they happen to get called to the area.
The grass grows well in the meadows of the lower slopes and tends to blur out the trail. As you leave the trail register and head toward the gulch the first cairn should come into view. We added some rocks to a few of these cairns and built another one to boot in hopes that future hikers would better find the route. The deep winter snow takes a toll on trail markers so feel free to make any improvements to them that don't change the current course of the trail.
Since finding the well established trail can be a little difficult we threw in an extra picture. As the trail starts out it parallels the stream but only for a short distance. After crossing a little knob the trail heads more to the right toward the aspens. Just before reaching them it turns slightly back toward the stream where it goes through some thick brush and younger aspen trees. As the trail finally enters the taller aspens it becomes much more distinct and easy to follow. The slideshow at the end of this post should give a good idea of what to expect as you find your way through here.
The trail takes the long way around the mountain side which keeps it from becoming as steep as you would think it would be from just looking at the slope of the mountain itself.
As the trail gains elevation the trail markers take on the form of posts that point out the route through the lush open areas. Some of these also get knocked down by the snow so you might have to look a little harder for them in some places.
It's fun to compare your progress by looking on a level plane at the mountains across the valley. Like we mentioned earlier the views are nothing short of outstanding.
Eventually the trail gets high enough that the ground begins transitioning to tundra and tantalizing glimpses of the Full Moon Basin start to come into view.
Once the trail enters the lower area of the basin it crosses the creek to the south side of the basin.
Another form of trail marker that becomes essential over the next quarter mile are scabs that are hacked into the bark of the trees. After crossing the creek begin looking for the scabs to stay on the correct route. After finding the first one the trail turns right a little towards the southwest side of the basin. There is a pretty good looking game trail that you will want to avoid that takes off on the left.
As the trail comes out of the first grove of trees it heads toward another grove a little further up staying to the right of the small stream. After passing through the next grove of trees the trail turns left, crosses the stream, and then angles back along a steep grade that takes it up and around the point of the ridge. There are a lot of markers once you get through the trees that direct the route across the stream.
This is what the trail looks like as it angles up the side of the mountain. The elk that spend the summer in the basin like using the trail also so it tends to appear well used.
Speaking of elk there are about 80 of them in this picture. They were grazing way across the basin maybe a half mile away. This is the best a 250mm zoom lens would do. If you click on the picture and view the hi-res version you can see them a lot better. There were a few more besides these in the area but after zooming all the way in the rest of them wouldn't fit in the frame.
After traversing around the point of the ridge and passing through a gap the Full Moon trail comes to an end at the Richmond trail. The possibilities open up at this point. If you follow the Richmond trail to the right it will come to Richmond Pass after about 8 tenths of a mile. To the left will lead down to the Richmond trailhead on Highway 550 were you could get back to the Mears trail and create a nice loop hike. For this post we turned around and went back the way that we came.
Some of the best views of Full Moon Basin come on the return hike. Backpackers might enjoy camping in the trees of the lower basin and spending some time exploring it more.