Visit this town nestled in the San Juan Mountains for magnificent views, history galore, and outdoor recreation aplenty.
Ouray, named after Ute chief, Chief Ouray, was established in 1877 as a mining town, called into existence because of the rich gold veins in the surrounding mountains. This quaint town brimming with history and adventure is affectionately called the “Switzerland of America” because it’s located at the head of a valley enclosed on three-and-a-half sides by towering peaks.
The town has something for everyone, including shopping, dining, and relaxing in hot springs to world-famous jeeping, hiking, ice sports, camping, mountain biking, and so much more. It has been a tourist destination for over 100 years and you can enjoy modern amenities within a historical context throughout the whole town. Because it is about a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver, Ouray is better done as a weekend trip, or more preferably, a longer vacation. You can learn a lot about shopping, lodging, history and more at the visitor website. It’s got it all!
Here are just a few highlights you will enjoy when you head southwest to Ouray!
Things to do in Ouray in Cold Weather:
Ice Climbing and Ouray Ice Festival, January 24-27
Ouray is an ice-climbing mecca in the winter, drawing in climbers from all over the world. When the waterfalls of Box Canyon freeze over it can draw nearly 20,000 climbers a year to scale the ice walls. The Ouray Ice Park was established in 1997, and with it came the Ouray Ice Festival. This three-day fest, Jan. 24-27 in 2019, features equipment demos, vendors, clinics, free open climbs, parties, and competitions. It’s a winter festival not to miss, whether you are just visiting or competing.
If you want to try out ice climbing for yourself, the park generally opens mid-December.
Courtesy of Ouray Ice Park.
Lee’s Ski Hill
A little-known, family friendly gem of Colorado skiing, this fun ski hill operates from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. It’s a fun 75′ hill that anyone can access by enjoying a ride on the Ouray tow-rope. And, it’s free! Skiiers and snowboarders are welcome. Hours of operation depend on weather, and it generally stays open until March.
Vinegar Hill Sledding
Youth and young at heart have been sledding their way into fun for over 100 years at Vinegar Hill. This North Facing hill is actually a one-block section of 5th Street that is shut down every winter to give tubers, sledders, and tobogganers a place to fly. The Hill got its name from families who lived on the street and made “vinegar” during prohibition in the ’20s. Interestingly, that “vinegar” smelled an awful lot like wine.
Hot Springs (Open Year-Round)
Top off a beautiful day outside with a trip to the Hot Springs Pool. Relax in a spring that has drawn people since at least the 14th century. This 750,000-gallon, sulfur-free spring is surrounded by 13,000-foot snowcapped peaks. That isn’t something you get to experience every day! You can watch a live webcam of the springs on its website. There are also several private lodges available with hot springs on the property.
Things to do in Ouray in Warm Weather:
After the ice climbers pack up their gear, and the spring melt sets the snow and ice free, you can hike a 10-mile perimeter loop that goes around Ouray and takes you by several waterfalls. The two biggest you will see is Box Canyon Falls and Cascade Falls. You can access Box Canyon park for a small fee and take a long staircase to see thousands of gallons of water crash over the top of the falls every minute.
Box Canyon Falls.
About a mile out of town, you will come to the Bachelor Syracuse Mine. Once Ouray’s strongest and most reliable gold producer, you can get a real look into Colorado’s early mining days.
Drive the Million Dollar Highway or 4-Wheeling
We’ve all heard of Red Mountain Pass, no doubt. It’s often been called one of Colorado’s most dangerous road or referred to as the “highway to hell.” It can be a little hair-raising, but it’s actually a gorgeous drive full of mining history and natural beauty. It’s definitely worth a leisurely drive over to Silverton. It’s also the jump-off for several jeep trails. Yankee Boy Basin is a popular route with photographers thanks to its amazing wildflowers and stunning views. The Alpine Loop connects Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride and will drive you by ghost towns, abandoned mines, and so much more. Also known as the “Jeeping Capital of the World,” Ouray has several jeep rental places, available with or without guides, that you can gear up and hit the rocky trails.
Alpine Loop. Courtesy of Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs.
Have you spent time in Ouray? What are your favorite things to do in this mountain town? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.