By: Meg Atteberry
Nestled in what many call “the Switzerland of America” the quiet town of Ouray, Colorado offers up stunning scenery and lots of outdoor activities. A far cry from the luxury-oriented nearby Telluride, this adventure town boasts a more down-to-earth feel with plenty of activities right outside your door.
How to Get to Ouray, Colorado
Pronounced “your-ay” you’ll find this charming mountain town butted up right against the mighty San Juan Mountain Range. Most people access Ouray from the north, along Highway 550. More commonly known as the San Juan Skyway, this scenic 2-lane highway is a must-drive for any Colorado adventure.
Coming from the south, you’ll traverse from Durango, Colorado along the famous Million Dollar Highway, which boasts incredible views, un-protected ribbons of tarmac without guardrails, and plenty of scenic pullouts to drool over.
The nearest bigger towns are Durango in the southwest and Montrose from the north. The total drive time from Denver ranges from 5 to 6 hours depending on road conditions.
Where to Stay
One of the things that makes Ouray so unique is the wide variety of accommodations nearby. Campgrounds like the Amphitheater Campground (first come, first served), Angel Creek Creek (first come, first served), and Thistledown Campground (first come, first served) are popular choices.
Dispersed camping is available around 15-minutes south of town along the Million Dollar Highway. Ironton is a popular choice. However, due to the steep surrounding mountains, spots are few and far between.
For more amenity-based lodging, there is a variety of AirBnBs and hotels to choose from. The Alplilly Inn offers up quaint accommodation with a small kitchen and killer views of the mountains.
For a different kind of adventure, opt to stay in one of the year-round huts. Many of these lodgings are more basic in nature, some self-cater while others include meals. Access to the different huts varies, so be sure to check with the specific hut you’re looking into. One popular car-access hut is the Opus Hut, which caters all meals and boasts pretty spectacular views.
What To Do
There is no lack of things to do in Ouray, Colorado. From scenic driving to burly hiking, there’s an adventure for virtually any outdoor junkie.
Hiking and Backpacking
When you’re surrounded by mountains this stunning, it’s hard not to strap on your boots and hike. Keep in mind, hiking in the San Juans is rugged. In fact, the majority of the trails in the area are rated as difficult.
Most of the time you’ll encounter steep inclines and many of the trails require a 4WD vehicle to access. A few that don’t include:
- Lower and Upper Box Canyon Falls: 0.5 miles, 177 feet of gain, easy. A gentle path with bridges brings you to stunning waterfalls.
- Ouray Perimeter Trail: 6 miles, 1,516 feet of gain, moderate. A loop trail that circumnavigates the town delivering charming mountain views.
- Blue Lakes Pass: 4-6 miles depending on your vehicle (a smaller SUV can make it to the parking lot with the toilet, passenger cars will need to stop at the Yankee Boy Basin Turnoff, adding several more miles to your journey), 1,656 – 2,000 feet of gain. Difficult. Follow the road to the Wright Lake Trail. Loop around the lake up towards a scenic pass.
For the true adrenaline junky, don’t miss out on the Ouray via Ferratas. Known as the “Iron Way” these obstacle courses are embedded into the sides of a cliff. Located right in the town of Ouray – in the Ice Park – there are two high-flying routes to choose from.
Proper gear, including via Ferrata tethers, are required. Experienced rock climbers can rent the tethers (and gear) at the San Juans Mountain Guides shop in town. Newbie climbers can hire a guide.
Ouray, Colorado is famous for its mountain drives. Most of these roads require a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to really get up into the mountains. There are plenty of shops in town where you can rent Jeeps and side-by-sides for the day. A few notable routes include:
- Million Dollar Highway: Ouray to Durango. Around 50 miles of paved, scenic driving through the heart of the San Juans.
- The Alpine Loop: 65 miles from nearby Silverton or around 85 from Ouray. A scenic, OHV route looping through Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Pass with a stop in Lake City and the Animas Forks ghost town. 4WD, high clearance required, side-by-side recommended.
- Ophir Pass: 4WD high clearance route that traverses up and over Ophire Pass. Scenic views and some puckering exposure driving through a steep scree field to reach Telluride.
- Yankee Boy Basin: High clearance 4WD required, although many people walk the road. Known for beautiful wildflower displays with dramatic mountain backdrops.
- Black Bear Pass: Known as the most dangerous road in Colorado, this one-way pass goes from Ouray to Telluride and is for experienced drivers only. 4WD, high clearance required.
Other amazing things to do in Ouray and around include:
- Paddleboarding or kayaking at Ridgeway State Park
- Fly fishing in nearby Ridgeway
- Soak in the Ouray hot springs
Where to Eat
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, don’t forget to chow down on some of the best eats in Ouray. For that post-hike hunger, be sure to grab a big burger at Maggies Kitchen.
The Ouray Brewery is a popular choice for a beer and some bar food. While Mouses Chocolate and Coffee is the perfect place to grab a cuppa and satisfy your sweet tooth.
You could spend a week in Ouray and still just scratch the surface of this mountain gem. If you love scenic views and high-flying adventure, you need to get out and visit Ouray, Colorado.
About the Author:
Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.