The 8 Best Things to Do in Ouray, Colorado

The 8 Best Things to Do in Ouray, Colorado

Ouray, Colorado is an old mining town nestled in a box canyon on the slopes of the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Wrapped by snow-capped mountains, this small Victorian Era town is surrounded by some Colorado’s most unforgettable scenery. Nicknamed the ‘Switzerland of America,’ as well as the ‘Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado,’ Ouray, Colorado has made the turn from mining town to tourist destination.

 

Famous for its ice climbing in the winter, hiking and jeeping in the summer, and year-around for its hot springs, Ouray has made itself the place to be in any season. Ouray is easily one of my favorite spots in Colorado and one that my family returns to year after year. There is so much to see and do, not only in Ouray itself, but also in the area that surrounds it. Whether you are looking for a relaxing holiday, want an outdoor adventure, or to explore once booming ghost towns, Ouray has something to offer.

 

What to Do

 

Take a Walk Down Main Street

 

main street ouray coloradro
A look down Main Street in Ouray, Colorado.

 

The town of Ouray, Colorado might be small, but packs a punch. The town itself sits in a high valley surrounded by mountains on all sides; making for one of the most picturesque towns in all of Colorado. Mountain views is not all Ouray has to offer. The main street of this 19th century mining town has been designated as a National Historic District and many of its commercial buildings and Victorian homes still stand and are in use today. A walk down Main Street is like a walk through history; not to mention there are a lot of great shops and restaurants to stop in along the way.

 

Soak in the Hot Springs

 

hot springs ouray coloradro
The Hot Springs are a great way to relax after a long day and they have an amazing view as well.

 

Ouray is the official Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado, so there is no doubt that you will have some adventures while you are there. After a day of exploration there is no better way to sooth the body than to soak in the geothermal hot springs of Ouray. A number of spas open their doors for soaks in their private pools, but the public pool is where you will find most people. There are five different pools ranging from 78 – 104 degrees. There are family friendly pools, an adult only pool, and even a lap pool.

Cost: Children (4-17): $12, Adults (18-61): $18, Seniors (62-74): $14, Everyone else is free.

Hours: Monday – Friday: 12pm – 7pm, Saturday & Sunday: 1pm – 8pm.

 

See the Waterfalls

 
cascade falls ouray coloradro
Standing in front of the Lower Cascade Falls.

 

There are a lot of great waterfalls in the area, but there are two that are just a short hike from town. Possibly the most famous is the Box Canyon Falls located just south west of town. This 285-foot waterfall pours thousands of gallons of water per minute into a narrow canyon. This is a developed site so you can see the waterfall from above or climb down the stairs to see from below. There is a parking lot at the parks visitor center; there you can learn about the history and geology of the area then take a short hike over to the falls, but I have always entered from the Perimeter Trail accessed from S Pinecrerst Dr.

 

The other falls, Cascade Falls, can be seen up on the mountain east of town from just about any point in Ouray. The Cascade Falls (or Lower Cascade Falls) is actually the last in a series of seven waterfalls making their way down the mountain. The hike to the falls is short but steep, but it is definitely worth the trip to see it. There is a parking lot at the end of 8th Ave where the trail begins its climb to the falls. This can also be accessed from the perimeter trail.

 

Hike the Perimeter Trail

 
 
perimeter trail map ouray coloradro
Map of Ouray's Perimeter Trail and its offshoots.

The Perimeter Trail is, as its name suggests, a trail that encircles the town of Ouray, Colorado. This six-mile long trail covers varied terrains, many waterfalls, bridges, and has some of the most beautiful scenery and overlooks of town. Over the course of the trail there is about 1600 feet of elevation gain/loss, so the trail can be difficult at times, but there are many access point along the way so you do not have to do the whole thing in one go. 

 

ouray overlook perimeter trail colorado
View of Ouray, and Cascade Falls in the distance, from the Perimeter Trail in Box Canyon.

 

There are also many other trails that branch off of the Perimeter Trail, 14 to be exact, so you can easily diverge from the path and explore other trails. Two of these trails, to Cascade Falls and Box Canyon Falls, were mentioned above, but my personal favorite is the Chief Ouray Mine Trail. This 4.3-mile trail is not an easy one but it is well worth the effort. It can be easily accessed from the Amphitheater, then makes its way up the mountain till it ends 2200 feet above the town at Chief Ouray’s old mine.

 

Drive the Million Dollar Highway

 

If you are looking for a scenic, and at times scary, highway drive, then look no further than the Million Dollar Highway. The Million Dollar Highway is the nickname for the first 25 miles of US 550 extending south from Ouray to Silverton, but in truth it is only the first 12 which garnered the name. Built in the early 1920’s, it gained its name for the considerable cost it took to build or from words of one early traveler, ‘I wouldn’t not travel that road again for a million dollars’ (among other stories – a road this legendary is bound have a debate about its origins).

 

This stretch, making its way through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass, is mostly cut into the side of the mountain and marked with hairpin turns. Characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails – leaving you peaking over the brink of a 1,000-foot cliff as you edge by – it is no wonder that it has been ranked in the Top 10 Most Dangerous Roads in the World. But the views that it offers has also landed it with the title of One of the Most Beautiful Drives in America.

 

Drink a Craft Beer

 

mr grumpy pants brewery ouray coloradro
Mr Grumpy Pants Brewery is a low key place to have a craft beer.

 

Craft beer makes my to-do-list whenever there is a chance to add it and Ouray is no exception. In fact, Ouray might be where I had my first Colorado craft beer. There are three breweries in town; Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewery, Ouray Brewery, and Red Mountain Brewery. The first, Mr. Grumpy Pants, is the oldest brewery in town (and where I had the before mentioned beer – although in its previous location) and claims to be the 66th brewery in Colorado. This might not seem like much of a deal until you realize the sheer number of craft breweries in Colorado. It has great beer, laid back atmosphere, and the owner is an awesomely sarcastic guy – not to mention that it is next door to Maggies Kitchen’s delicious burgers.

 

Ouray and Red Mountain Breweries are newer in town (though they have been around for a while). Ouray Brewery is easily the most popular. It’s corner shop in the middle of downtown makes it an ideal location and it’s second floor balcony gives some great views of the town and surrounding mountains.

 

Take to the Backroads

 

yankee boy basin ouray coloradro
Jeeps parked to play in the snow on the road to Yankee Boy Basin.

 

One of the most popular activities out of Ouray is to drive the old dirt mining roads through the mountains. There are tons of old mines in the mountains and with them miles and miles of old dirt roads. The closest to Ouray, and one of the most beautiful in my opinion, is up to Yankee Boy Basin. It is a fairly easy drive until you get to Camp Bird Mine, then it becomes more difficult but also far better views. The beginning of Engineer Pass is also very close to Ouray and is a great drive. This is far more difficult and at times technical drive and you will probably want a jeep or razor to make the climb.

 

Further out of town, Animas Fork (technically out of Silverton) is an easy drive through the pass to the old mining town. You should make the stop in historic Silverton when you pass through. From Animas Fork you can continue through the mountains to California Pass and Hurricane Pass if you wish to tack on some miles.

 

yankee boy basin ouray coloradro
Mountain views on the way to Yankee Boy Basin.

 

If you have your own 4x4, high clearance vehicle then you can easily make your way through the mountains on your own. We made these (but not Engineer Pass), plus many others in Colorado, with a 4x4 SUV. If you do not have your own vehicle, you can rent a jeep or razor from one of the many shops in town. Jeeps are far warmer and hold up to five people, but they can be a bit rough and bumpy on the roads. Whereas the razors have no really protection from the wind or rain, but they can be more comfortable since they can more easily go around and over obstacles.

 

Experience the Ice Park

 

If you are in Ouray during the winter and you want a new type of adventure, then head to the Ouray Ice Park. From mid-December through mid-March the San Juan Mountains are covered with ice and Ouray has capitalized on it. Their park has over 200 climbs up the icy walls. Experienced ice climbers can venture up themselves, but those of us that are novice can attend a clinic or hire a guide. If you happen to be there towards the end of January, Ouray also hosts the world famous Ice Festival and its ice climbing competitions.

 

Where to Eat

 

ice cream mouses chocolate cofffee ouray coloradro
We all got different ice creams from Mouse's Chocolates & Coffee.

 

Ouray actually has a fair number of restaurants in town for its size. My favorite spot is Maggies Kitchen. If you are looking for an amazing burger or sandwich, this is the place to go. Maggies Kitchen also shares its building with Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewery, so you can grab a homebrewed craft beer to wash down the burger. Continuing the theme of food and beer, Ouray Brewery also serves burgers and sandwiches and has a great viewing on the second floor to enjoy it on. After you have had you have eaten your meal, or at really any time if we are being honest with ourselves, head down to Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for some ice cream, chocolates, or cookies. If you are camping, or are just looking for a snack, Ouray also has a grocery store on Main Street you can stock up at.

 

Where to Stay

 

For the size of the town, Ouray has a lot of options for accommodation, but due to its popularity it might not be much of a surprise. The three types of accommodation in Ouray are hotels, Airbnb, and camping. Ouray has a number of hotels in and around the town and most of them are in the town center. Even those that are further out are still an easy walk into town. When booking my hotels, I always use Agoda to find the best hotel in my location and price range.

 

There are also a few different camping options depending on whether you prefer to tent camp or use an RV. In town there is 4J+1+1 RV Park that has a number of RV sites with electricity, a few tent sites, and some cabins. Just east of town there is the Amphitheater campground with 35 sites for $26/night. None of the sites have electricity, but they fill up fast. About half of the sites are tent only and the other half are tent or RV (under 35’). There are also two primitive dispersed camping sites (Angel Creek and Thistledown) southeast of town on Camp Bird Road. These are $10/night and are paid to pay stations (signs) at the campgrounds.

 

How to Get There

 

There is no public transportation that will get you into Ouray. You can take a bus or plane to some of the larger towns in the area, but the final leg of your journey will have to be by car.

 

Driving

 

Ouray is located in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado on US 550. From Durango, travel north on US 550 for 70 miles. From Grand Junction, travel southeast on US 50 for 63 miles into Montrose. In Montrose, US 50 turns into US 550 which you will follow south for another 34 miles.

 

Airplane

 

The closest major airport is the Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ), located 40 miles north of Ouray. It services most major US airlines. United, American, and Frontier also fly into Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO), located 85 miles south of Ouray. Both of these airports have the major car rental companies on site.

 

What was your favorite thing to do in Ouray, Colorado?

 

The 8 Best Things to Do in Ouray, Colorado

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9 comments:

  1. Always wanted to visit Colorado, but not during the winter season! Ouray looks like an adventurous place to visit during the summer season. The Food Explora in me will not miss an opportunity to visit Mr Grumpy Old Pants Brewery;interesting name. Lol.

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    1. Colorado is one of my favorite states in the US. Ouray is one of the places that my family always visits when we go. It is so beautiful and has so much to do in and around the area.

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  2. Ohh wow.....I love this list of things to do, the scenery from the perimeter trail just amazing beautiful. Cheers Siennylovesdrawing

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. Yes, the Perimeter Trail has some very beautiful views of the town and surrounding mountains.

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  3. I have always loved Colorado it is such a beautiful spot to visit! The hot springs are so relaxing.

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  4. I love Colorado! It is such a gorgeous state, thanks for sharing this. The hot springs are so relaxing.

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  5. Colorado is on my bucket list because I want to see the Garden of the Gods. But, with so many beautiful places to see in Ouray, I'll make sure to stay a while and explore. Oh, and go to the breweries too!

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    1. The Garden of the Gods is such a great place to visit. There so much to do in the Colorado Springs area as well!

      Colorado has so many great breweries - and they are everywhere.

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