Ouray, Colorado

Location: Southwest Colorado

On Highway 550, 35 miles south of Montrose, CO and 70 miles north of Durango, CO.

Introduction

Ouray (7,746-ft.) is a pretty little Victorian mountain town nestled beneath a dramatic granite amphitheater and surrounded by 12,000-ft. plus peaks. A variety of accommodations and services along with its close proximity to some of the regions great hikes makes the town a perfect base camp for outdoor enthusiasts.

The town is located in the heart of the Uncompahgre National Forest in southwest Colorado, 35 miles south of Montrose and 70 miles north of Durango, CO on Highway 550. Distinctive Mt. Sneffels (14,150-ft.), rising to the west of town, is the center piece of the 16,500-acre Mt. Sneffels Wilderness. Northeast of Ouray is the 99,000-acre Uncompaghre Wilderness, home to two 14ers, Wetterhorn Peak (14,015-ft.) and Uncompahgre Peak (14,309-ft.) along with numerous peaks over 13,000-ft.

Ouray Hiking Trails

View of Pilot Knob and the ridge to the west of Ice Lake
Ice Lakes

Distance: 7.8 - 8.2 miles (Round Trip)

This wonderful hike visits two gorgeous lake basins, traverses wildflower-filled meadows and passes numerous waterfalls along the way. Dramatic peaks punctuate the ridge forming the backdrop for upper Ice Lake, nestled in an alpine wonderland that invites exploration.

Flowers growing by the outlet stream of Upper Blue Lakes
Blue Lakes and Blue Lakes Pass

Distance: 6.3 - 11.0 miles (Round Trip)

Popular hike to three scenic lakes nestled in beautiful glacial basins set amid rugged ridges and peaks. Beyond the lakes the trail climbs to a dramatic pass on a ridgeline south of Mt. Sneffels (14,150-ft).

View toward the western end of beautiful Columbine Lake
Columbine Lake and Pass

Distance: 7.0 - 8.9 miles (Round Trip)

This little known hike climbs steeply through forest and beautiful alpine meadows to a stunning glacial lake set amid a backdrop of rugged 13,000-ft. peaks. Panoramic views from nearby Columbine Pass encompassing Bridal Veil basin and the Sneffels Range.

First view of Porphyry Basin
Porphyry Basin

Distance: 5.0 - 7.0 miles (Round Trip)

This scenic hike climbs to two pretty lakes in gorgeous Porphyry Basin. Along the way the trail travels through wildflower-filled meadows and passes waterfalls, interesting rock formations and mining ruins. The lovely alpine meadows of the upper basin offer several options for off-trail exploration.

Looking south from the trailhead toward Coxcomb and Redcliff peaks
Wetterhorn Basin

Distance: 5.8 - 9.0 miles (Round Trip)

This trail wanders through wildflower-filled meadows and then climbs a gorgeous alpine basin to West Fork Pass. From the pass the trail drops into scenic Wetterhorn Basin with view of Wetterhorn Peak (14,015-ft.).

Looking back at a section of the ledge trail
Bear Creek National Recreation Trail

Distance: 4.4 - 8.0 miles (Round Trip)

A dramatic trail carved into a steep cliff face high above Bear Creek is just one of the highlights of this hike up a beautiful canyon to two scenic mine sites.

Yankee Boy Basin and the Mt. Sneffels Range from the Bridge of Heaven
Bridge of Heaven (via the Horsethief Trail)

Distance: 8.0 miles (Round Trip)

This well-engineered trail ascends 3,000-ft. to a knife-edge ridge with spectacular panoramic views.

North Twilight Peak (13,075) and its reflection in the waters of Crater Lake
Crater Lake

Distance: 11.0 - 11.8 miles (Round Trip)

A scenic hike to a pretty lake nestled beneath North Twilight Peak (13,075). The hike can be extended to the saddle beyond the lake and/or a scramble to the top of North Twilight.

Looking up at Mt. Sneffels (14,150-ft.)
Blaine Basin

Distance: 6.8 - 8.2 miles (Round Trip)

This is a good hike for people looking for solitude and dramatic, up-close views of Mt. Sneffels. Don’t let the crowded parking lot deter you. Most hikers are headed for the Blue Lakes basin. You will have the Blaine Basin trail mostly to yourself.

Colorful ridge at the head of North Lime Creek.
Colorado Trail: Little Molas Lake to Lime Creek

Distance: 7.4 - 10.1 miles (Round Trip)

A moderately easy hike along a segment of the Colorado Trail featuring panoramic views from the high meadows above the West Lime Creek valley.

View of the Amphitheater
Portland Trail

Distance: 3.5 miles (Round Trip)

This short, easy loop hike explores the basin below a huge amphitheatre of eroded cliffs rising above the eastern side of Ouray and features scenic viewpoints to appreciate the formation along with the peaks rising to the south and west of town.

View of Ouray from the overlook
Alpine Mine Overlook

Distance: 5.6 miles (Round Trip)

Hikers completing the stiff climb to an overlook 3,000-ft. above Ouray are rewarded with panoramic views of Ouray, the amphitheatre and the sea of peaks and ridges rising to the east of town.

Great views to the southwest with Ouray in the foreground
Upper Cascade Falls / Chief Ouray Mine

Distance: 4.4 - 5.9 miles (Round Trip)

This great half day hike climbing high above the eastern side of Ouray features fabulous views of the Uncompahgre Valley, Cascade Falls and the Amphitheatre.

Around Town

During the day Ouray (pronounced “you-ray” by the locals) is a popular stop for sightseers driving the San Juan Skyway, a stunning 233-mile loop that crosses four high passes and connects Ouray to Silverton, Durango, Cortez, and Telluride (going clockwise around the loop). The Skyway’s steady stream of tourists helps support a good selection of restaurants, bars and breweries along with a range of accommodations that includes condos, cabins and home vacations rentals, B&B’s, hotels/motels and campground/RV parks.

By 4pm the day trippers plying the scenic byways disappear and the town takes on a more laid back, family atmosphere. Be sure to spend at least one of your evenings strolling Ouray’s backstreets admiring the beautifully restored Victorian architecture. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts and most of its structures, built between 1880 and 1900 during the area’s mining boom, are still standing.

My favorite place in town is Ouray’s Hot Springs. After a hard day of hiking nothing is better than soaking in the pools fed by natural hot springs while admiring the red sandstone and granite cliffs towering above town. The facility is configured into different pools ranging in temperature from 96-105 degrees and includes a cooler lap swimming section, diving area and kiddie wading pool. The adjacent park is a nice place for a picnic. Ouray Tourism is located next to the facility.

A short walk in town to the end of east 8th Avenue will take you to the base of Cascade Falls, the lowest segment of a series of seven waterfalls draining snowmelt from the peaks above town. Box Canon Waterfalls and Park, located on CR 361 off Highway 550 just south of Ouray, is an interesting geological formation featuring a 285-ft. waterfall plummeting through a narrow box canyon. It is worth the entrance fee and the hour or so spent viewing the formation and walking the three interpretive trails. Another nice walk is the Uncompahgre River loop, which starts on the west side of town just north of the Hot Springs and meanders along the river to Ouray's northern border.

The Ouray Perimeter trail is a good option for visitors looking for a longer walk. The 5.0 miles trail, which can be accessed from several spots around town, visits Cascade Falls, the Baby Bathtubs and crosses over Canon Creek’s spectacular gorge. Along the way enjoy great views of Mt. Abrams, Hayden Mountain, Whitehouse Mountain, Tiwn Peaks and the Amphitheater. An optional detour includes a visit to Box Canyon Park. A map and additional information about the Perimeter Trail is available at the Ouray Visitor Center.

Nearby Attractions

There is plenty to do around Ouray if you decide to take a day off from hiking. Most people drive the Million Dollar Highway, the 24 miles section of the San Juan Skyway between Ouray and Silverton. The route traverses jaw dropping scenery littered with mining relics and climbs over 11,018-ft Red Mountain Pass. A full day needs to be allocated to drive the entire San Juan Skyway. This trip is better done as part of an extended trip with overnight stops in Silverton and Telluride.

Another interesting diverision is a trip to the areas ghost towns. A few are accessible with a passenger vehicle but most require a 4WD (tours are available). The Ouray Visitor Center located by the Hot Springs has a complete list of the options along with directions and recommendations.

Those with a 4WD and taste for adventure may want to drive the area’s famous backcountry roads. Yankee Boy Basin, to the southwest of town, provides opportunities to visit several ghost towns, view beautiful Twin Falls and, during late July/early August, see spectacular displays of wildflowers. The Alpine Loop is another popular route leading over 12,000-ft passes to the Lake City and back. Be sure to check with the local tourism office about road conditions and the skill level required to drive each of the routes.

A tour of the Bachelors Syracuse Mine is a good option for a rainy day. (See also Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour outside of Silverton.) A guide with experience working the mine takes visitors 1,800 feet horizontally into Gold Hill to a work area used to extract the silver and other minerals. The tour includes a complete presentation of the equipment and techniques used to extract the ore.

Food, Lodging and Services

Just about all the basic services you need are found along Main Street, a six block section of Highway 550 running through the center of town. The Ouray Visitor Center, open 7 days a week during the summer, is located at 1230 Main Street, next to the Hot Springs Pool.

Duckett’s Market, a small grocery at 621 Main Street, offers the basics for making a meal. Those looking for a wider selection should travel 11 miles north to the Ridgway Mountain Market (490 Sherman St, Ridgway) or purchase groceries in Montrose or Durango. Coffee and internet fixes along with baked goods and sandwiches are available at Back Street Bistro coffee shop (219 Seventh Ave). Ouray Mountain Sports stocks clothing and gear for climbers and hikers. A surprisingly good selection of maps, guides and leisure reading material can be found at Buckskin Booksellers at 505 Main St.