Things To Do In Ouray
Whether you prefer the action of the peak summer months or the quiet of an off-season visit, everyone from outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs to relaxation specialists can find plenty to do in Ouray. The natural hot springs, the Million Dollar Highway, Box Canyon waterfall, spectacular jeep trails, and challenging ice climbing routes are just a few of the things that draw people here year after year.
Year around, Ouray visitors can play in sulphur-free hot springs at the Hot Springs Pool, explore the history of the area at the County Historical society, take the walking tour or mule carriage ride in the Historic district, shop in the unique boutiques and art galleries on Main Street, and enjoy a range of high quality dining experiences at the town’s many restaurants and cafés.
In addition, each season has its own charms and signature activities.
The calm awakening of Spring attracts visitors looking for warm sunshine and snow capped mountains. The big-horned sheep and elk come down to graze along side the highway and eagles perch on nearby trees.
Summer means excitement and high energy as the mountain passes open up and the rivers and waterfalls start running. Ouray’s old-fashioned July 4th weekend is the highlight of the summer. Carrying on a 100 year tradition, the town puts on a party that includes a traditional parade on Main Street, picnics and the famous Firehose Water Fight. The weekend culminates with a grand Jeep parade down the mountain followed by a spectacular fireworks display.
For many, Autumn is the best time to visit Ouray. The change from mid-summer is quite dramatic as the leaves begin to change. The brilliant fall colors bring photographers and visitors from all over the world. However, there is still much to do as summer activities usually extend into fall.
Summer/Fall activities include:
- Off road touring by Jeep, ARV or motorcycle (more)
- Jeep tours (more)
- Hiking (more)
- Box Canyon Park and waterfall (more)
- Lake and river fishing (more)
- Photography and scenic drives (more)
- Exploring old ghost towns and mines (more)
- Mine tours/panning for gold (more)
- Horseback riding (more)
- Mountain biking (more)
- Golf (more)
- River rafting (more)
- Railroad buffs (more)
- Relaxing and enjoying the cool mountain air (more)
Winter brings the challenges of ice and the snowy beauty of the San Juan Mountains. Activities include:
- Ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park and back country (more)
- Cross-country skiing and Snowshoeing (more)
- Back country skiing (more)
- Downhill skiing in nearby Telluride and Silverton (more)
- Family Fun (more)
- Ice Skating
Off road touring by Jeep, ATV or motorcycle is a wonderful way to experience the San Juan Mountains. The extensive network of old mining roads make Ouray the Jeep capital of the US. These trails pass through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, with abundant wildflowers, ghost towns, abandoned mines, and wildlife all along the way. Trails range from easy scenic drives to challenging drives over spectacular mountain passes.
Jeep tours combine the thrill of off-road touring with the convenience and security of a knowledgeable and experienced driver. Switzerland of America and San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours are two of the tour companies to contact for your back country adventure to Yankee Boy Basin, Black Bear pass, Corkscrew Gulch, Red Mountain, Imogene Pass leading to Telluride and many others.
There is a wide variety of hiking trails for both beginners and experienced hikers. Some hikes can be done in a few hours while others will provide an all day experience. Popular trails include the Box Canon Fall trail, Lower and Upper Cascade Falls trail,Portland trail and the Owl Creek trail.
Box Canyon Park and Waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in Ouray. There is an easy hike to the bottom of the falls or climb to the bridge above the falls for a spectacular view of Ouray. There are several gazebos in the park which make great picnic spots.
Lake and river fishing is a popular activity for Ouray visitors. On of the best places for trout fishing is the on the Uncompahgre River in nearby Ridgway State Park. The river has a variety of both stocked and wild trout. The Cimarron River, San Miguel River and Gunnison River also provide excellent fishing opportunities.
The Ridgway State Park also has a 1000 acre reservoir that provides great fishing in a beautiful setting. A full service marina and plenty of access points allow for excellent fishing and boating opportunities for the whole family. Blue Lake and East Dallas Lake are nearby summer-only fishing areas as well.
The mountains surrounding Ouray provide some of the most beautiful scenery found in the US. While 4-wheel drive vehicles are needed for some of the more rugged routes, there are plenty of spectacular routes accessible by regular passenger cars. The Million Dollar Highway (US550) between Ouray and Silverton is one of the most breathtaking stretches of highway in the country. It is part of the San Juan Skyway loop that will also take you through Durango, Cortez, and Telluride before circling back to Ouray.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, about one hour north of Ouray also offers stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities for photography as do close by excursions like Camp Bird Mine and Owl Creek Pass.
There are some wonderful mining sites to explore in the San Juan Mountains. The remains of once-thriving towns can still be seen and visited, places like Animas Forks, Ironton, Red Mountain Town and Alta. These are tangible ties to Colorado’s mining history. Most sites are still accessible although they are disappearing due to age, extreme winter weather, and sadly vandalism. Be sure to bring your camera.
Horseback rides, from short 1-hour rides to all day excursions offer a different way of seeing the back country of the San Juans. Several livery stables operate in the area, including Ouray Livery and The Bachelor Stables.
Cyclists of all levels can spend several days in Ouray pedaling through the San Juan Mountains, accessing numerous back roads and trails that wind above and around Ouray, as well as access unlimited riding through the area. Some of the most popular rides include:
- Portland Trail: Short and intense single-track (Approximately 8 miles—1 to 2 hours)
- River Road to Ridgway and back: Easy and scenic over rolling ranch land (Approximately 25 miles)
- Dallas Creek Loop: One of our more difficult trails (Approximately 40 miles—3 to 5 hours)
- Imogene/Last Dollar Loop: Extremely difficult and long over steep terrain (5 to 10 hours)
Get a glimpse of Colorado history with a guided tour of a former working mine. The Bachelor-Syracuse Mine tour in Ouray or the Old Hundred mine in Silverton will take you into actual mines where gold, silver, and other precious metals were once mined. You can even pan for gold.
There are several great golf courses an easy drive from Ouray, all with the mountains as a backdrop. The closest course is Divide Ranch and Club, an award-winning, 7,039-yard golf course at the foot of the San Juan Range. It is located in a high-mesa forest of pinon, juniper and ponderosa pine with phenomenal views of four Rocky Mountain peaks
The Uncompahgre River with its Class II to III+ rapids, offers many opportunities for a river rafting experience with wonderful wildlife and scenery opportunities. Mild to wild river rafting trips are available on other rivers throughout the area. Contact RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service or Switzerland of America for more details on available trips.
These two different activities offer a railroad buff an unusual opportunity to experience living railroad history. The historic Durango-Silverton train has been in continuous operation for 128 years, carrying passengers behind vintage steam locomotives and rolling stock. In the opposite direction, Ridgway, long known as the birthplace of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, is the home of a Ridgway Railroad Museumwhich is dedicated to the preservation of the history of railroading in Ouray County and surrounding areas.
Sitting and doing nothing other than taking in the views, reading a good book, and enjoying the cool mountain breezes is a perfect way to spend your vacation. Daytime temperatures rarely get above 89 degrees while the nights cool off to the very comfortable 50’s. There may be a rain shower in the afternoon, but it passes and the sun returns for a perfect evening stroll to Main Street.
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The Ouray Ice Park is a world class destination, attracting ice climbers of all skill levels from near and far. The park is easily accessible to climbers and spectators alike; the entrance is located right next to the Victorian Inn. Each January, the Ouray Ice Festival attracts the best climbers in the country to the famous Ice Climbing Competition and everyone enjoys a weekend full of climbing clinics, demonstrations, and parties.
Ice climbing classes, clinics and private guides are available all winter to help new climbers master the basics or experienced climbers expand their skills. For more information on these offerings, contact San Juan Mountain Guides, Chicks with Picks, or International Mountain Guides.
Opportunities for cross country skiing and snowshoeing abound in and around the city of Ouray. Within walking distance of town, numerous trails provide access to trails that take in the special charm of a Ouray winter. Some of the most popular spots include the Ice Park Trail and the Amphitheater.
A short drive in either direction will open up more challenging winter back country terrain. South of town at Ironton, groomed trails, with a set Nordic track maintained by the Ouray County Nordic Council. These trails run past the historic ghost town of Ironton in a fairly level valley. There are also miles of more challenging, ungroomed trails which pass by old mine sites and many scenic overlooks.
The mountains around Ouray are becoming more and more popular with back country skiers. The Red Mountain Pass area in particular offers numerous trails, easy access, and incredible snow. Guides are suggested for those new to skiing in the area.
Ouray is located half way between the ski resorts of Telluride and Silverton, making it a great base from which to experience some of the best skiing in Colorado. Deep powder and extreme terrain challenge expert skiers at both venues, while beginners and intermediate skiers find plenty of runs in Telluride.
The Victorian Inn’s Stay and Ski winter special offers discounted ski passes for those wishing to ski at Telluride while staying at the Inn.
For families, a winter stay in Ouray offers downhill skiing, sledding, and skating all without leaving town, followed of course by a swim in the Hot Springs pool.
Lee’s Ski Hill on Third Avenue is a great place to learn new skills. A tow rope operates on weekends and some afternoons.
The local children’s sledding hill is located on the east side of town between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. It has been the place Ouray children have gone sledding for over 100 years. Additional sledding opportunities abound in the mountains a short distance from town.
The ice rink in Rotary Park is open throughout the winter, as long as the temperature cooperates and skates may be rented in town. There is a warming hut for the non-skating members of the family