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The small mountain town of Ouray is sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of America” because of its stunning scenery and awesome outdoor recreation, especially if you love snow. Ouray is located in the southwestern part of the state and has a population of just a little over a thousand people. Yet, it’s still a big tourist destination because of all the fun things to do here. Nestled in the rugged Rockies and well away from the busy city life of Denver, here are the best things to do when you plan a mountain escape to Ouray.
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Winter is an ideal time to plan your trip to Ouray because the tiny town really comes alive when its covered in snow and ice. Head to the Ouray Ice Park is you want to give ice climbing a try or just watch other thrill-seekers do it. There are a couple hundred climbing routes here, so it’s worth coming to year after year. Come by between December and March, based on what the current weather conditions are. It’s free to ice climb here, but the activity is best left to expert climbers who have their own gear. Most of the climbs here are just a short walk from the entrance. The Ouray Ice Festival takes place in January. This event draws in top climbers from around the world and is always exciting to watch.
Box Canyon Falls is one of the biggest draws to the Ouray area because of its stunning natural beauty. This is a waterfall that drops down an impressive distance and offers amazing views. Start your exploration of this area at the visitor’s center and then set off on some of the amazing trails to see the plants and exhibits along the way. The High Bridge Trail is a good one for views of the peaks and town. Dogs aren’t allowed in this park, but they can hike with you on lots of other trails in the Ouray area.
Downtown Ouray has some cute shops and restaurants to check out, and it’s small enough to walk through even if you’re pressed for time. Here you can find everything from boutique kitchen stores to high-end art galleries and touristy t-shirt shops. Make sure to stop into Ouray Brewing for a local pint of beer and head out to the rooftop if its warm enough to sit outside and soak in the views. You can also grab a meal while walking around and stop into Mouse’s Chocolate’s for a sweet treat.
A fun and unique museum to visit while you’re in town, the Ouray Alchemist Museum is a must see. Here you can learn a bit about the history of medicine and pharmaceuticals as they relate to the old Wild West and even further back in time. Plan to spend about an hour taking a tour here. The tours are private though, so you must call ahead to book one in advance. The most popular tour times are 10am and 1pm, and admission is $10 per person. You might also want to check out the Ouray County Museum to learn more about the town and take a tour.
If taking a scenic drive is more your style, then look no further than the San Juan Skyway. This town is situated at around 8,000 feet of elevation, and the snow-capped mountains offer stunning scenery. The skyway is a 233-mile loop that goes to other amazing Colorado towns like Durango, Cortez, Telluride, and Silverton. Of course, you don’t have to drive the whole route to get the experience, but it sure does make an epic road trip.
The hot springs are plentiful in the Ouray area, and there are a few different ways that you can take a dip in the soothing waters. The pools here range in temperature from about 88 degrees to 105 degrees. Some options to check out include the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa, which also has a vapor cave, and Orvis Hot Springs. Meanwhile, the Ouray Hot Springs Pool is open year-around and offers natural and sulfur-free hot springs to soak in. There’s really nothing better than taking a dip into one of these steaming hot pools after a day of ice climbing or backcountry skiing.
Off-roading is a very popular activity among locals and visitors in the Ouray area, and you can bring your own vehicle or hire a guide to try this experience. There are local guide companies that will take you out in the rugged wilderness to explore the best of the region on four wheels. Full-day and half-day Jeep tours are available and often travel to Imogene Pass and Black Bear Pass. You’ll be in no shortage of options in a place that calls itself the Jeep capital of the world! You can also hire a local guide company to go out on ATVs with multiple seating options.
Another beautiful natural area worth visiting here is the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail. The natural basin in this area has lots of hiking opportunities that extend just a short distance or more like eight miles if you’re up for something strenuous. One popular route is the Yellow Jacket Mine Trail, which goes past old mining structures and tools that were left behind.
Many parts of Colorado were established because of the gold rush, and Ouray has a history with this precious metal as well. The Bachelor Syracuse Mine was a big gold area in the late-19th century, and you can visit the mine today to learn more about this time in the region’s history. Stop by to pan for gold or grab a quick meal. The admission fee is $15.99 for adults and $7.99 for kids ages five to 12. You can even book your tour online in advance if you know your travel schedule.