Tucked in a box canyon below 14,150-foot Mount Sneffels, towered over by high cliffs and waterfalls, Ouray is one of Colorado’s most spectacular towns. This part of Colorado, the west side of the San Juan Mountains, is known as the “American Alps” for its picturesque towns and jagged peaks. The Rockies here are wild and untamed, littered with mining ruins that remain a testament to human innovation and tenacity in a harsh environment. You could spend many summers exploring this area and not run out of things to do, but if you only have a weekend, here’s how to make the most of your weekend in Ouray.
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Day 1 – Hiking from Town
Ouray is a long drive from pretty much everywhere, so you’ll be in the mood for a leg-stretcher.
Several trails begin right in town, including the Lower Cascade Falls and Old Twin Peaks trails, both of which climb above Ouray and afford amazing views. Another great option is the Bear Creek National Recreation trail, which begins a couple miles south of town and runs through a dizzying steep gorge to several old mines and the Uncompahgre Wilderness beyond.
Back in town, spend some time relaxing at one of Ouray’s many restaurants. The Outlaw Restaurant, Brickhouse 737 or, for craft beer lovers, Ouray Brewery are great places to enjoy a meal with a view. For a quieter craft beer experience, head to the Ourayle House Brewery, formerly known as Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Co.
For lodging, Ouray is home to several hotels and commercial campgrounds. If you have reservations or time it well, you can also camp in the Amphitheater Campground, a national forest campground just outside of town.
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Day 2 – Jeeping in the High Country
If you have a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, bring it with you to your weekend in Ouray. If not, but you have some extreme terrain experience, rent one from X because this area is home to some of the finest Jeep roads in Colorado. The Alpine Loop, which makes a 63-mile loop between Ouray, Lake City and Silverton, offers unparalleled mountain views. It’ll take you five hours to drive the entire route, past seven ghost towns, and over two mountain passes. Take the short side trip to Silverton after completing the loop to enjoy a unique Old West setting. This town used to be (and still is sometimes) cut off from the rest of the world by heavy snows. You have to like winter a lot to live here.
Don’t have a proper vehicle? No problem. U.S. Highway 550 over Red Mountain Pass has more scenery per mile than any other paved road in Colorado. Stop and visit some of the ghost towns and old mines along the pass. A few miles north of Silverton, turn onto the road for the South Mineral Campground, which is also the trailhead for one of Colorado’s prettiest hikes: Ice lakes Basin. It’s a steep four miles up to several lakes with stunning views and the bluest water you’ll ever see. If you need a rental or want a guided tour, check out Switzerland of America Jeep Rentals for all your off-road driving needs.
No visit to this region is complete with a hot springs soak. Ouray Hot Springs is a huge public swimming pool, with sections of varying temperatures and two water slides. For a more intimate experience, head north to Ridgway, where Orvis Hot Springs offers quiet soaking in a clothing-optional setting.
For a greater hiking and climbing challenge, you can attempt to climb the local fourteener, Mount Sneffels. Turn at the sign for Yankee Boy Basin just south of town. Passenger cars can make it 7.5 miles, while more rugged vehicles can continue to 12,460 feet. This is one of Colorado’s prettiest mountains, but it can also be dangerous because of foul weather and loose rock. Many people wear a climbing helmet to attempt the summit here.