Surrounded by the Northern San Juan, Cimarron and Sneffels mountain ranges, studded with whispering aspens and the occasional soaring bald eagle, Ouray and Ridgway are year-round mountain towns offering an escape you think only exist in movies — oh wait, “True Grit” was filmed in Ridgway, so there’s some truth to that notion.
These southwest-Colorado spots, located less than two hours from Grand Junction, welcome weary travelers with renewing hot springs, sensational culinary experiences and enough outdoor adventures to make you head for the hot springs again to soothe hard-worked muscles.
Rejuvenate with Hot Springs & More
Home to five hot springs, this area is a destination for relaxation with private and public baths. More than 90 years have passed since Ouray Hot Springs Pool opened its doors, but the site recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation complete with new overlook pools and an activity pool with slides and a 12-foot climbing wall. Lay back in one of the many warm lagoons and take in the mountain scenery sprawled out before you.
Next, head to the private soaking pool and vapor caves at Wiesbaden Hot Springs. The water laps at the cave walls, providing a serene, secluded space for reflection. Early bird or night owl? The hot springs at Twin Peaks Lodge are open 24 hours a day (for guests) so you can submerge yourself whenever the time feels right. The private hot springs at Box Canyon Lodge afford 360-degree views of the mountains, and if you’re in the terraced pools once the sun sets, you’ll be treated to the blanket of stars that covers canyon-cradled Ouray. Orvis Hot Springs, southwest Colorado’s premier clothing-optional hot-springs resort, has eight outdoor soaking areas where you can breathe in tranquility and breathe out stress. Chipeta Solar Springs is a must for soaking in their solar heated mineral spa, relaxing spa treatments and dining at the Four Corner's Restaurant and rooftop Sky Bar.
If immersing yourself in perfectly warm water is something you want to experience more of, travel the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, a multiday regional trip to some of Colorado’s best thermal mineral water pools.
Take in the Arts
At the late 1880s Wright Opera House, mountain peaks are reflected in the arched windows, and the historic performing arts institution has ambitions that match their heights. The venue provides visitors and the community with music, movies, performances and lectures from world-class creators. Weehawken Creative Arts offers high-quality arts education in both Ouray and Ridgway. Children and adults can take part in workshops and classes to improve their watercolor skills, learn how to write short-form prose or just visit to enjoy a showing of “Illuminate Showcase,” a two-act dance show featuring local performers. Before hitting the road, check Ouray’s community calendar for the latest on happenings around town.
Ridgway is one of 26 Certified Colorado Creative Districts, and you’ll find creativity on display around every corner. (For an even longer trip, check out the Creative Corridor, which combines Ridgway with other districts in the region.) Peek into galleries and workshops like Kane Scheidegger Fine Art Photography, Mountain Girl Gallery, Art by the Park, Cimarron Art Glass and Timber Creek Gallery, and applaud from the front row at the Sherbino Theater downtown, which hosts stage productions, music and more.
Adventure Outside All-Year-Round
This area is known for incredible summer activities like Jeep tours, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking and more, but locals and visitors don’t head inside during the winter.
In Ridgway State Park, the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk area is perfect for fishing all year, with two ponds stocked with rainbow trout. If you want the cold waters of the Uncompahgre to yourself, try fishing with a local, RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service.
The Ouray Ice Park is home to world-class ice climbing. With more than 200 ice and mixed climbs, the park is an engineering marvel using a gravity-fed plumbing system that routes 150,000 gallons of water at night to maintain the ice. It’s also host to the Ouray Ice Festival each January.
If adventuring in the crisp, fresh air is more your style, hut it up by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the backcountry San Juan Hut Systems. While not for the faint of heart, hut tripping gives you a glimpse at some of Colorado’s scenery very few people have ever seen and the chance to sleep in a cozy hut right along the trail so you can explore longer — and perhaps make some new friends.
Vast views of snow-capped peaks greet you at the foot of the Sneffels Range. Top of the Pines, a 175-acre outdoor recreation and open space preserve, comes complete with Nordic skiing, camping, hiking and mountain biking. Enjoy a cotton-candy sunset from the opening of your tent or teamwork activities on the ropes course.
Explore the History & Heritage of the Area
What started as a boom/bust mining town quickly became a visitor destination. Ridgway gained similar fame as a rail stop for the mining happening down the road. The Ridgway Railroad Museum and Ouray County Ranch History Museum tells that history while the Ouray County Historical Museum was deemed “One of the best little Museums in the West” by the Smithsonian Institution. Combine the great outdoors and a history lesson by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to Ironton, a former mining community turned ghost town. The trails are well-kept, and you’ll get to see the haunting structures left behind. If you want to see where one of the most famous Westerns was filmed, take a True Grit walking tour or pick up a free movie locations guide at the visitors center. Maybe you’ll see the ghost of Rooster Cogburn walking the streets.
Bring Out Your Inner Foodie
Treat yourself to some mouthwatering meals and liquid delights. Ridgway has been recognized as a top foodie destination in the state with six places taking top billing. Spend an early morning at Provisions at the Barbershop — you can’t get your haircut anymore, but you can get flaky pastries amid a very Instagramable backdrop. Lunch should be had at one of the top 15 mouthwatering taco shops in Colorado (according to Out There Colorado), Taco Del Gnar. We recommend the Drippy Mitch, aka the sloppy joe of tacos, with a side of queso blanco. Round out your day with stuffed Peppadew peppers, margherita pizza and a crisp Western Lager at Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery.
Ouray’s KJ Wood Distillers is on the Colorado Spirits Trail, making it a must visit for those who love whiskey. If the dark spirit isn’t for you, the town also has two craft breweries. Ouray Brewery is a favorite among locals, who you can find chatting with the brewers themselves and sipping the Bluegrass Pale Ale or the San Juan IPA. To soak up some of the refreshing beer, try the Cluck Norris sandwich (smoked chicken thigh topped with green-apple arugula slaw, smoked Gouda, barbecue sauce and jalapeño aioli) or the smoked-Gouda lobster mac. At Red Mountain Brewing, sip a series of red ales named after the nearby mountains, as well as an 1876 Centennial Pale Ale that honors the year Colorado became the 38th state. Then sample the perfectly battered fried pickles, caprese grilled cheese or the double-cut pork chop.