Come winter, the mountains of southwest Colorado are coated in snow and call to nature-loving snowshoers, Nordic skiers and ice climbers. And when you need a break from playing in the peaks, the cozy towns of Ouray and Ridgway offer a warm welcome and ample adventure, from hot springs soaks and theatrical performances to lively festivals and afternoons in brewery tasting rooms. Here’s a sliver of the winter wonders you’ll discover here.
1. Ouray Ice Park’s Crystalline Magic
Set in the scenic Uncompahgre Gorge are the frozen flows of the Ouray Ice Park — one of the world’s largest parks dedicated to ice climbing. Climbers will enjoy the park’s many enchantments, from glacial blue pillars erupting with icy stalactites to diamond sheets cascading down craggy rock faces. Admission is free, but helmets and crampons are mandatory for climbers entering the gorge. Ouray Mountain Sports can gear you up, as can Peak Mountain Guides and San Juan Mountain Guides, who also offer climbing classes (recommended for beginners).
Insider tip: Climbers and professionals from around the world fill the park on weekends. Skip these crowded times and hit the ice midweek to have your pick of the best routes.
2. Peaceful Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing Treks
You won’t see gondolas or a web of ski runs in Ouray and Ridgway, but you will find ample opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For an only-in-Colorado experience, float around a ghost town on Ironton Park’s 2.1-mile, groomed Townsite Loop Snow Trail. The volunteer-based Ouray County Nordic Council maintains the routes and provides regular grooming reports, so check their website before setting out.
Head to Ridgway to kick and glide through 4 miles of corduroy trails at Top of the Pines. Or hike around on the 14-plus miles of routes at Ridgway State Park, where you might spot elk, mule deer or Canada geese. Need gear? Ridgway Adventure Sports can set you up with snowshoes, skis, poles and more.
3. Exhilarating Backcountry Ski Adventures
The Sneffels Range is known for rugged wilderness and primo backcountry skiing. Packed with troves of powder stashes, the fir-trimmed clearings of the Red Mountain Pass area let you skip the lift lines and swish through a winter wonderland. When you’re ready to crash, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge will have a warm meal and cozy bed waiting, so you can recharge and get back to the backcountry.
To really get away from it all, grab your skis and hit the 60 miles of scenic trails that make up the San Juan Hut System. Traverse the routes between Ridgway, Ouray and Telluride, stopping to shred on untouched bowls, couloirs and snowfields along the way.
Insider tip: Backcountry skiing is a true high-altitude workout and avalanches can happen, even in a snowy paradise. An experienced local guide is key for a great — and safe — time in Colorado’s winter wilderness.
4. Soaks in Famed Hot Springs
After a day of skiing or snowshoeing, there’s no better way to soothe tired muscles than soaking in a hot spring surrounded by the snow-capped San Juans. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool has three options for winter water lovers, including a lap pool and a hot pool that reaches 106 degrees. Prefer to soak au naturel? While most people do wear suits at Orvis Hot Springs, you’re also welcome to relax, unwind and warm up with just the bare essentials in their geothermal mineral waters.
Ouray and Ridgway are both stops on Colorado’s Historic Hot Springs Loop. So, if your dream vacation includes hot springs right outside the hotel door, you’re in the right spot. Ridgway’s Chipeta Solar Springs Resort has two outdoor solar springs (solar-powered thermal pools). A little ways down the road, Ouray has three options for you — Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs.
5. A Lively Arts & Entertainment Scene
The charming, walkable downtowns of Ouray and Ridgway are known for unique local shops and historic gems, but that’s not all — they’re also home to two of the Colorado Creative Corridor’s small-town stages, which put on big acts for audiences year-round. The Sherbino — affectionately called “The Sherb” or “Ridgway’s living room” by locals — hosts an array of musicals, concerts, speakers, comedy and touring film festivals. (Fun fact: The building has also been home to a roller rink, yurt factory, saloon, post office and illegal gambling hall.)
Within the picturesque Italianate walls of The Wright Opera House in Ouray, you can catch weekly Wednesday movie screenings and Sunday matinees, along with select dance and musical performances. Or tap your own creative sap by taking a class or workshop at Weehawken Creative Arts, where you can immerse yourself in everything from fiber arts to photography.
6. Winter Festivals With Local Flavor
Chipmunks and bears may hibernate when temperatures drop, but Ouray and Ridgway come alive with Winter Fest, a six-week-long seasonal jubilee. This frosty fete is packed with weekly theatrical and musical performances, movie screenings, skiing and ice-climbing clinics, dinners, fireworks, a polar bear plunge, and — believe it or not — much more! You’ll even find festivals within the festival, including the San Juan Skijoring and UtePils Beer Festival. This two-in-one event spotlights local breweries as well as skijoring — a one-of-a-kind sport where cowboys riding horses pull skiers through a challenging course of gates, jumps and obstacles.
Winter Fest wraps up with the annual Ouray Ice Festival, a four-day celebration of all things icy. Watch as the world’s best ice and mixed climbing talent artfully navigate frozen sheets and gnarly crags. In between events, you can shop for outdoor gear, take a climbing clinic and warm up at the nightly dance party.
7. Trailblazing Breweries & Distilleries
It’s no secret that Colorado produces some of the country’s best craft beers and spirits. But what you might not know is that many of the state’s top tipples hail from small mountain towns, and Ouray and Ridgway are both spotlighted on the official Southwest Colorado Crafted Beverages Tour.
Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery serves up rich stouts and crisp red ales alongside artisan pizza in both towns. And in the tasting room of KJ Wood Distillers — also a member of the Colorado Spirits Trail — you can sip signature cocktails made from the distillery’s own gin, whiskey and blue-corn vodka. For elevated pub fare, rotating taps and stellar service, pop into Red Mountain Brewing. Or sample the impressive menu of IPAs, APAs, porters and more at Ouray Brewery, where you can also savor pub-style meals with Colorado flair.