When it comes to quintessential Rocky Mountain landscapes, no place in the world delivers quite like Ouray. The southwest Colorado hamlet’s high-alpine passes, pastoral valleys and snow-flecked peaks earn it the nickname “Switzerland of America” — and display an off-the-charts roster of incredible vistas. Here’s where to find them.
San Juan Skyway
The 236-mile byway travels through the kaleidoscopic San Juan Mountains, connecting the scenic enclaves of Ouray, Silverton, Ridgway, Telluride, Dolores, Cortez and Durango. Coveted photo spots include the Dallas Divide between Telluride and Ridgway in June, when blue skies and fields of lupines and yellow daisies flank 14,157-foot Mt. Sneffels, and Molas Pass in the autumn, when bands of golden aspens give the mountains a special glow.
Ouray Hot Springs Pool
While all five hot springs in Ouray and nearby Ridgway — including Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Weisbaden Hot Springs, Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and Orvis Hot Springs — are worth a soak, views of the surrounding 13,000-foot peaks from Ouray Hot Springs Pool, as steam rises from the natural mineral waters, are simply dreamy. Built in 1927, the pool is currently closed for renovations and plans to reopen in May 2017 with new soaking pools, zero-entry areas, waterfalls, lap lanes and a climbing and diving platform.
Box Canyon Waterfall & Park
A 285-foot cascade spills into a narrow quartzite canyon as 100-foot rock walls tower above at Box Canyon Falls. Embark on a short hike to the steel bridge across the canyon to admire the falls and soak up unobstructed panoramas of the town cradled by a mighty river valley. The park is also beautiful to visit in the wintertime, when the falls look like they’re frozen in time (the trails may be icy so wear shoes with proper traction).
Yankee Boy Basin Trail
Photographers in 4x4 vehicles flock to Yankee Boy Basin — just one of Ouray’s many renowned off-road trails — in late spring and early summer to observe the swaths of wildflowers that infuse the area with eye-popping color. Other cool things to see along the trail include pretty Twin Falls, sky-scraping Mt. Sneffels and Camp Bird Mine, the remains of an old gold mine.
Ouray Hiking & Biking Trails
From sights of the ruggedly stunning San Juans from the popular Perimeter Trail to glimpses of otherworldly turquoise lakes on the challenging Blue Lakes Trail, hiking routes in and near Ouray lead to countless only-in-Colorado views. There are also plenty of picturesque road-biking opportunities for avid cyclists, including paved pathways along the Uncompahgre River for beginners and exhilarating cruises over Red Mountain Pass for seasoned riders.
Ridgway State Park
Ridgway State Park, with a 5-mile-wide reservoir and a variety of alpine backdrops, is a beauty just 15 miles from Ouray. Go boating on the sparkling reservoir, stretch out on the swim beach or enjoy a stroll on one of the trails traversing the park’s different environmental zones. Primo camping is available at three sites. Our favorite: Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground offers tranquil river vistas in a secluded ponderosa pine forest.
Ouray Ice Park
In the wintertime, shimmering slabs of giant icicles reminiscent of the ice palace in “Frozen” hang from the town’s canyons — attracting curious spectators and avid ice climbers from around the world. Ouray Ice Park, home to the famed Ouray Ice Festival, boasts more than 200 ice and mixed climbs and is an unparalleled locale to watch climbers in action. Other places to find photogenic wintery scenes include Ironton Park south of Ouray, which has miles of groomed and ungroomed Nordic trails, and along the San Juan Hut System, featuring five huts connected by 60 miles of trails for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. More winter adventures in Ouray >>
Constructed between 1880 and the early 1900s, the colorful buildings on Ouray’s Main Street (also a National Historic District) celebrate the town’s silver- and gold-mining boomtown past. Many of the structures have their original Mesker features: ornamental sheet-metal facades and cast-iron storefront components that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Noteworthy buildings include The Beaumont Hotel, Ouray County Courthouse and The Wright Opera House — all of which look lovely nestled against the surrounding hills.
Photo credits: Yankee Boy Basin, aerial view of Ouray and Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Kane Scheidegger; Ouray Ice Park, Miles; winter panorama of Ouray, Taylor Franta.