Ouray, Colorado: One of America’s Prettiest Small Towns Offers Big Adventure Too

The post was written by my wife:

Looking down on Ouray from trail above town

Looking down on Ouray from trail above town

Ouray (pronounced “you•ray”), Colorado has to be one of the prettiest small towns in America, well deserving of its nickname “The Switzerland of America.”  I’d forgotten just how pretty it is until we visited there with my parents over Memorial Day weekend.  Both of my parents were raised in Ouray, and in fact, both my father and grandfather were born there.  We spent a lot of time in Ouray when I was a child, visiting relatives and enjoying the myriad of outdoor activities available in the area.

Beaumont Hotel right on Main Street

Beautifully restored Beaumont Hotel right on Main Street

Beautiful rock cliffs encircle Ouray in almost 360 degrees, rising directly from town and leaving it an isolated oasis.  The Uncompahgre River skirts town on the west.  Time has almost forgotten Ouray.  I think there is still only one paved street in town, Main Street, the rest remain dirt.  The town is quaint:  the owners of the Victorian-era homes in the area take great pride in preserving the historic charm of their residences.  Historic buildings such at the old Beaumont Hotel that stood abandoned for many years have been renovated and brought back to life.  The Beaumont now has a spa too!

Even with all of the history, Ouray has been updated in fantastic ways.  It used to be full of what I called “cheesy rock shops and mine tours” and not a lot of variety in the dining department.  Now wandering through town, we counted no less than three breweries, multiple coffee shops, impressive art galleries, quality outdoor gear stores, and ethnic restaurants, including Italian and Mexican.  Don’t worry, you can still find the obligatory souvenir t-shirt shops, and rock shops, as well.

When we spent time in Ouray years ago, the outdoor activities were limited to the summer months.  In July, Yankee Boy Basin sports some of the most incredible wildflower displays you’ll ever see in your life.  Right from town you can visit Box Cañon where water from Canyon Creek literally roars down through a deep and narrow boxed canyon that was created by a fault in weakened limestone.  The noise is incredible and the water spray and cool canyon are a treat on a hot summer day!

There are several 14ers (14,000+ foot peaks) in the area that are popular with the hiking crowd.  You’ll find a considerable number of less “intense” hiking trails in the area as well, including a circuit trail that completely circumnavigates the town.  Ouray probably has some of the most scenic 4-wheel drive roads in the world that lead to hidden mine sites and ghost towns.  I recall many Jeep trips when my father told us to get out of the Jeep and walk through a particularly dicey section of road while he drove extra-cautiously so as not to roll the Jeep off the side of the road and thousands of feet down the side of the mountain.  From watching him, I know that some of the happiest moments of my dad’s life have been, and continue to be, when he’s behind the wheel of a Jeep tooling through the mountains!

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls (5 minute walk from town) become ice climbing challenge in the winter months

Until maybe 15 or 20 years ago, Ouray became almost a ghost town in the winter.  That was until the world realized the ice climbing potential of the area!  Now Ouray is world-renowned for its ice climbing on the dramatic frozen waterfalls accessible right in town.  The Ouray Ice Park was the world’s first ice climbing park and climbing there is free.  Of course, snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails are easily accessible from town and a drive to Telluride or Silverton (some of the best backcountry powder skiing in Colorado) for some alpine or telemark turns is not out of the question either.

Ouray has a natural hot springs pool that is open year-round and is the perfect end to a delightfully strenuous day of hiking or climbing.

If you ask me, Ouray has a little bit of something for everyone.  You’ve just got to experience it!

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About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company (http://www.offtrailtravel.com). After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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