I really had a tough time deciding where to go in Colorado this year. Do I stick with my old favorites, the familiar places I know and love? Or explore some new areas? Ultimately, I did a little bit of both, but I couldn’t resist the rumors of the San Juan mountain range. I spent 1 night in Telluride several years ago, but otherwise this was a new corner of Colorado for me.
Ouray is called “the Switzerland of America” which is funny, since I just returned from two weeks of hiking in Switzerland. Switzerland was beautiful, but I found the diversity of scenery in Ouray even better – in addition to the usual mountain peaks, you also have a lot of red rock, including the Red Mountains, which were so scenic! I arrived from Silverton and Durango over the “Million Dollar Highway” which provided breathtaking scenery, but also required 100% attention on the road!
Ouray’s downtown is a designated National Historic District and serves as the hub for all kinds of outdoor recreation, including hot springs, hundreds of miles of historic Jeep trails, the world-famous Ouray Ice Park and close to 100 hiking trails. History buffs will also appreciate the mining history and Victorian buildings that remain in and around Ouray.
Ouray Jeep Tour
Ouray is a prime destination for Jeep and 4×4 enthusiasts. I tried taking my Subaru down a mining road and after scraping up the bumper during a 137-point turn, I decided I better leave the off-roading to the professionals. (That Subaru is my home!) Walking down Main St, I popped in to Colorado West Jeep Tours to see about a tour. They had two scheduled for the following day, so I signed up for the morning departure, which was a 4-hour ride to Imogene Pass. ($61.95 for 1 adult)
We met our driver, Ken, an Ouray native, at 8am and since there were only 3 of us on the tour, we were able to take a comfortable Jeep instead of the usual open-air trucks they take on the tour. At first, I worried this might be less adventurous, but it was still super fun, just warmer!
Ken was full of information about the mining history – his dad was a miner – as well as current developments in the area. When I expressed my surprise that everyday tourists can waltz in and rent a Jeep, he regaled us with tales of horror stories and I was once again glad I was not in the drivers seat!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Just one hour from Ouray, Black Canyon is a relatively new National Park (designated in 1999) and much less crowded than many other National Parks. The canyon is carved by the Gunnison River, which drops an average of 95 feet per mile in the park carving a canyon that is an average of 2,000 feet deep. The park is also designated as an International Dark Sky Park and has special astronomy programs.
The South Rim drive offers 12 viewpoints where you can exit your car and get astounding views of the canyon and river below. The viewpoints and short trails are mostly dog-friendly, which was a pleasant surprise.
Taking the East Portal road, you can drop (at 16% grade!) down to the river level, where you’ll also find the campground.
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Photography in Ouray
Of course, photography is a part of most of my activities, but on this trip I spent a lot of time driving around specifically in pursuit of some cool shots. Following directions from Photographing the Southwest: Volume 3-Colorado/New Mexico, I had a great time chasing down interesting locations that were off the beaten path. Through the book, I learned that there is a public highway easement right through Ralph Lauren’s 17,000 acre ranch, so of course I had to take a spin back there!
The book mostly targets scenic stands of aspen trees, which will be glorious in the fall…most likely late September. Sadly, I was a few weeks early, but I can’t complain about the scenery!
Dog Boarding in Ouray
Not all of Ouray’s activities are dog-friendly, but that’s no reason to miss out! (But please don’t leave your dog in the car or tent!) I stopped in to Ouray Dog Company on Main St, to ask about dog boarding in town. I was directed to Chris’ Pet Grooming, LLC. Chris lives right in town and was able to fit Bailey in for a 1/2 day while I went on a Jeep tour. She charged $20 for 1/2 day, which seemed really reasonable, especially given the short notice!
I stayed at the Ouray KOA for this trip. The campground is just 10 minutes from downtown Ouray and also close to nearby Ridgway. The tent sites are separated from the RV area, which is nice, although more shade would have been nice! It’s a huge campground with multiple sections. There were bears in camp each night (I heard about bear problems throughout Ouray) but luckily they stayed out of my site! The Creekside Cafe serves breakfast daily from 7:30-10:30. Since I visited after Labor Day, they were running specials to get rid of inventory, so the menu was limited, but at a great discount!
I initially stopped at 4J+1+1 RV Park in town as I thought the location was nice, in walking distance of Main St. However, all of the campsites were just rocks on cement, and on top of each other with no separating trees or anything. The ladies were very nice and refunded my money when I realized there was no way I could get a tent stake in the ground. If you’ve got a camper and want to be right in town, this is a good spot right on the river!
Getting to Ouray
Ouray is fairly remote as far as Colorado towns go. You will need a vehicle as there is no airport in Ouray. I approached from the south, coming through Durango and Silverton. This is a super scenic route, but would scare me in sketchy weather! You can also arrive through Montrose in the north, which is also where you’ll find the nearest commercial airport.
Have you been to Colorado? What’s your favorite mountain town?So much fun to be had in Ouray, Colorado! @Ouray_CO #VisitOuray Click To Tweet