Summer Fun in Ouray, Colorado

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!

Red Mountains

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.

Downtown Ouray

Ouray Jeep Tour

Colorado West Jeep TourImogene Pass

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)

Colorado West Jeep TourImogene Pass

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!

Colorado West Jeep TourImogene Pass

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.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Taking the East Portal road, you can drop (at 16% grade!) down to the river level, where you’ll also find the campground.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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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!

Sneffels Range

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!

Sneffels Range

Sneffels Range

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!

Uncompahgre River in downtown Ouray

Ouray Campgrounds

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!

Camping setupColeman Air Mattress Cot

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


Career Break Month 1 Recap

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already! I still just feel like I’m on a vacation and due back at the office at any minute. It’s been a whirlwind month, and I’m looking forward to slowing down a bit more next month.

I started August in Chicago. The 3rd was my last day of employment, and on the 4th I emptied my apartment and headed to my mom’s house in the Quad Cities. After a quick turnaround there, I flew to Europe for 17 days, where I hiked and traveled through the Swiss Alps on the Haute Route.

On the way home from Switzerland, I took advantage of Iceland Air’s layover option and spent 24 hours in Reykjavik. I visited the Blue Lagoon right after landing, spent the night downtown at the Hotel Fron, and in the morning joined Wake Up Reykjavik for a food tour before hopping a plane back to the States.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Sun Voyager Sculpture in Reykjavik, Iceland

Flying to O’Hare and not taking the Blue Line to my apartment was kind of weird. Instead, I crashed in a friend’s guest room and the next morning drove back to the Quad Cities, with a detour to LaSalle-Peru to pop in on the annual Criswell family canoe trip. After two more nights in the Quad Cities, I officially started my road trip!

Bailey ready for our road trip!

Ready for a 4-month road trip!

A 6-hour drive brought me to Olathe, Kansas for 2 nights where I was working with the Chamber of Commerce.

Lake Olathe - Olathe, Kansas

After 2 nights in Olathe, I headed West again to Denver. I stayed in the South suburbs for two nights and aside from dinner with Denver-area friends, I used this time to catch up on blog work before heading to the mountains for the Labor Day weekend.

Dinner at Racine's in Denver with Kathy, Lina, Karen, Margaret, Cheryl and Deborah

September will take me to Colorado, Utah and Oregon – stay tuned for updates! (Sign up for my email updates and you’ll get new posts emailed to you each Friday!)

So…how was your August? Any big plans for September? (It’s the best month for travel, in my opinion!)


Colorado Summer Activities

I have been visiting Colorado on family summer vacations since I was a youngster. My grandma was the first one to take me to Colorado, way back in 1983.  Her love of travel definitely inspired me and she even helped me pay for my first trip to Europe. Even though I rarely visit the same place twice, I keep coming back to Colorado year after year.  Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Colorado in the summer!

Me in Estes Park or Pikes Peak

Hot Springs

Thermal springs aren’t unique to Colorado, but they are definitely part of a true mountain experience! There is nothing like a hot springs soak to ward off the sore muscles of high altitude hiking.

There are roadside hot springs, backcountry hot springs (like Conundrum Hot Springs), and larger commercial hot springs, like Glenwood Hot Springs.  All heavenly, especially after a day of hiking!

Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

Most recently, I spent a long fall weekend at Mt Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista. I loved staying in cabins right at the hot springs and jumping in whenever I wanted!

Cooling off after morning yoga (it was about 50 degrees outside!)

Mountain Town Vibes

Of course Colorado has legendary ski hills and ski towns. I’ve had the pleasure of skiing at Breckenridge and Vail, both of which ruined me from ever skiing in the Midwest again. As much as I love winter sports, I love the laid-back vibe of ski towns in the summer even more. In my youth, we’d venture into Aspen for a day trip and ogle the rich and famous, hoping to get a glimpse of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. These days, I prefer the slightly less pretentious vibes of Breckenridge and Crested Butte.

Lunch at Extreme Pizza in Breckenridge

A good option for lodging in Breckenridge is the Marriott Mountain Valley Lodge .  This resort is gorgeous and the perfect place to recoup from my strenuous 14’er hike!

Some of my favorite non-ski towns are Leadville, Buena Vista and Glenwood Springs. You won’t find ski-town prices or amenities here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! These towns are all a great hub for summer adventures, including whitewater rafting!

Rocky Mountain National Park

Of all the years I’ve been visiting Colorado, I didn’t visit Rocky Mountain National Park until recently, en route to Utah for a whitewater trip on the Green River. I camped for two nights at Moraine Campground inside the park. (Reserve far in advance for any National Park campgrounds!)

Rocky Mountain National Park

In addition to meeting up with some Colorado friends for a nice dayhike to Ouzel Falls, I also spent a lot of time just driving through the park.  In Estes Park, I saw my first ever Colorado bear!  Again, many many many trips to Colorado and I’d never seen a bear in that state!  Check!

The park is gorgeous, and Trail Ridge Road highlights the best of it!  I just love Colorado, especially in September!  You get the most beautiful weather and everything starts turning gold.

Hike a 14’er

Colorado is hiker’s heaven. Once you are acclimated to lack of oxygen, that is! There are so many options for hiking no matter where you are staying.

If you feel up for the task, and like a challenge, check out your options for attempting one of the 14’er hikes in Colorado. (These are peaks over 14,000 feet high) My first, and only, was Mt Bierstadt, near Georgetown. I started out just after sunrise, at 36 degrees, and quickly had a moose sighting at Bierstadt Lake.  The entire hike is above treeline, affording gorgeous views and to my relief, you could see the parking lot from the entire route, which was a small comfort since this was a solo hike. After a ridiculous amount of time to hike 3 miles, I reached the summit!  What a great feeling that was! Bierstadt is an “easy” 14’er and a short hike, fairly crowded with people, but it still felt like a big accomplishment to me.  I’m not in the best of shape, so I was happy to not die!

Grays and Torreys peaks on the left

Ghost Towns

Colorado is full of old mining towns to explore.  Some are cheesy tourist traps, others offer intriguing glimpses into another era.

St. Elmo ghost town, outside Buena Vista, is a short drive from Mt Princeton Hot Springs.  Being very accessible, no 4WD required, St Elmo is more crowded and touristy than more remote ghost towns, but it’s still fun to walk around and visit the general store!

St Elmo Ghost Town

Near Marble, Colorado (our summer vacation spot) – is the ghost town of Crystal, home of the famous mill, which is accessible by foot, Jeep or horseback.  Crystal was a mining town in the late 1800’s and had 400+ residents at its peak.  Today, there are perhaps a dozen cabins remaining and used in the summer months by a few lucky families. I had the contact info for one of the families and was able to rent one for two nights with my aunt.The town can be reached by 4WD, but we chose to hike the Jeep road.

Our cabin was primitive, but I absolutely loved it! It had running water, in the form of a hose running from the creek out back. That’s an outhouse back there, too! And a wood burning stove, which we didn’t use. So, it’s not truly backpacking, but pretty primitive.  No electricity, of course!  These were real cabins from Crystal’s heydey in the 1860’s or so.

The Sperry cabin, which we rented for two nights.  (Outhouse included)

Crystal is truly a magical little spot, and I hope I’m lucky enough to come back here and stay again!  I’m envious of the lucky few who own these cabins and return summer after summer.  What a life!

Horseback Riding

I love being able to take a horse up into the mountains. It can be pricy, so it’s not something I do on every visit, but it’s definitely worth it. I like being in super remote places, and it’s not always feasible to hike or backpack, so horses are a great way to cover some ground. Most stables offer a range of packages from family-friendly outings to more advanced multi-day trail rides. If you have some experience, be sure to call ahead and assess the trip you want to sign up for. You don’t want to spend your day on a pony ride around a ranch!

In Leadville, I joined Half Moon Packing & Outfitting for a day on the Colorado Trail. Horseback riding is really popular in Colorado, so your hotel concierge will likely have recommendations, no matter where you are staying.

9.18.09 - Kaleb and Buttercup

Night Skies

When you get up into the mountains, there’s just no comparing the night sky.  You can find much better pictures than mine on the Internet, but if an amateur photog like me can capture the Milky Way, imagine how great it is in person!  The hardest part is staying up late enough after a full day of adventure.

The Milky Way

If you haven’t been to Colorado yet, what are you waiting for?!


Colorado Summer Activities