Surrounded by the towering San Juan mountains, Ouray is a Southern Colorado mountain town pulled straight from a storybook.
This small mountain town sits at 7,792 feet in elevation and is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges standing 13,000 feet tall. These dramatic mountain ranges make Ouray one of the most Instagrammable mountain towns in America.
No matter where in town you are, the view of the 13,000-foot mountains from 5,200 feet lower will overwhelm you with their beauty.
What’s Ouray known for?
Other than its panoramic views, Ouray attracts ice climbers and skiiers in the wintertime.
Springtime can surprise you with anything from a blizzard… to a hot, sunny day (sometimes all in the same day).
During the summer, people visit Ouray for hiking, rock climbing, 4-wheel driving, horseback riding, and even rafting.
And during the autumn, the aspen trees make driving through Ouray bright and picturesque.
Its natural hot springs are a popular attraction year round – whether you’re escaping the cold or just trying to relax for a few hours.
Whenever you do visit, visit with the intent to soak in this quaint, picturesque mountain town. After all, you won’t find restaurants open past nine, so it’s the perfect opportunity to tuck in and wake up early to take full advantage of your stay there.
After spending all day hiking around its beautiful trails and mountains, you can sit back and relax in Ouray’s sulfur-free hot springs. You’ll enjoy ending the day relaxing your muscles in hot water.
Getting to Ouray, Colorado
If you’re thinking about flying in to visit Ouray, the nearest airport is in Montrose, Colorado. The drive will take you South approximately 45 minutes.
You can drive to Ouray one of two ways. You can drive into town from either the North or the South via Highway 550.
Once you’re there, Ouray is very easy to navigate. The town itself is an eight block by eight block grid surrounded by beautiful mountains. While we were in town, we didn’t even need to drive.
Day One in Ouray
If you’re driving from the North, drive through the town (Hwy. 550) and head uphill again towards Bear Creek Falls.
Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls makes a great first stop during your trip to Ouray. Nestled a couple minutes south of the town off of Highway 550, it’s a beautiful place to begin your adventure exploring Ouray. After you exit the town, you’ll turn the curb and eventually go under a small tunnel.
After you exit the tiny tunnel, you’ll be able to pull over at the Bear Creek Falls lookout point. From the lookout point, you also get a beautiful view of the valley. You can even continue your drive through the valley on what’s known as the Million Dollar Highway.
The Million Dollar Highway
If you continue driving South from Bear Creek Falls, you can continue on Highway 550 South – better known as the Million Dollar Highway. This highway, which cost one million dollars to build (hence the name), was built along the mountainside. Which means that in addition to steep cliffs and blind turns, the highway has narrow shoulders.
The drive itself takes you through different types of scenery. If you can swing it, drive along the Million Dollar Highway in the autumn and enjoy the sight of the aspen leaves changing colors.
There are only a few places you can pull to the side of the road and snap a photo. But when you get the opportunity, do it.
If you make your way down to the next town of Silverton, the drive should take you about 1.5-2 hours round trip.
The Perimeter Trail runs along the upper perimeter (who would have guessed, right?) of Ouray. Most trails around Ouray lead to the Perimeter Trail at one point or another.
One of the entrances is at Ice Park Trailhead.
To find this trail, drive South right out of town and follow signs that point towards “Box Canyon” off Highway 550. You’ll see it after the first curve.
You can park in a large, unpaved area at the bottom of the hill and then walk up the hill. If you follow these directions, you’ll find the Ice Park Loop trailhead on your left-hand side.
After nearly 1 mile (0.9 per the signage), the Ice Park Trailhead merges onto the Perimeter Trail. Taking this way leads you into the forest, and across a river.
You’ll pass a hydroelectric dam, old cabins, beautiful views, a rushing river, and a crystal clear lake.
Eventually, the trail takes you back to town, where you can cross the street to continue on the Perimeter Trail. When you do, you are met with a gorgeous view of the valley and the mountains surrounding it.
You can access the Box Canyon trailhead from Third Street in Downtown Ouray. The entrance fee is $3 or $4 per adult, but every dollar is worth it.
The entire experience at Box Canyon Park is unforgettable.
If you walk towards the back of the park, you’ll find a steel walkway that goes through the canyon towards Box Canyon Falls. The waterfall itself rushes down into the canyon. The canyon amplifies the sound of the water so you can really hear the water rushing.
At the end of the walkway, you can walk down and into the canyon.
Outside of the canyon, you’ll also find a staircase that leads up the mountain, giving you a beautiful view of the town.
At the end of the staircase, you’ll find a nice, shaded resting area with a good view of the town. You have the option to continue walking uphill. If you can manage, keep going! Just be prepared to walk uphill on rocks. If you’re used to it, it should be no problem given that the walk uphill isn’t a long distance.
Once you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views of the town.
If you do visit Ouray, consider this hike a must-do.
End your two-day trip across town with a short walk up to Cascade Falls: a massive waterfall amidst a serene natural setting.
To get to Cascade Falls, you can park in the lot located at the end of 8th Avenue right in Ouray. Otherwise, the walk to the trailhead itself is very close to town and easily accessible by foot.
Once you’re there, you can find a rock or bench to get comfortable and enjoy a nice picnic by the water.
Instagrammable Ouray: a year-round destination
The outdoor activities to enjoy in Ouray are endless: jeep tours, canyoneering, hiking, rock climbing. All the while ending your day soaking in the sulfur-free hot springs with a beautiful freaking view of the surrounding mountains.
For such a small town, it’s amazing that its activities are countless. Like, if soaking in hot springs at the end of the day just isn’t your thing, doesn’t it sound great to enjoy a beer on the rooftop at the Ouray Brewery?
So, yes: you have to add this Instagrammable mountain town to your bucket list.
Krista Aoki is a website and graphic designer whose passion lies in empowering others to live an unconventional life. Learn more about Krista’s projects on her website or read more of her writing on her blog.