20 Best Things to Do in Ouray, CO

Ouray, CO
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The district of Ouray, Colorado, is also known as the “Switzerland of America,” and for a good reason.

Like its Alpine counterpart, Ouray has its fair share of snowy attractions and gorgeous mountainside views.

It even has hot springs.

Its central location in the mountains of Southwest Colorado also makes Ouray the state’s “Outdoor Recreation Capitol.”

You can’t find a better mountainside destination in the US unless you go to Switzerland yourself.

However, Ouray remains unique because of its connections with history.

As a National Historic District, the place has done its part in preserving the historic buildings that line its charming downtown streets.

Likewise, the district hosts several local businesses, like shops and restaurants, which should spell a memorable trip.

Do you want to know more about Ouray, CO? Check out the list below.

Challenge Your Driving Skills at Yankee Boy Basin

View of Yankee Boy Basin
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Put your skills to the test by driving to Yankee Boy Basin, one of the highest mountain roads in Colorado.

Going to Yankee Boy Basin requires traversing a completely unpaved trail of 7.56 kilometers until you reach the alpine basin.

Moreover, the basin sits at 12,526 feet above sea level, which makes the journey even scarier.

Waterfalls at Yankee Boy Basin
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However, the trip itself promises its own rewards.

If you like photography, you’ll never run out of nature subjects in the surrounding flora, fauna, and waterfalls.

Likewise, if you’re a history buff, you’ll geek out at the abandoned mines and cabins dotting the trail.

Scenic view of Yankee Boy Basin
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Since the trail to Yankee Boy Basin can be treacherous, you need to bring the right vehicle for the task.

Drivers recommend driving medium to high-clearance vehicles to reach the basin.

If you want to go to the Mt. Sneffels trailhead, then you need a 4-wheel drive.

Wildflowers at Yankee Boy Basin
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Enjoy Craft Drinks at KJ Wood Distillers

After a long day of hiking and climbing, you’d want to unwind with a drink.

Started by K John Wood in 2010, the distillery came out of his passion for crafting homemade brews and homemade wines.

Wood spent two more years honing his skills and creating his own spirit brands.

After coming up with his own whiskey and gin recipes, Wood officially opened up shop.

KJ Wood Distillers offers a delectable array of craft spirits made from the pure glacial waters of the Rocky Mountains, as well as fine local barley, local corn, and spices from the Silk Road.

Among their handcrafted spirits are rye whiskey, gin, bourbon, and vodka.

Take a Relaxing Dip in the Ouray Hot Springs

The waters of Ouray Hot Springs
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Another hot spring you can visit in Ouray is the Ouray Hot Springs.

Their water comes from the mineral water of the Box Canyon.

From its source, the water flows naturally toward the pool inside the spring grounds.

Historically, the people of Ouray used this water source for their hot water needs from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Aerial View of Ouray Hot Springs
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Today, the pool ensures constant freshwater because of its intuitive “flow-through design.”

Water that enters the pool also exits through specific pipelines.

So, you can look forward to clean and odorless hot spring water no matter when you come by.

Visit the Ouray Hot Springs Pool at 1220 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427.

View of Ouray Hot Springs at night
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Go Rock Climbing at Peak Mountain Guides

Do you want a more difficult outdoor challenge at Ouray?

You should try rock climbing with Peak Mountain Guides.

Founded in 2008, the company provides tourists an exciting and thrilling adventure, guided by experts who want them to succeed.

Their Ouray location offers various challenge courses, such as ice climbing, skiing, and rock climbing.

With Peak Mountain Guides, you’ll see another side to the “Switzerland of America.”

Visit Peak Mountain Guides at 311 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427.

Enter a World of Ice at the Ouray Ice Park

Ice climbing at Ouray Ice Park
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Ouray isn’t the “Switzerland of America” for nothing.

Every year, tourists who want to escape the grime and noise of urban life flock to Ouray for its highly acclaimed Ice Park.

In fact, the place is so popular it’s also become known as the “Ice Mecca.”

Before the park opens, ice farmers transform the Uncompahgre Gorge into an ice wonderland by spraying gallons of water on the canyon walls.

View of Ouray Ice Park
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After that, the Ouray Ice Park takes over the one-mile span of the gorge.

The park offers more than 100 manmade ice and mixed climbs and 11 climbing areas.

Likewise, you can hike along three miles of vertical terrain.

Visit the Ouray Ice Park at 280 Co Rd 361, Ouray, CO 81427.

Ice formations of Ouray Ice Park
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Visit Two Stops at the Bear Creek Trail

Bear Creek Trail is unique among Ouray’s hiking trails because it allows you to complete two tasks in one.

First, you get to finish a challenging hike.

Second, you can check out Ouray’s historic two-hundred-year-old mines at the end.

Be careful, though, since you’ll need to cross narrow ledges to enter the abandoned mines.

In 1979, Bear Creek Trail became a National Recreation Trail for its majestic views and surrounding ecology.

Hiking the trail takes about four to five hours.

Because of the trail’s steep cliffs and deep drops, you might not want to bring your dogs.

The Bear Creek Trail starts at Highway 550, Ouray, CO.

See a Performance at the Wright Opera House

Outside View of Wright Opera House
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Built in 1888 by the Wright Family, the Wright Opera House stands along Ouray’s Main Street.

The Wrights wanted to inject a dose of arts and culture into a town dominated by the rough and tumble mining culture.

Through the centuries, the Wright Opera House hosted live concerts, movie screenings, and other performances.

Facade of Wright Opera House
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The Wright Opera House closed down in 2006, but a community initiative brought it back.

Today, the opera house continues its historical tradition of bringing tasteful entertainment, arts, and culture to the local Ouray community and the tourists.

Visit the Wright Opera House at 472 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427.

Learn Local History at the Ouray County Museum

As mentioned above, Ouray is unique because of its rich history.

If you want to know all about this local heritage, you’ll need to visit the Ouray County Museum.

The museum used to be the St. Joseph’s Miner’s Hospital, which opened in 1887 and operated until 1964.

In 1971, the museum began putting on exhibits, featuring artifacts from Ouray’s past as a mining, ranching, and railroading town.

Many of these objects also date back to the town’s establishment in 1875.

In terms of mining history, the museum also displays an assortment of minerals for geologists to enjoy.

If you’re curious about Native American history, you can also check out the Native American artifacts on display.

Visit the Ouray County Museum at 420 6th Avenue, Ouray, CO 81427.

Go Hiking at the Box Canyon Falls Park

Aerial view of Box Canyon Falls Park
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Start your Ouray vacation with a trip to Box Canyon Falls Park.

The long hike is capped off with a view of the Box Canyon Falls, where an 85-foot wall of water thunders down Canyon Creek.

Every minute, thousands of gallons of water spill over the waterfall, rushing toward a canyon walled by 100-foot quartzite.

Views from Box Canyon Falls Park
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You can follow three hiking trails toward the waterfall.

These are the Falls Trail, the High Bridge Trail, and the Native Plant Loop.

Each trail is designed for a specific purpose.

For instance, the Native Plant Loop is intended for hikers who want to check out the local plant life.

Meanwhile, people who want to see Ouray from above should take the High Bridge Trail.

Visit the Box Canyon Falls Park at Box Canyon Road, Ouray, CO.

Scenic view of Box Canyon Falls Park
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Try Sledding at Vinegar Hill

Sledding is a hundred-year-old tradition in Ouray. Every year, the mountainside town closes off one of its roads so that people can go sledding.

So, if you want to try it, just head over to the corner of 5th Avenue and 5thStreet, in downtown Ouray.

Where did this hill get its name?

According to local history, the hill got its name from a bottle of vinegar, which an early sledding party poured on themselves.

Harsh winters used to close the town of Ouray from other towns.

One Christmas, the citizens of Ouray decided to hold a grand sledding party after a community dinner.

They went to the town’s highest hill and broke a bottle of vinegar to celebrate because they had no liquor.

Today, people who want to go winter sledding can go to Vinegar Hill.

The tubing hill is free, so anybody can go.

Go Hiking Again to the Cascade Falls

View of Cascade Falls
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Your Ouray itinerary involves a lot of climbing and hiking, but your ultimate destinations will make all the effort worth it.

One of these destinations is Cascade Falls, an impressive natural wonder that you can see from almost anywhere in Ouray.

To get there, you’ll need to drive east along 8th Avenue until you reach the Cascade Falls parking lot.

Then, you’ll take the rather steep ¼ mile walk to the waterfall.

A Sign at Cascade Falls
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Near the base of the falls, you can take a break at the shelter built by the Ouray Trail Group.

The waterfall comprises seven divisions in Cascade Creek.

At the top of the series lies Upper Cascade Falls, which should only be attempted by experienced hikers.

On the other hand, Lower Cascade Falls is a much easier hike.

Take your time to feel the spray of the rushing water while admiring its limitless power.

Scenic view of Cascade Falls
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Take a Break at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings

The Wiesbaden hot springs in Ouray take their water from the San Juan Mountains.

At their hottest, the springs reach a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit.

Historically, the hot springs were also a sacred site for the Ute peoples who settled the area.

They used the waters for rituals, owing to their restorative ability.

Today, the Wiesbaden hot springs have become one of Ouray’s popular attractions.

If you’ve been hiking all day, make sure to rest your bones at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings.

Likewise, if you want to get a natural treatment for arthritis, the hot springs are for you.

The Wiesbaden hot springs have slowly developed into a charming spa and hotel over the past five decades.

People from all over the world flock to the place to rest their weary bodies.

The springs themselves contain minerals that help soothe tired muscles.

Likewise, the spa provides massage treatments that add to your relaxation.

Visit the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings at 81432, 625 5thStreet, Ouray, CO 81427.

Enjoy Another Hike at the Ouray Perimeter Trail

View of the rocky Ouray Perimeter Trail
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Ouray, CO, offers plenty of hiking trails for the rugged adventurer.

One of them is the Ouray Perimeter Trail.

This trail is generous with its natural attractions, which consist of wondrous mountainside scenery and four waterfalls.

You’ll even find a hidden troll if you look hard enough.

Guides say the hike will take about four to five hours, so you need to stock up.

Landscape along Ouray Perimeter Trail
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The Ouray Perimeter Trail has become popular with hikers because it is never too far from Ouray’s city limits.

In fact, the trail’s peak and horizontal border don’t exceed 500 feet.

So, you don’t need to walk the entire trail just to return to town.

Maps will show you the access points you can take to return to Ouray.

You will start the hike from the Ouray Visitors’ Center, located on the east side of US 550.

Cliffside trail at Ouray Perimeter Trail
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Check Out Cowboy Medicine at the Ouray Alchemist Museum & Penthouse

The city of Ouray is not just mountains and hiking.

In fact, one of the city’s most popular attractions is the Alchemist Museum & Penthouse.

Tourists curious about how cowboys took medicine during the Wild West flock to this museum.

The curator and owner have spent fifty years recreating a frontier pharmacy, which even contains the oldest prescription in the state.

Likewise, the museum contains more than 700 hand-blown pharmacy bottles with the original medicines still inside.

You can also see the patent medicines sold by so-called snake oil salesmen during the period.

Similarly, the displays include medicinal artifacts that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Some of these objects are even as old as 350 BC!

Visit the Ouray Alchemist Museum & Penthouse at 533 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427.

See the View From the Top at the Red Mountain Pass

View of Red Mountain Pass
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Another popular drive from Ouray is the trip down the Million Dollar Highway up to the Red Mountain Pass.

With an elevation of 11,018 feet, the Red Mountain Pass should provide you with one of the most beautiful mountainside views of Ouray you can find.

The road to the pass can be dangerous, but capable and adventurous drivers will get a sure reward in the end.

Likewise, the trip down the Million Dollar Highway is also rated one of the most scenic drives in the US, so make sure to look out your window with your camera.

Scenic view of Red Mountain Pass
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Along the way, you’ll also find the Red Mountain Mining District.

The district contains historical evidence of the 1882 mining boom that overtook the surrounding towns.

In eleven years, the mining industry enabled towns, like Red Mountain and Ironton, to prosper.

After reaching Red Mountain Pass, you can go back to Ouray and spend the rest of your time in its hot springs.

Likewise, you can grab a bite or a drink at the town’s restaurants and shops.

The road of Red Mountain Pass
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Be a Miner for a Day with Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour

For a fun but unique educational experience, take your family for a Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour on Gold Mountain Trail.

Mining was a thriving industry in many San Juan Mountain communities and for over a hundred years, the Bachelor mine on this hill was one of Ouray’s prime producers.

Get to experience the life of miners during the old days as the tour guide leads you inside the 1,500 feet historic working mine.

You’ll learn about the history of the mining field, the miners’ working conditions, their challenges, and the risks they took to excavate rare and precious minerals.

Be a real miner and learn how to pan for gold and metals that flow with the streams that previous miners unearthed in the mountains.

For something to remember on your visit, drop by the Treasure Chest gift shop and try the popular penny crusher; you’ll also find assorted mineral specimens, handcrafted jewelry, vintage lanterns, and fun toys for your little ones.

If you’re visiting from Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can catch the Miner’s Weekend Cafe offering the famous Bachelor Syracuse Mine Breakfast and a la carte treats.

Enjoy your Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour with the family.

Savor Delicious Fare at Brickhouse 737

For excellent, freshly made culinary dishes that will surely satisfy your appetite, Brickhouse 737 on Main Street is your perfect dinner stop.

This restaurant boasts of its home-style service, farm-to-table ingredients, and travel-inspired contemporary dishes.

Owners and Ouray locals Hans Vanderploeg and Chef Cory Sargent team up with local farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers to serve you sumptuous gastronomic fare.

The cozy atmosphere sets up a relaxing dinner with several artwork pieces by local artist Emily Palmquist.

Start your meal with Salad Greens on the menu like Farmer’s Greens and Baby Romaine, followed by P.E.I. Mussels, a plate of grilled pineapple with basil yellow curry, pickled mangos, and chili threads.

Likewise, try other mouthwatering main courses on the menu like Seared Natural Chicken or Braised Boneless Short Rib; your meals are best enjoyed with any of their Sparkling, White, Rosé, Red Domestic, or Classic wine selections.

Finish your dinner with a serving of Brickhouse 737’s Chocolate Decadence made of salted caramel ice cream, hazelnut and espresso crumble.

See Creative Pieces at Ouray Glassworks & Pottery

Ouray is also popular for its vibrant art scene and you’ll have much more to see at Ouray Glassworks & Pottery on Main Street.

Founded in 1991 by Sam and Diane Rushing, the business evolved into a welcoming gallery that became a favorite among Ouray locals and visitors.

Visit their on-site studio and get catch how colorful handblown glass and pottery pieces are made.

Check out the handblown glass items like spice jars, tumblers, oil decanters, wine glasses and carafes, vases, sippers, and more.

Browse through the creative pottery displays including serving bowls, salad bowls, platters, pitchers, and mugs.

You can also purchase Artful Ashes to remember and memorialize your loved ones.

Visit Ouray Glassworks & Pottery for unique glass and pottery items and ornaments.

Have a Relaxing Stay at the Historic Beaumont Hotel

Far view of the Historic Beaumont Hotel
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Relax and stay at Beaumont Hotel, one of Ouray’s historical structures located on Main Street.

The hotel was built in 1886 at the height of the gold rush and is still known today as the “Flagship of the San Juans."

It has welcomed several famous guests like U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and President Herbert Hoover, Belgium’s King Leopold, and media personality Oprah Winfrey.

Exterior of the Historic Beaumont Hotel
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There may have been several renovations to modernize its amenities but the hotel still maintains its grand historic features.

The hotel was acquired by Chad and Jennifer Leaver in 2010, continuing the legacy of making Beaumont among the finest boutique hotels in the world.

Enjoy your stay at the award-winning Beaumont Hotel and experience modern luxury with its superb service and excellent amenities.

Interior of the Historic Beaumont Hotel
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Try Different Beverages at Mojo's Coffee

Whether you’re a coffee or tea lover, you’ll surely love the wide selection of beverages from Mojo's Coffee.

This coffee shop is located on 6th Avenue at a historic 1882 saloon and brothel and now welcomes any visitor including your four-legged family member.

They also champion environment-friendly measures and practice reuse and recycling methods at the shop.

You’ll also find local retail products here like zines and handmade books, mugs by Bree Rosenblum, and beautiful paintings by UpstART member, Skylar Sprague.

If you’re more of a classic coffee drinker, you can go for a cup of Americano, Double Espresso, Macchiato, Cortado, and others.

For a change, you could try their specialty coffee on the menu like The Mojo Mocha blended with dark chocolate sauce, dutch cocoa powder, steamed milk, and espresso.

Taste something unique like the Cabernet Mocha, a mix of dark cocoa powder, house-made red-wine syrup, steamed milk, and espresso; or order the Honey Badger, a house favorite made with blends of honey, vanilla, cinnamon, double shot of espresso, and smooth steamed milk.

You can also try other drinks on the menu like black, green, and herbal teas and tea latte varieties.

Mojo's Coffee also offers rotating breakfast treats like muffins, croissants, burritos, quiches, and much more.

Final Thoughts

Winter sports fans and outdoorsmen will find their new favorite city in Ouray, CO.

The “Switzerland of America” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to fun activities, majestic natural sights, and challenging adventures.

Of course, Ouray also provides weary travelers several spots to rest.

The town’s hot springs should soothe tired bones and restore spent energy.

You don’t need to go to the Swiss Alps to experience Alpine wonders.

Book your Ouray trip today!

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