Emily and her fiance, Daniel were recently married in Ouray, Colorado. It was a gorgeous elopement and the lovely bride and groom were kind enough to invite their parents to come along. We took advantage of the opportunity to explore and do some fun, exciting, and occasionally scary activities. This is a wonderful part of Colorado to visit and there are so many fun things to do in Ouray, Colorado as well as some great places to stay!
Note: Hours and opening times and regulations may have changed due to the Covid Pandemic. Please check before you go.
Things To Do in Ouray, Colorado in the Summer!
Ouray is sometimes called the Switzerland of America. It is located in a canyon surrounded by the San Juan Mountains and is absolutely gorgeous. It is a mecca for adventure lovers and thrill seekers as well as a place for people who want to experience the natural beauty and wildlife of the mountains.
The town is situated at 8,000 feet in the western part of Colorado. It is far from the crowds of Denver and has a population of only 1,000 people yet is still a tourist destination because of all the natural beauty and because there are so many great things to do in Ouray, Colorado!
Although there are plenty of winter activities this post is going to focus on things to do in the in Ouray in the summer.
One of the best things to do in Ouray is go hiking! Here are some of the hiking trails in the area.
Box Canyon Falls Park
You can see the sign for these falls high on a mountain above Ouray. A short drive will take you to the park. This is a developed attraction and you have to pay to see the falls. The cost to enter is $5 per adult.
There are three main trails in the park:
This is an easy 500 foot walk into the canyon. You will be walking over a grate part of the time which allows you to see way down into the canyon, but the walkway is steady and there are rails so you will feel secure.
As you walk this box canyon narrows more and more until you come to the end where the waterfall spills through the opening. We were told that in the spring when the snow begins to melt that water flow is so fierce that the entire canyon is full of mist. Look around and notice some of the mining equipment that was left behind when operations ceased.
This area has been designated an important bird area by the National Audobon Society because it is home to Black Swifts. They migrate through the canyon and are usually there from early June through September.
High Bridge Trail
A half mile loop that gains 200 feet in elevation. You will walk up a set of stairs to get here and it is totally worth the fairly easy climb for the views of the mountains, the waterfall from a different angle, and the city below.
Native Plant Loop
This is just a quick stroll through nature with plant markers for the local flora. This is only trail without steps. It will lead you back to the entrance and the parking area.
Bear Creek National Recreation Trail
You will see the signs for the Bear Creek Trailhead only a couple of miles south of Ouray along Highway 550 which is also called the Million Dollar Highway. The trail is an out and back so you choose to walk as much or as little of it as you like. I have seen it described as “definitely not for beginners” to “moderate” to “strenuous.”
Honestly when you have just arrived in Colorado from barely above sea level…everything feels strenuous!
The beginning is the hardest part with quite an incline and lots of switchbacks. You gain 1,000 feet in the first mile! After that you go through a section of ledge paths. A rock wall will go up on one side of you and a steep drop off on the other. This might not be a trail for someone with a fear of heights! I would suggest using trekking poles for stability.
The trail will continue to climb but not as steeply as in the beginning. You will pass through some gorgeous meadows as well as some water crossings so do be prepared for that particularly if the water is running high. You will come to the remains of Grizzly Bear Mine which is where we turned around to return. This was about a 4.5 mile hike.
You can continue on up to Yellow Jacket Mine if you are feeling especially energetic.
Cascade Falls Park
This can’t really be called a hike. It is actually just a short walk from the parking lot to the falls, but it is definitely worth a stop when you are in Ouray.
Ouray Perimeter Trail
This is a unique trail that circles the town of Ouray. You can start this loop at a variety of points but most people begin at the Ouray Visitors Center. There is parking for the trail head behind the center. Locals recommend hiking this loop in a clockwise direction. It climbs sharply up at the beginning giving you nice views of the town.
Once again there are some steep drop-offs on this trail so if you don’t like heights be aware! Overall I would say this is easier than most trails in the area, but there are some steep areas and some loose gravel. You will pass both Cascade Falls and Box Canyon Falls as well as some bridges, a tunnel, and a creek.
One very popular feature of the Perimeter Trail is that it you are never more than 500 feet vertically or 1⁄2 mile horizontally from Ouray’s City limits. As a result, there are several locations along its route where one can leave the trail and return to town without having to hike its entire length.
Adventuring in Ouray, Colorado
So many of the fun things to do in Ouray, Colorado in the summer are adventurous activites!
Ouray is known for its world renowned off road trails. OHV stand for off highway vehicle and an OHV Route is either a dirt road or trail that has been designated as legal and appropriate for off-highway use by motorized vehicles. A road is generally wide enough for a full-size vehicle or larger. A trail is usually only one vehicle wide and slower to travel.
We rented Polaris RZR’s (pronounced razor) from Colorado West Jeeps for a day on the Alpine Loop Trail. This is also known as UTV or Utility Terrain Vehicle, but we heard most of the locals calling them Razors! I definitely recommend both Colorado West and renting a UTV or a jeep to get off road while you are in the area!
Colorado West Jeeps dropped our Razors off at Ironton where we parked our vehicle and headed up the trail into the mountains in our UTV. We took Corkscrew Gulch through the red mountains 1, 2, and 3, over Hurricane Pass, past the gorgeous lake Como, and the ghost town of Animas Forks then on to the town of Silverton and back by different route following the map and directions that we were given by Colorado West.
Along this route, you’ll encounter stunning views of the San Juan mountains, deep blue high mountain lakes, and mountain passes that are well above 12,000 feet. You will see the skeletons of old mining towns and mills that once promised great hope and prosperity, as well as gorgeous valleys with flowing streams surrounded by wildflowers.
It is absolutely stunning!
Oh, there are also heart stopping drop offs and switchbacks. Y’all, I’m not gonna lie. I was scared at times. Really, really frightened, like jaw clenching, bar grabbing, eye closing, heart pounding, cussing, praying not to die terrified.
Have I ever mentioned that I don’t like heights? Well, I don’t like heights. This adventure was not for the faint of heart. In spite of my fear I also thought it was one of the most fun, exhilarating and beautiful things I’ve ever done. Would I do it again? I honestly don’t know. I will say that 4 of the 6 of our gang loved it and thought that it was the best. thing. ever.
If you think that you might not be comfortable driving yourself Colorado West Jeeps also offers group and private tours where you have a driver who is familiar with the mountain trails and how to drive them.
The day of the wedding we were in rented jeeps for our trip to Yankee Boy Basin. That was fun as well but not nearly as exciting as the UTV’s!
NOTE: Be prepared for the weather. It was warm in Ouray, but cool up in the mountains at the higher elevations. We also encountered a pouring rain and sleet at one point and ended up taking shelter in a little falling down building. Fortunately the downpour only lasted for about 15 minutes.
We did not do any mountain biking ourselves, however we did hear about the RAT or the Ridgeway Area Trail system. Since 2004, the Ridgway Area Trails (RAT) group has work in collaboration with the US Forest Service, BLM, Ridgway State Park, and public parks to develop a multi-use trail system. Check out this website to learn more about the wide variety of trails, both easy and hard, and to download a map.
There are some amazing streams around Ouray with places to fly fish, spin cast, and even bait fish. You can hire a guide to help you learn to fly fish and take you to the best spots if this isn’t something you have tried before. Some of the best fishing spots require a hike to get to and some places are catch and release only so be sure and check the local fishing shop to receive the most up to date information on conditions, locations, licenses and supplies.
White Water Rafting
We love white water rafting! Unfortuately while we were in Ouray rafting had been suspended due to low water levels. But maybe there will be more rain or snow melt by the time you take your visit. Rigs was the company that was recommended to us and they are also the ones who offer fly fishing trips.
SUP – Stand Up Paddleboarding
We learned to love stand up paddle boarding when we were at the 30A beaches in the Florida Panhandle. The best place to paddle board in Ouray is just outside of town at the Ridgeway State Park Reservoir. The reservoir is lovely and large enough to get away from the crowds. It is 5 miles long with 1,030 surface-acres of water. This is a beautiful place with clear water and great mountain views. If you are feeling really brave you could strap a paddle board to a jeep and go up to Lake Como just past Hurricane Pass way up in the mountains.
The Million Dollar Highway
One of the best things to do around Ouray is to drive a scenic stretch of road!
The million dollar highway is a canyon clinging stretch of road that is the scariest drive I’ve ever been on. Ever. We don’t have mountains like this in Arkansas and we tend to believe in guardrails. There is not a guardrail to be found on this highway which, honestly, seems a little reckless, although I will admit it keeps anything from blocking the view.
It was also the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on. I alternated between clinging to the arm rest and scrunching my eyes closed and gasping wide eyed at the beauty. Somehow driving this road felt more frightening to me than the switchbacks and drop offs in the UTV the previous day!
The million dollar highway was so named either because it cost so much to build or due to the amount of gold ore that remained in the roadway’s fill. It was literally cut from the side of a mountain and is the small section of the larger San Juan Skyway that joins the town of Ouray to the town of Silverton.
This stretch of Highway is about 25 miles long, but it is really the twelve miles (19 km) south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass which is the most fascinating and terrifying.
Besides the aforementioned lack of guardrails it is characterized by steep cliffs, sheer dropoffs, narrow traffic lanes, and a number of hairpin “S” curves.
If you are super scared of heights but still want to experience the highway you might want to take the long way around to the old mining town of Silverton and drive the Million Dollar Highway north back to Ouray so that you will be on the inside of the road.
Tip: This road can be especially treacherous during rain so you might want to check the weather before you go especially if you aren’t used to driving on roads like these.
The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway
As mentioned above the Million Dollar Highway is just one part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. The entire Scenic Byway is 236 miles. That might sound like you could do it in a day, but there is so much to see that you might want to give yourself more time.
It passes through the old mining towns of Ouray, Telluride, Cortez, Durango, and Silverton. You will also pass through gorgeous scenery and in the shadow of some of Colorado’s impressive 14,000 foot peaks.
From Ouray you can head towards Telluride passing by Mt. Sneffels which is one of the 14ers. Telluride is famous for snow skiing but is also wonderful in the summer. You can stop and ride the free gondola and take a look at Bridal Veil Falls.
From Telluride head to Cortez. During this stretch of the drive you will pass two more 14ers, Mount Wilson and Wilson peak. The drive will take you through the town of Rico, and then along the Dolores River to the community of Dolores. In Dolores you can see the McPhee Reservoir, one of the largest man-made lakes in Colorado. From Dolores you will go to Cortez which is the home of many sites and monuments including Mesa Verde National Park.
Next you will come to the old west town of Durango. This is a town that embraces it’s frontier western heritage, but also has a hip food and art scene with an historic, walkable downtown. The famous Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is the country’s only coal-and-steam-powered train operating daily with round trips to Silverton.
After Durango you will climb over two passes on the way to Silverton. Coal Bank Pass has a summit of 10,660 feet, and Molas Pass is at 10,899 feet. There are beautiful views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. Silverton is a quaint small town where you can definitely feel and experience their past in mining.
From Silverton you will head back to Ouray along the famed Million Dollar Highway.
More Things To Do Outside of the Town of Ouray, Colorado
There are so many things to do just outside or not too far from Ouray!
Go To Yankee Boy Basin
You have got to go to Yankee Boy Basin while you are in Ouray! The drive to Yankee Boy Basin is another off road trail. We took a jeep up here the day of the wedding and the drive was bumpy, but definitely easier than being on the Alpine Loop. Emily and Daniel were married at Yankee Boy Basin and the area is so beautiful that their photos almost don’t look real.
Yankee Boy Basin is very popular with photographers because of the gorgeous scenery and the wildflowers. Flowers were abundant while we were there in July. We thought Yankee Boy Basin was even more beautiful than the drive we had done the day before on the Alpine Loop.
The road is just over 18 miles and is rated as moderate. You will need a vehicle with a high wheel base. It starts off as a fairly easy, well maintained dirt road, albeit with steep drop offs and no guard rails, and becomes bumpier as you go. You will go under a rock over hang where the road was literally dug out of the mountain. It can be a little bit steep, but definitely do-able with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. In addition to the wild flowers you will see waterfalls and wildlife.
Twin Falls was the area where they held the wedding and it is stunningly photogenic. To reach the falls follow Camp Bird road for 4.7 miles before taking a right onto Yankee Boy Basin Road. This is where things start to get steeper and the road is quite rutted. After 2.8 miles you’ll reach one of several small parking areas on the left and the falls will be just a few hundred feet from the road.
It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and a stunning place for an elopement!
Visit the Animas Forks Ghost Town
There are many deserted old mining towns in the mountains around Ouray. Animas Forks is the one we visited and I highly recommend it. We came in on back trails on our UTVs but you can get there via a county road by jeep. We even saw a few regular passenger cars coming down this road! Established in 1875 at 11,180 feet elevation, residents once boasted that Animas Forks was the largest city in the world…at this altitude. It was fun to see the houses and imagine what it must have been like to live here.
Visit The Old Mining Town of Silverton
Again we went to Silverton on UTV but you can also arrive by car via the Million Dollar Highway. It is a great small town to visit because it has maintained so much of it’s historical old West feeling. Wander the streets and pop into the various stores. We had a coffee to warm up from the rain and sleet that we encountered on our way at Coffee Bear. Then we ate a late lunch at Handlebar’s Food and Saloon. I highly recommend both of these places!
Things To Do In Town
There is plenty to do right in the town of Ouray. The waterfalls I mentioned above as well as the Perimeter Trail are basically right in the town. Here are some additional fun things to do in Ouray, Colorado in the summer!
Just walk up and down the streets of the town popping into eclectic shops and delicious restaurants as you go! It is a quaint, friendly, and lovely small town with a lot of Old West history as well as new west energy!
Visit the Hot Springs Park and Pools
There are several places in Ouray to enjoy the Hot Springs which is a perfect way to unwind after a day of adventuring! This is a must do when you are in Ouray. The pools are popular with both locals and visitors. One of the best things about these hot springs is that they are free from the sulfur smell that so often accompanies natural hot springs.
This is the largest and most iconic of the hot springs pools. This one is very developed and well maintained for guests. There are five separate geothermally heated pools and of course, the entire facility is surrounded by towering mountain peaks.
This is the perfect place to bring a family as there are waterslides and activities for the kids. But if you are a newlywed or a couple without children there are also an adults only soaking sections. There is a nice division between the playing and working out and soaking areas. The various pools also range in temperature so you can choose how hot you want your soak to be.
In addition to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool several of the lodges have hot springs on site that you can use if you are staying there.
This is one of the most popular lodging spots in Ouray and has hot springs for guests only.
The Orvis Hot Springs are beautiful and very natural looking. However they are clothing optional so take that into consideration.
Wiesbaden is a historic lodge, spa, and natural hot springs attraction. You can make a reservation for a spa treatment or to go to the springs even if you aren’t staying here. They have an outdoor pool, a soaking pool, and a secluded private pool.
Twin Peaks is conveniently located in downtown Ouray. They have three different hot pools for their guests only. Their pools have longer opening hours than most which is nice for the guests.
During the late 19th century, the Bachelor Syracuse Mine was one of the most prolific producers of gold in the area. Today you can visit and experience a real mine and even pan for gold. I think that this would be such a fun things to do with kids! The Bachelor Syracuse Mine is just outside of Ouray and they also have a cafe that serves breakfast so ask about that when you schedule your tour.
Check out the Historic Western Hotel
Even if you aren’t staying here you might want to stop in and check out this authentic hotel that was built in the 1890’s and served as a hotel and saloon for visitors to the western Rocky Mountains. This was a hangout for prospectors and adventurers as well as where the stagecoach used to stop. The three-story white building features twelve classic rooms and two suites with rustic decor, original molding, carved ceilings, leaded windows with stained glass, and other historical features.
Stop in to the Ouray County Museum
At the Ouray County Museum is housed in a building that was built in 1886 and was originally the St. Joseph’s Miners’ Hospital. You can learn all about the history of Ouray here through exhibits about life on the local ranches, mining, and the railroads. There are also artifacts from original settlers and Native American tribes who once lived in the area.
This is a small museum but well worth a stop. The Smithsonian Institution calls it one of the best little museums in the West and Arthur Frommer’s Idiots Guide to the Rockies says: “If you visit one county museum in Colorado make it the Ouray Museum.”
Ouray Alchemist Museum
Such an interesting place! After checking out the shop in the front of the store you can take a guided tour back in time to experience pharmacy in the Wild West. Do make an appointment to see this amazing collection of items that are almost all locally sourced. Over 40 years of collecting has produced this outstanding re-creation of a frontier pharmacy, including the oldest prescription in Colorado.
Mouse’s Chocolate and Coffee
If you notice a line of happy people along Main street in Ouray you are probably at Mouse’s! Beautiful and delectable chocolate truffles, icecream, coffee drinks, cookies and pastries. Everything is home made and delicious. We had ice cream one day and pastries and chocolates the next. Try the scrap cookies, made with scraps from all the candies! Their chai’s, including chai ice cream are also delightful.
Y’all we had the BEST time in on this trip! Of course we were there for the happy occasion of the wedding, but in addition to that it was just such a great town and there were so many fun things to do in Ouray, Colorado in the summer. I’m already looking forward to going back next year!
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