Home » 2005 Cross Country Road Trip

Ouray, CO

Monday, July 18, 2005 - 7:00am by Lolo
55 miles and 1.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


I was pretty excited about this stop. Although I really love the solitude and natural beauty that we find in the national and state parks, I like a little civilization once in awhile as a contrast. The key word though is "little." On these trips, I'm not looking for the hustle and bustle of big cities, but rather the vivacity and charm of a small mountain or desert town--like Moab or Breckenridge. Ouray (which is pronounced "You-ray") was right up there with the best of them.

Lolo and Andrew swimming in the hot springsLolo and Andrew swimming in the hot springsWe didn't exactly have to sacrifice much in the way of natural beauty in Ouray. Its setting was spectacular--a quaint village filled with colorful Victorian buildings surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountain peaks. You felt more like you were in Switzerland than in Colorado. Obviously I was not the first to think of this as its nickname is the "Little Switzerland of America."

We had only been traveling about an hour or so today, but I was desperate to find a campsite so that we could spend the whole day here. I had read about the Amphitheater Campground just east of town that sounded great, so we drove right through town without stopping (which killed me) and up into the mountains on the other side. The road to the campground was terribly steep and winding, which made us begin to question the wisdom of this idea. We finally crawled into the campground only to find that the sites were meant for vehicles under 20 feet. That would explain the road as well. Although we probably could have squeezed ourselves into a site, there was no way that Herb was going to drive me back down to the village again and then back up to this campsite at night, thereby defeating the purpose, which was to visit the village of Ouray. I desperately pulled out my Woodall's and began searching for other camping options. I should have done this in the first place, but the Amphitheater Campground sounded so good on paper that I didn't think I needed an alternative. I found the 4 J+1+1 RV Park located right in town and called them. They had 2 sites left. We hurried, as quickly as I could get Herb to drive, back down the winding road into the village. The location was great--views of the surrounding mountains and in walking distance to the Hot Springs and downtown. I was now very happy. I couldn't wait to plop my butt into the Hot Springs.

Box Canyon Falls photo by AndrewBox Canyon Falls photo by AndrewAfter a quick lunch, we got on our bathing suits, grabbed some towels, and made the brief walk to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Park. It cost us only $28 for the four of us for the day--not bad at all, considering what you got for it. The pool was quite large and divided into sections with different temperatures, including one with swimming laps. Of course, being the obsessive types we are, we had to try them all. I must say, I preferred the medium temp ones, which were probably in the high 90's. However, no matter which section you chose, you could just sit back and relax and enjoy the incredible views. It's quite nice looking at snow in the mountains while soaking in warm water. I could very easily get used to this.

However, there was more to do in Ouray than just soak, so we forced ourselves to leave its warm waters and went for a bike ride over to the Box Canyon Falls on the southern end of town. After locking our bikes and paying our $12 for the four of us, we hiked the short trail to the falls, where the Clear Creek thundered 285 feet down into the narrow gorge below us. It was quite impressive. There was even some old mining equipment at the bottom of the gorge left behind from Ouray's previous life as a mining town. From the end of the Falls Trail, we climbed down an iron staircase--the kind that you can look down and see through that gives me the creeps--to the base of the falls. We spent quite a bit of time down there taking pictures. Andrew was still shooting black and white film for his summer photography assignment and moving water particularly fascinates him. He tried a variety of shutter speeds to capture different effects. We then hiked the other trail in the park, the High Bridge Trail, which leads up to a steel suspension bridge and great views of the village of Ouray and the canyon below.

Herb and boys at Buen TiempoHerb and boys at Buen TiempoThe hikes were quite short and not much of an exercise, so we decided to ride our bikes back to the other side of town and try to find the Uncompahgre River Trail, which I had seen on a map that I picked up at the Visitor Center. We weren't exactly sure where the trail started. We knew it was somewhere near the Hot Springs, but nobody we asked seemed to know anything about it. We finally did manage to find it, but it wasn't marked out very well at all. I think the problem is that it is brand new and not many people know about it yet. When it's complete, it's supposed to run along the river for 12 miles all the way into Ridgeway State Park. That will be quite a nice bike ride when it's done. In the meantime, the part they have completed is really fun. There are exercise stations placed every quarter of a mile or so with different things to work out, such as sit-ups, pull-ups, dips, etc. Of course, being the competitive types we are, we had to stop at all of them and practically kill ourselves trying to do the most. I usually waited to go last and then tried to squeak one more out than the rest of them--something I was pretty sure I was going to regret in the morning.

After the ride, we decided to take another dip in the hot springs before dinner. I was hoping the hot water would help lessen the muscle pain that would be setting in shortly. Once again, the water was delightful, but since it was getting late and I had big plans for going out on the town for dinner, we only spent a short time at the pool.

It was a lovely evening as we strolled from the campground up the hill to the historic downtown, which still had the feel of an 1890s mining town. In fact, the downtown area has been designated a National Historic District because of its many restored Victorian buildings. It would have been kind of fun to stay at one of the hotels, whose rooms are still furnished like they were in the 1890s. Maybe, next time.

4J +1 +1 Campground4J +1 +1 CampgroundNow, to decide where to eat. My first inclination was the Outlaw Steakhouse, where you could pretend that you were in an 1890s saloon, piano player and all. Unfortunately, every other tourist in Ouray wanted to pretend the same thing. Rather than wait a long time to eat in a crowded noisy place, we opted for Buen Tiempo, a lovely Mexican restaurant with outside courtyard dining and 10 different kinds of marguerites. Everything about the place was great. I especially liked the atmosphere. It was a lovely night. It had cooled off as it does in the mountains and there was a nice cozy fire going in the outdoor fireplace near our table. I felt quite content--surrounded by my loved ones and no dinner to clean up in the RV.

I could have easily stayed another day in Ouray, but Herb was ready to move on--I think he was anxious to get to Lake Powell, his favorite place on earth. I think it's mine too. We headed south out of town onto the Million Dollar Highway, a very scenic, winding, two-lane road that goes over the 11,000-foot Red Mountain Pass before dropping into Silverton. There are several theories as to how the road got its name, such as how much it cost to build or how it has gold particles in the gravel, but I'll go with the one that says it was named for its million dollar views..


The small mountain town of Ouray in the southwestern corner of Colorado lies along the San Juan Skyway, one of the most scenic drives in America. The town's spectacular setting of lush green meadows and colorful Victorian buildings surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks has earned it the nickname the "Switzerland of America."

Uncompahgre River TrailUncompahgre River TrailOuray dates back to 1875, when prospectors discovered silver in the nearby mountains. The boom ended in the 1890s when the silver market crashed, but the discovery of gold shortly after kept the town prospering. Although many of these mines are still functioning, the area's main business is tourism.

The downtown area has been designated a National Historic District. More than two-thirds of its original Victorian buildings have been restored to their original splendor. Many of the 1890 hotels, such as the Western Hotel and the St. Elmo's Hotel still rent rooms, furnished much as they were in the 1890s. Although quite hilly, the downtown area is compact enough to tour on foot.

On the northern outskirts of town is the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Park where you can soak in a public pool fed by natural hot springs while gazing at snow-capped mountains. This 250 X 150 foot pool is divided into sections with different temperatures. The cost is $8 for adults and $6 for children 7-17.

Near the Hot Springs is the beginning of the Uncompahgre River Park Trail, which when completed, will run about 12 miles along the river all the way to Ridgeway State Park. The trail, which is meant for hiking, running, and biking, has exercise stations to work out at along the way.

On the opposite eastern edge of town is the impressive Box Canyon Falls where the turbulent waters of Clear Creek thunder 285 feet down a narrow gorge. The Falls Trail is an easy 500-foot walk to the falls. At the end of this trail there is a staircase leading down to a lower observation platform on the Creek. The ½-mile roundtrip High Bridge Trail takes you to a steel suspension bridge at the top of the falls with spectacular views of Ouray and the canyon below. Admission to Box Canyon Falls City Park is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children 5-12.

The part of the San Juan Skyway over the Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton is known as the Million Dollar Highway. The original road was built in the 1880s as a way of more efficiently moving ore mined in Ouray over the Pass into Silverton. The current two-lane winding road pretty much follows the old path. There is much debate as to how the road got its name. Some think it comes from the cost of building the road. Others say it is because it was paved with gold-bearing gravel, which they didn't discover until the road was done. Perhaps the most likely explanation for the name is the million dollar views you get along the way.

There are several campgrounds in the area. However, the only one located in the town itself is the 4 J+1+1 RV Park, which is in walking distance to the hot springs and the historic downtown.

Jim on May 11, 2013

Now you are making me wish we had stopped in Ouray!
We did 2 nights in Durango, with a raft float down the river through downtown.
We spent a night in Silverton. We really enjoyed both towns.
Ouray was a "drivethrough", that night's destination was the black canyon, another favorite place.

Rock on Herb and Lola!


Herb on May 11, 2013

You did more than we did in Durango and Silverton, so maybe you made the right call. That raft float through town sounds pretty cool.

With limited time, it's always a challenge to get it perfect the first time... In fact, it probably never happens. Nevertheless, that means there is always more good stuff to explore on the next time around.


Ouray location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.