The Switzerland of America – Ouray, Colorado

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Ouray is one Colorado mountain town that makes for a great visit. It turned out to be one of my favorites. While a tourist town, it is small and quaint enough to be truly enjoyable. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, it is in the heart of 4×4 country but also has plenty of hikes, biking, hot springs, and other activities in the surrounding area.

 

The town is named after Chief Ouray of the Utes. We heard several pronunciations of the town including “ooo-Ray” and “your-Ray.” At one time the Ouray area boasted over 30 active mines, with some producing significant amounts of gold. The town became the county seat and now the entire Main Street is registered as a National Historic District. Most of the buildings built from 1880-1900 are still standing and have been restored.

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The town itself is surrounded by mountain peaks and waterfalls, plus the one road that goes south on the “Million Dollar Highway” to Silverton and north to the small town of Ridgway. The old mining road to Silverton is not for the faint of heart, but has great scenery along the way as passes through the forested mountainsides.

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I started in Ouray at the Visitor Center which is one of the most helpful I have encountered. I asked about hiking and was given a detailed map of the six-plus mile “Perimeter Trail” that climbs the nearby mountains and circumnavigates the town. When you complete the entire loop, it brings you back to your starting point.

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The trailhead is just across the street from the Visitor Center. The trail immediately starts to climb upward providing views of the town along the way. Since the trail is never far from Ouray, you can always shorten the hike by walking down to the town itself.

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After a while, I came to Cascade Falls which is one of the highlights of the trail. There is a path that you can take behind the impressive cascading falls.

After the solitude of the trail, I was struck by the number of people who were visiting the falls, until I realized that there is a road and parking lot nearby. Once you leave the base of the falls, you leave most everyone behind.

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The Perimeter Trail continues through some forested areas with impressive views of the town. You also cross a mountain stream and travel along a dirt road.

About halfway around the trail you enter the “Box Canyon” area which is an attraction within itself. From the trail you have a birds-eye view of the lower canyon. The trail is high above the canyon at this point. You then cross a metal bridge overlooking the gorge-like landscape. After crossing the bridge, you go through a dark pedestrian tunnel on the side of the mountain.

It seemed to rain every afternoon while we were in Colorado and today was no exception. From the ridge I could see the clouds gathering and hear thunder in the distance.

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It was time to hurry up, put on some rain gear, and store the camera away. I ended up pounded by the rain but a happy hiker finishing up the Perimeter Trail in Ouray.

I found “Mouse’s Chocolates and Coffee” on main street and settled in for a warm cup of coffee. I was finally dry and out of the rain. As I sat there, I remembered the words of Mary at the Visitor Center who was teaching me how to pronounce the name of the town, “Hooray for Ouray.” They rhyme she said.

 

9 thoughts on “The Switzerland of America – Ouray, Colorado

  1. We loved Ouray. My husband and I agreed that it’s the best version of this kind of tourist town, which we usually shy away from. I think it’s because there is an authenticity about the town. I would go back in a heartbeat!

    Liked by 1 person

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