Is Ouray, Colorado Worth Visiting?


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ouray colorado

Ouray, Colorado is the official Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado. Located in southwestern Colorado, Ouray attracts thousands of visitors every year who are in search of adventurous experiences. There are so many things to do year-round, so regardless of season or reason, Ouray is the perfect versatile destination. This city is great for weekend getaways, honeymoons, and summer family vacations, so get started on planning your trip to Ouray!

How Is Ouray Pronounced?

This is usually the first of many questions Ouray visitors ask. Ouray is pronounced “Yoo-ray”. Locals suggest you think of the word “Hooray” and add a “Y” to the beginning of the word to properly pronounce Ouray.

Facts & History

The town of Ouray is tucked away in a canyon at the base of the San Juan Mountains. From the town’s center, you’ll see mountains, parks, historical landmarks, centuries-old ghost towns, hot springs, quaint shops, and local restaurants all within walking distance.

The unique topography of the San Juan Mountains are due to centuries of lava-formed craters, rock formations, and ice storms. The valleys that were created due to these natural changes of the earth’s layers gave birth to near-perfect conditions for the mining of ore. In fact, Ouray’s section of the San Juan range is the most highly mineralized section in the state of Colorado.

While this hotspot for ore attracted excavators during the Gold Rush, humans had already discovered Ouray back in the Ice Age. Hunter-gatherers and members of the Tabeguache Ute tribe discovered Ouray and settled there for the abundant hot water springs. The Ute stayed in Ouray throughout the 1700s to serve as guides for the ever-growing number of visitors seeking expeditions. The hiking trails that are open to visitors today are actually the very trails that the Ute forged for their expeditions. In the 1800s, Spanish explorers arrived and officially named the mountain range “San Juan”. Then, miners who were in search of silver and gold, flooded Ouray in the late 1800s.

What Is Ouray, Colorado Known For?

Ouray is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America” because it’s basically a mecca for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Skiers and snowboarders flock to Ouray every winter to take advantage of their slopes, and avid climbers cross mountains off their bucket lists during the summer. Aside from its rich history found in the great amount of mineral ore deposits, Ouray is probably most known for its hot springs. Ouray’s sulfur-free hot springs are a natural result of fissures in the earth’s crust combined with the nearby Uncompahgre River. The combination of pressure and heat in these waters created clean and odorless hot springs, which is very rare.

The hot springs were one of the many reasons the Ute decided to settle there, and they quickly found that regular trips to these waters healed aches and ailments of all kinds; they aptly named the hot springs “Miracle Waters”.

ouray colorado

What Is There To Do in Ouray?

The list of things to do in Ouray is seemingly endless; ORV (off-road-vehicle) excursions, biking, climbing, hiking, fishing, seeing the historical sights, visiting the hot springs, and boating is a small section of Ouray’s offerings. And that’s not including winter activities!

Many of the businesses in Ouray organize special trips for groups who are seeking very specific activities like ORV excursions or climbing expeditions. This is a fun way to see the historical parts of Ourway in an active way.

The nearby San Juan Mountains offer the perfect climbing, hiking, and horseback riding experiences. You can plan your trip by selecting your desired trails which are designed with specific sights in mind. For example, you can hike a trail that passes by some of the hot springs or climb a section of the San Juan range that’s perfect for night sky viewing after you set up camp.

Another great spot to visit is the Box Canyon and Waterfalls, which is Ouray’s natural wonder. The park is a short drive from downtown Ouray, but consider taking the long way so you can see some of the surrounding ghost towns, too.

box canyon falls ouray

(Box Canyon Falls)

Where Should I Stay When Visiting Ouray?

There are plenty of lodging options in Ouray that range in style and type. Hotels and motels are located closer to the downtown area while cabins and bed and breakfasts can be found in the surrounding rural parts of the county. Camping is also a viable option for visitors; Ouray hosts a few campgrounds for RVs and trailer-campers as well as tent-campers.

What Is There To Eat In Ouray?

Most of the restaurants in Ouray are locally owned and operated, sometimes by families. You’ll have an especially great time in Ouray if you’re a beer enthusiast because Ouray is home to three local breweries. Here are some great options to check out:

True Grit Cafe, Steakhouse

Brickhouse 737, Contemporary

Mouses Chocolates and Coffee, Dessert

Ouray Brewery, Bar

ouray brewery

(Ouray Brewery, photo: mckennamclain)

When Is the Best Time to Visit?

Ouray welcomes visitors year-round, so the best time for you to visit depends on the activities you want to do!

Summer is the busiest time of the year, and the most popular activities are hiking, climbing, and water activities like boating, water skiing, and kayaking on the local rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

If you’re wanting to ski, snowboard, or climb in the snow, then you should plan your visit for the winter.

The hot springs are fantastic options year-round, too!

Is Ouray Safe?

Like any destination, you’ll want to take all necessary precautions with your belongings. Ouray is very safe and attracts a demographic that’s generally made up of kind and empathetic individuals. The locals look forward to sharing their town with tourists throughout the year, so as long as you leave valuables at home and be smart with your travel buddies, Ouray is a very safe destination.

downtown ouray colorado

(Downtown Ouray, photo: les_sells_more_realestate)

How Much Time Do I Need In Ouray?

There’s so much to do in Ouray; don’t expect to get it done in one day! You’ll have a positive experience if you plan a trip anywhere from 3 days to 1 week; this is a good amount of time for both the summer and winter.

How Far Is Ouray From Denver?

Ouray is about a 5 and a half hour drive from Denver. The route to Denver goes through two national forests, so you’re in for some great sights to and from Ouray. If you’re staying in Ouray for the whole summer, taking a weekend trip to Denver would be a great opportunity if you’re interested in seeing Boulder or Rocky Mountain National Park.

How Far Is Ouray From Telluride?

Telluride is a 1 hour drive from Ouray. 3 mountain peaks separate Ouray from Telluride, so you have to drive around these ranges to get to your destination.

Is Ouray Worth Visiting?

Ouray, Colorado is definitely worth the visit! Not only will you get to take part in a vast range of activities, but you’ll literally be getting away to a completely different world. Due to its geography, Ouray feels like it’s own unique little pocket of the world. Many visitors feel the need to completely unplug from social media while they’re in Ouray because of the beauty of the mountains, the unique nature of the hot springs, and the kindness of the locals. Get started on planning your trip to Ouray today!

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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