Deb thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and is a Search & Rescue volunteer and writer living in Flagstaff, AZ.
Outdoor Recreation Is Big Around the Little Town of Ouray
Spending our vacations with packs on our backs is not unusual for my husband and me. In fact, that's how we spent our honeymoon when we went for a five-day hike in the Grand Canyon, where we'd met a few years earlier.
Several months after our wedding, we again hoisted our backpacks for a week-long trek in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Since then, we've enjoyed many days of trail-walking and camping from New England to the Southwest.
And our latest vacation was no exception. We returned to Ouray, Colorado, one of our favorite destinations—a small town of about 800 year-round residents at an elevation of 7,700 feet in the heart of the Rocky Mountains—where we camped and hiked and enjoyed some great food (and Steve had some mustache-foaming homebrew at Mr. Grumpy Pants, a.k.a. the Ourayle House) after we finished our trail-walking each day.
Below you'll find photos from our trip and some of our favorite things to do in Ouray, along with additional information and resources in case you're planning a visit.
Fun Outdoor Activities in Ouray, Colorado
Here is a list of some activities you can enjoy in the fresh air in and around this mountain town.
- Carriage rides
- Hiking and Backpacking
- Horseback riding
- Hot air ballooning
- Jeep touring
- Mountain Biking
- Rock climbing
- Ice Climbing
- Cross-Country skiing
- River rafting and Kayaking
- Exploring ghost towns
- Wildlife and nature photography
- Soaking in natural hot springs
- Trail running (and the 17.1-mile Imogene Pass Run from Ouray to Telluride is held every September)
- Guided Tours
A Guide to Ouray Hikes
Our Favorite Hike in Ouray: The Perimeter Trail
The Perimeter Trail was a wonderful, leisurely loop hike with opportunities to connect with other area trails along the way.
A Work in Progress
I'm not sure of the actual mileage of the Perimeter Trail (and neither were the folks in town we talked to, including the nice guy at the outdoor store), but we were told three miles, five miles, and six miles. Steve and I think it was about four miles.
Locating the Perimeter Trailhead
To get to the start of the Perimeter Trail, you can walk or drive from downtown Ouray to the east end of unpaved 8th Avenue.
From the parking area, head up to Lower Cascade Falls, where the Perimeter trail departs to the right. (Eventually, the actual trailhead will be located across from the Ouray Visitor Center.)
Trail Connections and Stunning Views
The route leads hikers through the forest and around the Amphitheater, which was formed by a volcanic eruption.
The well-signed Perimeter Trail then connects with the Baby Bathtubs Trail and heads south across Portland Creek and up to the Three Pines area near Portland Mine road.
The trail continues across an open area called the Potato Patch, with views of Twin Peaks and Whitehouse, then descends to Highway 550, crosses the road, and intersects the Ice Park trail.
The Perimeter trail follows the Ice Park trail to the Camp Bird Mine road. After crossing the bridge, the trail heads up to the Box Canyon bridge...
. . . and then through a tunnel before taking you down the mountain to Pinecrest Street and back into town.
Ouray's Box Canyon
There are several ways to enjoy the Ouray box canyon area. You can either take a side trip from hiking the Perimeter trail, or you can walk in just to see the canyon.
A Side-Trip From the Perimeter Trail
As we approached the Box Canyon high bridge on the Perimeter Trail, we decided to take a little side-trip, descending to the bottom of the canyon for a walk along the walls of stone to the falls.
Interpretive signs along the metal-grated walkways, which allow you to see through to the whitewater below, explained some of the geology and natural history of the area. Another short side trail identifies native plants and the location of the now-vaulted hot springs that are piped to the popular soaking pools across town.
After checking out Box Canyon from below, we hiked back up to where we'd left off the Perimeter Trail and continued on our way.
Hike Through the Ice Park: Ice Climbing In The Uncompahgre Gorge
As my husband and I walked the Perimeter Trail, we came across the Ouray Ice Park, which we'd heard about on a previous visit but never had seen. During our June visit, there was no ice to be climbed, but we enjoyed checking out the piping and water sprayers spread along a one-mile section of the gorge.
Below, you can see Steve on the "catwalk," taking a closer look. Me, I was too chicken to go any further, so I sat down about five feet from the edge and enjoyed the sound of the rushing water below as I imagined the place covered with ice and climbers.
For more information on the Ouray Ice Park, visit OurayIcePark.com.
Check out the Ouray Ice Festival, held every January.
The Ice Climbing Festival In Action
The video below includes clips from the ice climbing competition and "mixed climbing" (ice, rock, and other objects). I'll just watch, thanks!
Hiking Ouray's Oak Creek Trail
Instead of following the Perimeter Trail back down Pinecrest Street and into town, we decided to extend our day hike by another 4.3 miles and continue on the Oak Creek Trail.
There are longer options from that point, but we chose to connect with the Twin Peaks Trail and then the Silvershield Trail, which eventually brought us back down to the valley along the Uncompahgre River Walk.
We then tromped an additional mile back to our campsite to finish our day of hiking where it had started.
The Oak Creek Trail climbed and climbed, then dropped down for a creek crossing and climbed again, rewarding us with amazing views and gorgeous mountain hiking.
The Neosho Mine Trail
After the ten miles or so we'd hiked on the Perimeter Trail, Box Canyon Trail, Oak Creek Trail, etc., we decided to do a shorter hike the next day. We chose the 4.4-mile, round-trip hike to the old Neosho Mine.
We'd read that the first half-mile was steep but then the trail would level out. We'd also read there was a well-preserved blacksmith's shop and other remains of the mine to be seen.
And the hike, which was indeed very steep for at least the first ... well, I'd say it was more like three-quarters of a mile ... didn't disappoint. As always with Ouray trails, the scenery was amazing.
And the old Neosho mine site was really neat. In fact, I'd seen the blacksmith's building high on a ledge far above the road leading into Ouray, but I didn't know that's where we were headed on this hike until we arrived.
Soak Tired Muscles in Ouray Hot Springs
Open since 1927, Ouray's 250-foot public pool is filled with natural hot springs water, ranging from 96 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit in different areas of the pool. And the water doesn't have the strong sulfur smell common in many hot springs.
There are several soaking sections, a lap swimming section, a diving area, a big slide, a shallow section for kids, and a game area for water volleyball.
On a past visit to Ouray, after a long hike, we walked about five minutes from the 4J+1+1 Campground over to the hot springs facility on a very cold evening and spent a couple of warm hours soaking and yakking.
Orvis Hot Springs and the Wiesbaden Hot Springs and Vapor Cave are also nearby.
Camping in and Around Ouray: for RVers and Tent Campers
- 4J+1+1 RV Park & Campground
This is where we've pitched our tent on our visits to Ouray. Owned by the Clark family since 1956, this oddly-named campground is right on the edge of town, so you can walk from there onto the hiking trails.
- Ouray KOA
Located along the Uncompahgre River, this is a motorcycle-friendly campground. You can also rent a jeep right at the campground and go explore ghost towns and old mines.
- Amphitheater Forest Service Campground
Located at an elevation of 8,400 feet among Gamble oaks and mixed conifers, this campground overlooks the town of Ouray and the "Ampthitheater," which was formed by a volcanic explosion. The campground is a couple of miles from town.
More Ouray Resources
- The Ouray Chamber Resort Association Website
Information on dining, shopping, businesses, and events in and near the town of Ouray.
- Ouray Mountain Sports
Need something for hiking, climbing or other outdoor activities while in Ouray? This is a great outdoors store, and I found the staff to be very knowledgeable about the trails and backcountry surrounding the town.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury
Have You Been To Ouray? Share Your Comments or Questions Here
needhamp lm on March 08, 2013:
I miss living in Colorado, Ouray is a magical place, year round.
Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 01, 2012:
I would love to see this beautiful place. Your photos are wonderful.
RinchenChodron on June 27, 2012:
Yes, I love it in this spectacular place. Great lens.
RinchenChodron on June 27, 2012:
Yes, I have and it is spectacular! Love it there. Enjoyed your lens and photos.
Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on May 27, 2012:
I love the beauty of the mountains in photos, but I'll leave the hiking to you and other hikers. Enjoyed my 'armchair' tour of your hiking adventure. Colorado is a beautiful state and this page fits well on the 50 States Monsterboard!
fullofshoes on May 25, 2012:
I had the joyful and unforgettable privilege of traveling through Ouray when I was in Colorado many years ago. It is everything that you say here and more. Of all of the scenery that I have laid eyes on in my travels throughout the U.S. the Ouray trip is the one I talk about the most. Wonderful and very ~blessed~.
KateHonebrink on May 25, 2012:
Amazing, spectacular scenery which beautifully complemented your wonderfully-written article! Congratulations on being featured on the 50 States monsterboard!!
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on May 25, 2012:
I lived in Colorado for years (20+) but never made it Ouray. It's a gorgeous spot! Thanks for the photos.
ohcaroline on May 07, 2012:
You have presented an outstanding lens on hiking in Colorado. Makes me want to go with you.
anonymous on February 20, 2012:
As a child. Did you know the original True Grit movie staring John Wayne was filmed in nearby Ridgway?
BlueTrane on November 18, 2011:
I've lived in Colorado since 1994 and I'm ashamed to say that I've not yet made it to Ouray. I've been to that part of the state but never to Ouray...it's now on my to do list. Thanks for the great lens...and the shove...
ZestCareerCoach on August 08, 2011:
It looks lovely, thanks for all the wonderful pics. And for including the search and rescue info, so many hikers don't think about it till it's too late
trippste on August 01, 2011:
Well put together lens! thumbs up!
Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on July 29, 2011:
wow...great information and beautiful photos. Blessed.
kTerrain1 on July 28, 2011:
Never been -- but your Box Canyon picture has me planning to go.
AlexandraHubbard on July 18, 2011:
Its so lovely! Those waterfalls!
LuvColorado on July 13, 2011:
Isn't Ouray beautiful! I am originally from Durango and I do lots of hiking in the Denver area.
anonymous on May 09, 2011:
These lens of yours are great. Keep em coming
RinchenChodron on April 27, 2011:
Fabulous photos of a wonder-filled place. I've also written a lens on Ouray and Ridgeway. Highly recommended place to visit.
bujanan on April 26, 2011:
Right on! I've been there and the pictures (for a change) actually make it look as good as when you see it. Very nice
anonymous on December 31, 2010:
I havn't been to Ouray, but I must say that it looks fantastic. Makes me want to step out the door right now and start exploring new trails...
ShamanicShift on November 04, 2010:
No, I have not been yet, but now Ouray is on my list.
Sensitive Fern on October 02, 2010:
I've been through Ouray a few times but haven't hiked around there. I would like to spend a week there. This is just the lens for me today because I'm jonesing for a trip to Colorado.
Ellen Brundige from California on September 15, 2010:
Oh my goodness! I've done several of these hikes as a youngster! Also one up on Red Mountain... I think? It's been so long.
I loved Box Canyon. Never got to Ouray in the winter to see the ice falls.
Have you ever tried Jeeping? We always took a jeep up from Ouray to Imogene Pass, stopping here and there along the way so as to get out and stretch our legs. Tomboy up at the top, and Imogene Pass and Ptarmigan Lake, are just extraordinary, if you get there when the snow's pulled back and all the flowers are blooming.
Kiwisoutback from Massachusetts on September 13, 2010:
You see so many things hiking that you can't see from most campgrounds or on the road. I've never been to Ouray, but it looks beautiful.
anonymous on September 12, 2010:
Now, this is beautiful country to see Deb. Thanks for taking us along by way of this awesome visual tour of Ouray. You and Steve sure do have fun!
drifter0658 lm on September 11, 2010:
It has been far too long...far too long. How ya doin' Rammy? I was doing some lens research earlier and remembered being on this lens before. Ouray is where the original True Grit was filmed, and through your images, I can see why...
Do they have motorcycle trails? I can see they have the beer ;)
julieannbrady on September 11, 2010:
I have made my mind up, thanks to our little monster Kipsy, to start hiking the great sights of the world ... why not start right here in Colorado -- hey? Doesn't Gil live in Colorado??? Maybe he and I could go hiking together ... he might have the edge on me though! Let's get it started ...
Eliza Rayner from Boulder, Colorado on February 12, 2010:
I just found this page and will lensroll it to my explore the Ouray Ice Park page. I have only been to Ouray in the winter to climb in the ice park (I am headed there in 2 weeks in fact!). I would love to visit in the summer, beautiful pictures you have here!
anonymous on January 02, 2010:
Happy New Year! I was able to visit your website and found it very interesting and helpful. I am working the month of January for a startup company here in Boston that has created a website for outdoor enthusiasts to find hiking, biking, climbing or skiing in their area based on their interests. The Website is called www.alltrails.com. This is (and will always be) a free website thatâs goal is to make access to the outdoors possible for anyone and everyone in the United States. To be successful, however, we are going to need help building more specific content for the website. This is where we would love to have you assist us. In return we can offer you specific incentives through our website that would include driving people to your site. Please know that we are not at all trying to just take your already very useful information. We are simply trying to create and interactive website that will allow people to further discover the outdoors. If you are interested, I would love to talk with you about the opportunity.
Thanks and Best,
anonymous on September 23, 2009:
Great lens - have been in that general area - it is beautiful
HorseAndPony LM on September 21, 2009:
Great lens! We need to add this to our list of places to explore.
high-country on July 17, 2009:
Great lens...I just started mine for Summit County, Colorado.
dc64 lm on June 27, 2009:
Oh...I want to go! It's so amazing. Colorado is one of the places I really want to visit. Why didn't I move there instead of Alabama?
drifter0658 lm on June 24, 2009:
Beautiful place and a spectacular guide to it. Just another of the 60 reasons why you're are one of the best.
Mihaela Vrban from Croatia on June 23, 2009:
Haven't been there but I would love to go! :) Beautiful place and wonderful pics! And a blessing! ;)