Ouray is located in the San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado and is the perfect location to spend a weekend in the mountains. Ouray is about 6 hours from Denver and while there are multiple routes to take, rest assured knowing that any route will take you through some of the most beautiful parts of the state.
Recognized as the “Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado,” Ouray is full of endless adventures for everyone. From couples looking for a romantic getaway to families looking to explore a historic town to friends looking for that adrenaline rush to dogs hoping to play until they are exhausted, Ouray truly has something for everyone. Some of the many options in Ouray include Jeep tours and rentals, Via Ferrata, ice climbing, stunning hiking options, local shopping, incredible eateries, scenic drives, and so much more.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Visit Ouray. All opinions are our own.
In addition to being the “Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado,” Ouray is also referred to as the “Switzerland of America.” The town itself sits at 7,800 feet of elevation. However, with several 12,000 and 13,000 feet peaks surrounding two-thirds of town, it leaves you feeling as if you’ve been transported to Europe in the best way possible. Ouray was established in the late 1870’s as gold and silver mining really started to take off in the Western US. However, miners were not the first people to inhabit this stunning location. The indigenous community called the Nuche (Ute) lived in the area first. In fact, the town is named after Chief Ouray who was a leader of the Ute community and recognized as speaking for all of the Ute communities in Colorado. For more information about the Ute community, please visit Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s website.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway in one of our favorite places in Colorado, be sure to check out all of our suggestions below. As always, it is so important for us to be able to bring our furbabies, Ollie and Baxter, with us, so we are also including our favorite dog-friendly activities as well!
Ouray Perimeter Trail
Trail Length: 6 mile loop
Elevation Gain: Over 1,500 feet (medium-hard)
Popularity: Heavily trafficked
Dog-Friendly: Yes, dogs must be on a leash
Fees: Not at this point in time.
The Ouray Perimeter trail is a great way to see the town from multiple perspectives. Throughout the entire trail, there are incredible views of Ouray. There are many different features to see while on the trail from a beautiful waterfall (Cascade Falls) to a fun tunnel you can walk through. One of our favorite aspects of the trail is that you can jump on the trail at multiple points in town and complete as much, or as little, of the trail as you’d like. We really appreciated that!
Switzerland of America Sign
As we mentioned, Ouray is oftentimes referred to as the “Switzerland of America” due to the many jagged peaks surrounding the town. Therefore, stopping at this sign is a must when visiting. Not only do you get to see this sign, but the lookout point from the parking lot has some of the best views in town. You have Abrams Mountain to the South and downtown Ouray to the North. The sign is located off US-550 about 5 minutes outside of downtown.
Box Cañon Falls and Nature Center
Check out a 285 ft waterfall with water from Canyon Creek falling into the quartzite canyon! Located just minutes outside of town, it is a must-see while in the area.
There are three primary hiking trails around the falls.
The Falls Trail - Hike to see the falls up close
The High Bridge Trail - View the falls from above for a unique perspective
The Native Plant Loop - Observe local flora to the area on this short walk
The falls are also the summer home of the rare Black Swift birds. So, keep your eyes peeled while exploring the falls.
Perhaps the most notable part of the entire experience is the roar of the water as it rushes into the canyon! It’s incredible.
Lastly, you can see a pipe that is used to bring the mineral water to the Ouray Hot Springs in town.
Ouray Hot Springs Pool
What’s the best way to relax after exploring all day? In a hot spring! The Ouray Hot Springs offers 5 pools of varying temperatures and 3 are geothermally heated and offer fun for the whole family! Most of the water comes from Box Canyon. The hot springs are sulfur free which means they do not have any stinky smells! This is due to the mineral content, geological composition of the area, and the constant entering and exiting of hot mineral water from the pool.
We have visited the hot springs twice and both times we preferred going at night for the following reasons: cooler weather, great views of the moon, stars, and San Juan mountains, less people (depending on day and season), and more romantic.
Drive Million Dollar Highway
A short 25 mile stretch from Ouray to Silverton of the 236 mile San Juan Skyway (US-550) is called the “Million Dollar Highway.” This highway offers breathing views of the San Juan Mountains.
There are a few theories on why the road is called the “Million Dollar Highway:”
There was once a million dollars worth of gold and silver that sprinkled over the road.
It cost over a million dollars to build the road - It is also said that Otto Mears, who helped originally build the road, continued to increase tolls to use the route. This in turn made it too expensive to travel, thus coining the term "Million Dollar highway."
The views are worth a million dollars.
You couldn’t pay someone a million dollars to drive on the road.
With multiple sheer drop-offs, this road requires patience and attention to ensure the utmost safety! There is no special vehicle required to drive on this road.
Ouray is also known for having some of the best 4X4 /off-roading trails in the state! These trails can take you to incredibly beautiful and remote locations while also allowing you to have a fun and unique experience enjoying the ride. If you don’t have an appropriate vehicle, there are multiple Jeep rental companies in town. We used Colorado West Jeep Rentals & Tours in town. We were even able to bring the dogs with us for a ride in the jeep. Additional fees do apply.
We decided to do Ophir Pass, which is an off-roading trail we had done a few years prior. We love this road because we feel it’s a great beginner route as we do not have much off-roading experience and consider ourselves novices. You can also leave from Ouray, do Ophir Pass, and take the road all the way into Telluride. The road is listed as easy up to the pass and then moderate as you head towards Telluride.
Please be extremely careful and know your limit on these roads. There are varying levels of difficulty and these roads can be dangerous. Additionally, please remember to stay on the marked roads, especially if you are driving in the backcountry. It is incredibly important to practice the principles of Leave No Trace, especially if you are in a vehicle. Often times, you will be driving in the alpine where the tundra is extremely fragile. Please stay off the tundra, pick up and pack out, and leave area better than you found it.
Ouray is at the top of our list when we think of dog-friendly towns in the United States. There are so many options for visitors and locals exploring with their furbabies. Here is a list of some of our favorite dog-friendly activities:
Ouray Perimeter Trail
Ouray Ice Park Perimeter Loop
Ironton Ghost Town
Pretty much every trail in the area is dog-friendly!
Million Dollar Highway/San Juan Skyway (US-550)
Switzerland of America Sign/Lookout Point
Bear Creek Falls
Red Mountain Overlook
Full Tilt Saloon
Gold Belt Bar & Grill
Mouse’s Chocolates and Coffee
Things to Consider
Please ensure you know your dog’s comfortability level and pay close attention to how your dog is feeling anywhere you go, especially because you are at high elevation!
Always have water with you!
Bring dog bags and be sure to pick up and pack out. Let’s leave this beautiful area better than we found it!
There is a dog park in town as well for your furbabies to run!
While there are so many other incredible activities Ouray has to offer, this is a great sampling of the area for a weekend trip. We love that there are not only so many activities to choose from when visiting Ouray, but that there are seasonal activities that make Ouray a year-round destination to explore.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out our future blog posts for additional information about visiting Ouray.
Until next time, keep adventuring!