Updated December 22, 2016.
Ridgway Colorado might be a little town, but it has “True Grit”! Its larger-than-life reputation makes it a must-see destination in the Great American West.
That Ridgway is the gateway to the magnificent San Juan Mountains is just the beginning.
Our point of origin for this leg of our road trip began at the southwestern tip of the San Juan Skyway National Scenic Byway in Cortez, Colorado where we stayed for a few nights while taking in the local sights, including visiting remarkable Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
With so much to see, a week spent on the byway is just not enough!
Find out how our trip began in The San Juan Mountains Colorado—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 1 of the San Juan Skyway series, and then you can learn more about our trip in, Silverton Colorado—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 2, The Million Dollar Highway—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 3, and Ouray Colorado—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 4.
Though most townships in the San Juan Mountains originated as mining camps, Ridgway Colorado began as a railroad hub for the Rio Grande Southern Railroad serving mining towns.
The township incorporated in 1891 and was named after the Denver and Rio Grande railway superintendent, Robert Ridgway, the town’s founder.
The railroad survived in one form or another until 1976 upon the building of a reservoir on the Uncompahgre River as a result of Ridgway Dam.
With a population of fewer than 1000 residents, Ridgway Colorado thrives on tourism, a result of year around, high adventure outdoor sports, especially nearby world-class skiing venues and as a memorable setting for the western movie classic, True Grit. Ranching also sustains the community and surrounding areas.
Among the famous citizens residing here are the family of former actor, Dennis Weaver, founder of the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park, and American fashion designer, Ralph Lauren, who owns one of the most incredibly scenic ranches in the world.
We started our journey to the Great Southwest at Cortez, Colorado. Then, we headed east on Navajo Trail/US Route 160 toward Durango.
In Durango, we turned north on US Route 550 and immediately ascended into the heavenly heights of the San Juan Mountains Colorado.
It’s about 48 miles of steep narrow road with hairpin curves and amazing overlooks from Durango to Silverton Colorado, a little over an one hour drive, non-stop when the road and weather are clear.
The south end of the Million Dollar Highway/US Route 550 begins in Silverton. We drove from there, winding our way over and through the San Juan Mountains to where this renowned highway ends in Ouray Colorado at the north end.
It’s about 24 miles (40 minutes on clear summer days) of convoluting blacktop looping the Colorado Rockies at snow-capped elevations only eagles soar.
From Ouray, we continued north on the San Juan Skyway via US Route 550 to Ridgway Colorado. Most of the town site is located on the west side of the highway.
Built in 1985 as a legacy to the famous film, “True Grit”, starring John Wayne, which put Ridgeway on the international map, the True Grit Café is a legend unto itself.
Old-time architecture is melded with modern amenities.
That the True Grit Cafe has a big personality is indisputable. What's unexpected is their flare for eclectic, rustic decor . . . very Colorado.
We love delicious “cowboy cuisine” and True Grit Café’s menu is rife with it, including the ever popular “Tex-Mex” take on south of the border specialties.
With a sign like this, how can you get lost?
The True Grit Cafe is more than about the movie; it's like a memorial to one of America's greatest icons . . . John Wayne.
This amazing portrait seems to capture John Wayne's western heart.
Protected in a glass display cabinet, the bright afternoon sun glints off the edges, dazzling visitors.
With my camera I took careful aim, whispered a silent prayer, and shot the photo. I can't believe it turned out!
That's me, Cat McMahon, with John Wayne; well, a stand up poster of him, the next best thing to real life, I guess. The look on his face is priceless! Apparently he wasn't as excited to meet me as I was to meet him!
"The Dennis Weaver® Memorial Park is a magical place of reflection and relaxation dedicated to the memory and vision of actor/ environmentalist Dennis Weaver.
This 60-acre public park is a permanent wildlife preserve along the lush Uncompahgre River corridor . . . Within the park are miles of winding hiking and biking trails with spectacular mountain and river vistas."
"On August 27 1915, the Ouray Herald reported on Ridgway’s newest building, “The new theater being erected by Louis Sherbino and son is nearing completion and will be ready for the opening show and dance the first week in September. The theater will be one of the most up-to-date on the Western Slope, with comfortable chairs, best of lighting fixtures, perfect ventilation and an ideal floor for dancing.”
"Nearly 100 years later, Louis Sherbino’s vision remained intact—sort of . . . "
"Whether you love riding mountain passes or the open plains, if you’re planning your trip or just getting directions to the next town; this map will help you choose the route that best suits your interests and abilities. Enjoy the ride!"
"Ridgway Area Trails (RAT) is both a very effective non-profit, NGO, dedicated to trail advocacy and construction, and a very fun system of single track trail in and around Ridgway, Colorado. RAT the organization is the local chapter of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, Inc. (COPMOBA). COPMOBA has been around since 1989, advocating for and constructing trails (including Kokopelli’s Trail and the Grand Loop Trail) all over Western Colorado.
Building on the COPMOBA legacy, RAT has created an amazingly accessible trail system right in and around Ridgway. RAT spent 8 years advocating for the project on Town, BLM and State lands. The group has approval from all three agencies to construct over 25 miles of new single track. Construction started in 2011 and has accelerated the past 12 months. RAT has completed trails in Weaver Park (town land) and on BLM land north of town. RAT plans to add at least 15 miles of new trail this summer (2014)."
"Only 15 miles from the town of Ouray, Ridgway's great outdoors - the "Switzerland of America" - welcomes those from near and far. The park’s popular campgrounds, beautiful reservoir, picnic and playground areas, extensive trails, and diverse wildlife offer year-round activities for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Come enjoy our swimbeach too!"
Camping & Hiking in Bear Country downloadable PDF
"Our award winning restaurants serve everything from a burger to a sizzling steak. Lots of outdoor dining. Many ethnic choices. With our own brewery and distillery we have the bases covered for a good time."
There’s always something to do in Ridgway Colorado. Consider subscribing to the RSS calendar fees for more information about your unique interests.
"Incredible San Juan Mountain Views . . . Tour the area on our exceptionally safe, nine passenger Pinzgauer: a unique one ton military troupe transport vehicle."
"Southwest Colorado Fly Shop, Trout Fly Fishing Guide Service and White Water River Rafting Trips .. RIGS Adventure CO in Western Colorado features the finest Fly Shop , Fish Report, Gold Medal Fly Fishing Guide Service (Walk Wade & Float Fishing trips in Drift Boats), family Whitewater River Rafting Trips (Rafting & Kayaking), Stand Up Paddle Boarding, River Tubing, Photo Tours, Rentals and River Expeditions..."
"A hot air balloon flight is one of life’s very special treats and worth doing with one of the best : San Juan Balloon Adventures! Co-owners Gary and Carolyn Woods, now in their 22nd year of operation, have shared the “gentle adventure” with visitors from every state in the U.S. and almost every country in the world! This family business focuses on quality and personalized service."
"For over twenty-five years our specialty has been offering “hut-to-hut” backcountry tours into the most remote and wild regions. From the high mountains near Telluride, Ouray & Durango to the slick rock of Moab, we’ve developed a network of singletrack trails and routes supported by 16 isolated mountain huts. – Across amazing terrain!"
" . . . The first time I hiked to Blue Lakes was in 1997, which was also one of the first times I ever went hiking with my future wife. We had known each other for almost a year when we decided to do a hiking trip in the Ouray area. We were roughly 1.5 miles from the Blue Lakes Trailhead, just past the point where the trail enters the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area, when I had the distinct feeling that we were being watched…presumably by a mountain lion . . . "
"Ridgway, Colorado, long known as the birthplace of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, is the home of a museum dedicated to the preservation of the history of railroading in Ouray County and surrounding areas . . ."
"Perhaps it’s the easygoing attitude and fresh mountain air. Or maybe it’s your anticipation in hitting one Rocky Mountain high after another. If abundant recreation and serene relaxation create your concept of nirvana, you’ll discover it in peak form at Chipeta Solar Springs Resort.
Fringed by the majestic San Juan Mountain Range in Ridgway, Colorado, our southwestern-inspired boutique lodge blends cozy accommodations and wellness touches with bed and breakfast charm . . . "
Galleries, boutiques and shops bursting with beautiful art, antiques, gifts and souvenirs will please those who enjoy shopping as a road trip pastime.
"TOP is pleased to offer 7 kilometers of trails groomed for Nordic skating and classic flat-track skiing. Also, we have something new for you, a newly created snowshoe trail from the parking area to the meadow . . . "