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Ouray Colorado--Traveling the San Juan Skyway

Updated September 25, 2017.

Ouray Colorado, the “Switzerland of America”, lays at the feet of majestic giants . . . the wild and woolly San Juan Mountains and the snow-capped Sneffels Range.

The area is rife with breathtaking scenery, stunning waterfalls cascading down chiseled crags and furrowed precipices, steaming hot springs, and roots buried deep in Victorian era gold and silver mining, a magnet for droves of prospectors.

Though decades have come and gone, Ouray continues to draw visitors worldwide to experience “the gem of the Rockies”.

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, and The Million Dollar Highway—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 3.  

We continue our road trip along this splendid National Scenic Byway in, Ridgway Colorado—Traveling the San Juan Skyway, part 5.

About Ouray Colorado

Originally a mining camp housing incoming prospectors in 1875, the town incorporated in 1876 and was named after Native American Ute Tribe Chief, Ouray.

Its population continued to swell as many claims were staked and mines grew.

After a decade of hoofing it, walking mucky foot paths, and riding horses and mules, Ouray, then a well-established mining community, ushered in steel and steam.  The Denver and Rio Grande Railway became the primary mode of transportation until the automobile/truck era was born.  Yet, it wasn’t until 1953 that the railroad was completely abandoned here.

In 1986, Ouray was designated as a National Historic District, famous for its Queen Anne Victorian era architecture and rollicking mining history.

Today, tourism sustains Ouray’s economy.  Year around visitors enjoy the charming ambiance of a bygone age, engage in all-season sports and explore nature’s larger-than-life amazing wonders.

The best way to soak up the historical vibe of Ouray Colorado is to take your a walking tour and hike the trail in the area.

Explore Ouray Colorado

Click on the links below to find fantastic places to see and thrilling things to do.

the journey begins here . . . live the adventure!

Map Your Road Trip

Use the map below to locate the destination of your choice.  Click on the red pins to get more information.

How to Get to Ouray Colorado

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 a 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.

Mining Ouray Colorado

Back in the day, it was all about mining silver and gold in, and around, Ouray Colorado.

In its heyday, mid-century mining operations were the backbone of America’s gold standard.

Everywhere, remnants of Ouray’s heritage coexists with twenty-first century living.

That’s me, Cat McMahon, practicing my amateur photography skills on a distanct relic.

Ouray Colorado--Nineteenth century mining remains clinging to a mountains side.

Clinging to an ancient mountainside, this antique mining site survives a desolate past in an unforgiving, rustic land.

Camp Bird Mine

"Camp Bird is named after just that, "Camp Birds", a common bird that ate many a miners lunch. When this mine was discovered by Andy Richardson, hired by Thomas Walsh, his lunch had just been eaten by the birds; hence the name Camp Bird. The Camp Bird mine site soon covered 900 acres. It eventually was the second largest gold mine in the state of Colorado. Walsh sold the property for 5.2 million in 1902. Walsh eventually purchased the "hope" diamond and later died in 1909. The mine produced between 30 and 50 million and is still producing today. Upper camp bird was where some of the other mines were located and a tramway system carried men and ore up and down."

Recently, gold fever has returned!  Under new ownership, the Camp Bird Mine is under-going modernization and is slated to re-open in 2014. Public access to seasonal recreation activities in the Camp Bird area will remain open.

Bachelor Syracuse Mine

"Visit the Bachelor of Syracuse mine in beautiful Ouray, Colorado! Explore the rich history of Colorado's mining heritage while touring deep into Gold Hill."

Box Cañon Falls

The hike to Box Cañon Falls is a mountainside hugging excursion that traverses across airy spaces.  A definite must-do in Ouray Colorado!

If pictures could paint words, then this video does . . . it tells the story of hiking to the falls.

“The steady roar of the waterfall can be heard year around at Box Cañon.  At its spring peak, water spray fills this whole area.  Did you know that the force of the falls could provide power for most of Ouray?  Don’t forget to look below to see the old mining equipment left in the river bed from the 1960s.”

--Local Signage

Learn more about this fantastic point of interest.  Click on the following link:

Box Canyon Falls and Visitor Center

Are you interested in more hiking trails?  Click on the following links:

Adventure Hiking in Ouray

Hiking in Ouray

Skip below to "Hiking"

Hot Springs

Located along a significant geological lift at the end of the Uncompahgre Valley are among the largest, most pristine hot springs bubbling up from the waters of the deep through underground fissures. 

Did You Know?

Singer, songwriter C.W. McCall served a spell as Ouray’s mayor.  He is best known for his outlaw country music.  He wrote a song immortalizing one of the most dangerous high adventure back roads in America, “Black Bear Road”.

Naturally sulfur free, the crystal clear springs flow at just the right temperatures for a restorative steamy soak. 

Both public and private access to the various springs in Ouray Colorado offer visitors a variety of spa experiences.

Learn more about hot springs in Ouray Colorado.  Click on the following links:

Movies, Television Series and Commercials Filmed in Ouray Colorado

Speaking of movies, Ouray is a famous Hollywood movie location!  Portions of one of my favorite movies, “True Grit“, were filmed here.  Check out the list below:

Atlas Shrugged” 2011, starring Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler

Over the Top” 1987, starring Sylvester Stallone

True Grit” 1969, starring John Wayne

MacGyver” television series

Chevrolet and Coors commercials

Uncompahgre Gorge

Located south of Ouray Colorado is a marvelous wonder, the Uncompahgre Gorge.

Formed by the Uncompahgre River cutting a deep swath through steep mountains, it is seemingly bottomless when viewed from the heights of the Million Dollar Highway.  

White water enthusiasts favor this challenging venue for its scenery and thrills.

Several falls tumbling from icy beginnings above add to the character of this alpine point of interest.



Ouray and wildlife live side-by-side in this mountain place.  It’s not unusual to see deer tour Main Street or to spot elk grazing in the fields on Ouray’s fringes along with pheasants and ptarmigan.

Stop and listen to the delight of song birds.  Enjoy watching bald eagles sailing overhead.  Discover a marmot . . .

. . . or pika among the rocks, or fishing for your dinner . . . trout is on the menu.

If you’re lucky you might sight big horn sheep, a mountain lion, a black bear . . . or moose!

Learn more about viewing wildlife near Ouray Colorado.  Click on the following links for downloadable PDFs:

Our road trip continues . . . “Ridgway Colorado—Traveling the San Juan Skyway” 


Ouray Glassworks & Pottery

“A visit to Ouray Glassworks and Pottery Company is a memorable and pleasant part of experiencing the wonders of one of the most enchanting places on earth, Ouray.  [Owner], Sam [Rushing] received recognition for his glass from the Smithsonian Museum, Southern Living Magazine, and in 2006, Rand McNally Atlas Company selected Ouray Glassworks as one of the top 20 places to visit in North America.”

Ouray Ice Park

"The Ouray Ice Park is a man made ice climbing venue operated in a spectacular natural gorge within walking distance of Ouray, CO. It is home to more than 200 named ice and mixed climbs, most within a 15-minute walk of the Park entrance. . . the Park remains free and open for public use. . . it has become one of the premier ice climbing venues in the world."


Ouray KOA

"This KOA's elevation is about 7,250 feet. Take a soak at one of the local, natural hot springs or work out the kinks in KOA's hot tub. Enjoy breakfast at the Creekside Cafe before heading out to the trails, and then return for an awesome dinner. Relax at KOA's bar on the creek with live music and David's famous Texas mesquite-style BBQ . . . "


Events Calendar

There's always something to do in Ouray Colorado. Consider subscribing to the RSS calendar feeds for more information about your unique interests.

Ouray County, Colorado Community Calendar

Ouray Canyon Festival

"The festival includes canyon trips, gear vendor displays, movies, workshops, presentations, demos, social meet and greet activities,  raffles,  and other events made possible by our sponsors and those who register and pay their registration fee."


Click on Fishing in Ouray County for a downloadable PDF with more information.

Guide Services

Alpine Scenic Tours

Peak Mountain Guides, LLC

San Juan Mountain Guides LLC


Horsethief Trail to Bridge of Heaven

"Choose a promising day and take a walk to heaven. The aptly named Bridge of Heaven trail leads to a lofty vantage point on a narrow 12,300-ft. ridge with spectacular panoramic views of the Cimarron Range to the northeast, the Sneffels Range to the west and Ironton and Red Mountain Pass to the south."

Lower Cascade Trail and Falls

It isn’t often one can access a short high mountain hike originating in a town.  The Lower Cascade Trail is filled with breathtaking views.

Ouray Perimeter Trail


Ouray Alchemist Museum

" . . . A must-see when in Ouray!  Take a guided tour back in time to experience pharmacy in the Wild West.  Over 40 years of collecting has produced this outstanding recreation of a frontier pharmacy, including the oldest prescription in Colorado."

Ouray County Museum

"The Museum features mining, ranching and railroading, the three main means of employment in Ouray's early history. It houses many artifacts dating back to Ouray's earliest days which began in 1875. There are large displays of minerals and Indian artifacts in the building. The Museum also features a Research Center containing much written information, thousands of photographs and a large library titled "The W. Ross Moore Mining History Library of the American West". Plan to visit this fascinating museum. You'll want to set aside a minimum of one hour for your visit."

Ouray County Ranch History Museum

"Museum exhibits tell the story of ranch and farm life in Ouray County from the 1880s through the present time. Many exhibits feature individual ranch families and include donations made by those families. The Museum is open Saturday and Sunday, May through mid-September and by appointment . . . Admission to the Museum is free, but donations are requested."

OHV Adventures

Points of Interest

Tomboy--Ghost Town

"One mile from Smuggler up Imogene Pass road is the Tomboy ghost town. Tomboy once had over 900 residents and sent its ore down to Pandora which is next to Telluride. The town closed in 1927 when the ore at the Tomboy mine ran out. There is more here than at most Colorado ghost towns and the site is only accessible a few months out of the year. The Imogene pass road is rated a 4/5 out of 5 as far as 4wd difficulty and danger and is also the second highest pass in Colorado. Do not attempt this road if you are not experienced in off-road driving. You can take a jeep tour from Telluride or Ouray. Submitted by: Todd Underwood"

More Colorado Road Trips You Might Enjoy . . . 

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