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Our Favorite Things to Do & See in Ouray

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Becca B
8 min read

Nestled within the majestic San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, Ouray is an enchantingly beautiful mountain town with a thirst for adventure. Aptly nicknamed the "Switzerland of America," Ouray boasts a breathtaking backdrop of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and steep canyon walls.

Known for its rich mining history, Ouray seamlessly blends the charm of a bygone era with the modern allure of a vibrant outdoor haven with plenty to keep you busy from hot spring soaking to mountain hiking. It is an irresistible destination for travelers seeking a unique blend of history, nature, and the exhilaration of high-altitude exploration in a small-town setting.

Our Local Experts' Favorite Things About Ouray

A beautiful view of Ouray Ouray is possibly my favorite mountain town in all of Colorado, especially in summer, which is my favorite time of year to visit this mountain oasis. The location inside the steep walls of a box canyon makes for a surreally beautiful natural setting and hiking through the wildflower strewn, high alpine meadows.

Add in natural hot springs in the center of town, summer hikes through wildflower strewn, high alpine meadows, and a myriad of other outdoor activities and you’ll be sure you’ve stumbled upon a little piece of heaven.

What to Do & See at Night in Ouray

People are enjoying music with food As the sun sets behind the rugged peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Ouray comes alive with a different kind of magic. From starlit strolls to live entertainment, Ouray's nocturnal offerings are as diverse as its daytime adventures.

Hot Springs Under the Moonlight

My favorite thing to do in Ouray in winter on a full, or near full, moon night is to take a dip in the therapeutic waters of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, basking in the moon's soft glow. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool stays open until 9pm, allowing visitors to soak beneath the stars in winter (in summer it will just be closer to dusk when they close). The steam rising from the pools creates an ethereal atmosphere, making it a serene and rejuvenating experience that is also romantic.

Live Music and Local Brews

Ouray’s compact downtown has more than a few vibrant nightspots, some of which also have live music. One place that often has live local acts is O'Brien's. The casual Irish pub also has a diverse pub grub menu and a variety of drinks.

Ouray is also known for its craft beer scene. The Ouray Brewery is one of the most popular options with more than a dozen house-made beers, some of which have won awards, on tap. It also serves very good American fare, including juicy burgers.

Located in the historic St. Elmo Hotel, The Silver Eagle Saloon is known for its Old West ambiance. The saloon offers a selection of drinks and a trip back in time to Ouray's wild gold mining days.

Stargazing in an International Dark Sky Park

If stargazing is your jam, then you’ll be happy to know that Ouray County is home to two International Dark Sky Parks, which are places designated for their dedication to preserving the night sky by limiting light pollution. Top of the Pines, which is located just south of the nearby town of Ridgway, is one. The park is a 175-acre recreation area sitting at an elevation of 8,650 feet and home to some of Colorado’s darkest skies. Get here via County Road 5 from Ridgeway.

Fun for All Ages in Ouray

A woman enjoying a jeep ride Ouray is an outdoor focused town that is fun year-round, although summer is my favorite season here. I like the warmer weather and the sheer volume of activities offered. But winter is also a revered season, and the town is famous for its ice climbing park as well as its hot springs.

Family-Friendly Jeep Tours

Explore the breathtaking landscapes surrounding Ouray with a family-friendly Jeep tour. San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours [LINK to San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours] is a reputable company that offers guided excursions, taking you through rugged mountain terrain, historic mining sites, and stunning vistas. With knowledgeable guides and custom-designed Jeeps, this is an ideal way for families to bond over the beauty of the San Juan Mountains.

Soak in the Ouray Hot Springs

A visit to Ouray is incomplete without soaking in the therapeutic waters of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Open year-round, this family-friendly facility offers a variety of pools, including a shallow kiddie pool, making it suitable for all ages. Enjoy the stunning mountain views while soaking in the warm, mineral-rich waters—a relaxing experience for parents and an aquatic playground for the little ones. Historic Mine Tours

Ouray began as a gold mining camp after A.W.”Gus”Begole and John Eckles discovered ore here in July 1875. It quickly grew as more and more prospectors flocked here in hopes of striking it rich. Delve into Ouray's rich mining history with a guided tour of the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine. Operated by the Ouray County Historical Society, these tours take you into the depths of a historic mine and offer a look into the challenges faced by miners during the Ouray’s early years.

Ouray Historical Walking Tours

Embark on a journey through Ouray's rich history with a guided walking tour by Ouray Historical Walking Tours. Led by knowledgeable guides, these tours take you through the charming streets of Ouray, sharing fascinating tales of the town's past, including its mining heritage. It's an educational and entertaining experience for the entire family.

Unique Experiences in Ouray

Ouray is filled with unique experiences from backcountry jeep tours in summer to ice climbing adventures in winter.

Ice Climbing Adventures

Turn your winter visit into a thrilling adventure with ice climbing, a signature experience in Ouray. San Juan Mountain Guides specializes in guiding enthusiasts of all skill levels through the famous Ouray Ice Park. Towering ice walls and frozen cascades provide a breathtaking backdrop for an adrenaline-fueled day, making it an experience unlike any other.

Backcountry Jeep Tours

Discover the hidden gems of the San Juan Mountains on a backcountry Jeep Tour with Alpine Scenic 4x4 Tours These customized tours take you off the beaten path, providing access to scenic vistas, historic mining sites, and breathtaking alpine landscapes. The knowledgeable guides share insights into the area's history, flora, and fauna, creating a truly immersive and unique experience.

Photography Tours

Capture the beauty of Ouray through the lens of a camera with Big Sun Photo Tours . Tailored for photography enthusiasts, these tours take you to stunning locations around Ouray, providing the perfect opportunities to capture the magic of the San Juan Mountains. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned photographer, these tours offer a unique perspective of Ouray's natural wonders.

Fun on a Budget in Ouray

Some people are hiking There is plenty of fun to be had on a budget in Ouray. Here are some of my favorite ideas.

Perimeter Trail Hike

Going for a hike is always a free activity, and there is no shortage of options around Ouray. The Perimeter Trail is one very popular option. The 5.4-mile loop trail around the exterior of the town is moderately difficult and takes just over three hours to complete. It I filled with stunning views of the surrounding mountains, cascading waterfalls, and the town’s charming architecture.

Budget Friendly Dining

Ouray also has a decent amount of budget friendly dining, especially when compared to its more expensive neighbor Telluride. The Bon Ton Restaurant is a local eatery is known for its casual atmosphere and diverse menu, offering a range of affordable options from sandwiches to pasta dishes.

The Outlaw Restaurant cooks up affordable pub fare in an Old West style setting. For Mediterranean on a budget, check out the Backstreet Bistro. Maggie’s Kitchen is where to go for an affordable breakfast. Head to Ouray Brewery during happy hour to try their craft beers at a discounted price.

Romantic Things to Do for Couples in Ouray

A couple enjoying the beautiful view of Ouray With its stunning natural beauty, Ouray has a romantic vibe. There are plenty of romantic things to do for couples here.

Visit Orvis Hot Springs & Spa

Orvis Hot Springs & Spa is in Ridgway, about 15 minutes’ drive from Ouray, and a perfect hot springs choice for couples. The clothing option natural pools are not heated or treated in any way. There are 10 soaking areas that range in temperature from 65 to 112 degrees. The pools all have different mineral components and seven are located outside. The pools are especially romantic at night when you can soak under the stars.

Book a Helicopter Tour

Combine adrenaline and romance when you book a helicopter tour with Ouray Helicopter Tours [LINK to Ouray Helicopter Tours]. Experience the thrill of a helicopter ride as you take in breathtaking aerial views of Ouray, Box Canyon, and beyond. This unique adventure provides a perspective of the landscape that few get to witness, making it a memorable romantic highlight. These tours also make for a unique spot to propose!

Indulge in Artisanal Chocolate Workshops at Mouse's Chocolates & Coffee

Indulge your sweet tooth while crafting your own confections at Mouse's Chocolates & Coffee. This unique experience allows you to participate in chocolate-making workshops, creating delicious treats under the guidance of skilled chocolatiers that you can then feed to your significant other. It's a hands-on and delectable way to engage with Ouray's culinary scene.

Natural Wonders in Ouray

A picture of tha natural wonders in Ouray Ouray isn’t known as the Switzerland of America for no reason. It is filled with natural wonders ripe for discovery. Here are just a few of my favorites.

See Box Canyon Falls

Tucked away in a deep, narrow gorge, Box Canyon Falls is a mesmerizing display of nature's power and artistry. A short hike from downtown Ouray takes you to the town’s most famous waterfall, where the unleashed waters of Canyon Creek plunge 285 feet into the canyon below. The roar of the falls and the mist in the air create a sensory symphony that captivates visitors. Explore the walkways around the falls for different vantage points and truly appreciate the force of nature at its finest.

Explore Yankee Boy Basin

If you have a high-clearance SUV or rent an ATV you can drive to Yankee Boy Basin from Ouray. It is one of the highest mountain trails in Colorado, climbing to an elevation of 12,526 feet. The basin is truly breathtaking, however, with wildflower-covered meadows, pristine alpine lakes and towering peaks, including Mount Sneffels.

The road is only open from June until October, and this is not a trail for novice drivers. While the lower portion is easy, the upper trail is very rocky, narrow, and steep and you’ll need to know what you are doing before attempting it. If you don’t feel comfortable, a visit here is a staple of many of the Jeep Tours offered in Ouray.

Play at the Ouray Ice Park

When winter blankets Ouray in snow and ice, the town transforms into a winter wonderland, and the Ouray Ice Park takes center stage. Renowned as one of the world's premier ice climbing destinations, the park features frozen waterfalls that attract climbers from around the globe. Even if you're not an ice climber, exploring the park during the winter months offers a unique and surreal experience. Witness the crystalline formations and hear the soft echoes of crampons on ice as you wander through this icy playground.

More from our Experts Here!

Looking for more travel advice from our local experts in Ouray and the rest of Southern Colorado? Check out our guides to:

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Becca B
Writer, Editor & Telluride Local
Becca Blond lives in Denver, Colorado and is a Lowell Thomas award winning travel and lifestyle writer. She has authored more than 30 Lonely Planet travel guides across five continents over the years and her writing regularly appears on websites like Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, Afar Media, Matador Network, Lonely Planet, Thrillist, and Planetware. Becca is an advocate for mental health disabilities and lives with an anxiety disorder for which she travels with her service dog Poppy. When not on the road she loves all the usual Colorado activities including skiing, SUP boarding, white water rafting, hiking and hot springing.

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