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Ouray bills itself as the Switzerland of America, and it’s easy to see why. Nestled in a steep canyon among the San Juan Mountains, it is shrouded in alpine beauty. The former mining and railroad town has a charming historic district that looks much like it did during the town’s 1880s heyday. Pioneer log cabins, elegant Queen Anne homes, and brick-fronted commercial buildings can all be found here. Today Ouray is known as an outdoor recreation mecca, drawing mountain bikers, hikers, and off-roaders — but its specialty is water-based pastimes.
Thanks to its mountain environs, the town has become a top destination for ice climbers worldwide, and an ice park opened here in 1994. Visitors who prefer to enjoy taking things in from a horizontal vantage can luxuriate in a network of naturally heated hot springs. And those who like their water on the move can gaze at nearby Box Canyon Falls, a 285-foot marvel that cascades into a narrow canyon. When you’ve dried off, hop on the Million Dollar Highway, which runs through Ouray and is one of the most gorgeous drives in Colorado.
Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) is the closest to Ouray at about 45 minutes north. Once on the ground, you can pick up a rental car here, which is your best option for exploring Ouray and the surrounding area.
Summer in Ouray is mild, with warm days, cool nights, and occasional cloudbursts. It’s an ideal time for hiking, mountain biking, and long drives with clear views on the Million Dollar Highway. The weather cools in the fall, and the mountain forests are splashed with brilliant gold and yellow leaves. Winters in Ouray are long and bring lots of snow along with an influx of visitors, particularly ice climbers. In January, the town celebrates the Ouray Ice Festival, a multi-day climbing event. Spring is mild and dry, and as the snow melts, waterfalls spring to life throughout the region.
Every winter the canyon walls of the Uncompahgre Gorge are sprayed down with water to create the epic Ouray Ice Park, where climbers with ropes and axes loft themselves high above the gorge floor on ice-covered vertical walls. There are more than 100 manmade climbs, 11 distinct areas, and three miles of vertical terrain here. Not a seasoned ice climber? There are climbing zones for kids and beginners, and you can hire guides and gear in town.
Owned and operated by the city of Ouray, this year-round hot springs has been in operation since 1927. For a small day-use fee you can avail yourself of five geothermally heated pools ranging between 75 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The town brags that these waters are sulfate-free, meaning none of the weird eggy smell that accompanies some springs. Surrounded by the majesty of the San Juan Mountains, it’s hard to imagine a hot bath with a better view.
Get a sense of what Ouray was like more at the start of the 20th century with a tour of this inactive ore mine. Tours take visitors underground to explore a mineshaft, and offer the chance to try panning gold in the original mine stream. There are also exhibits of mining equipment, a gift shop, and cafe.