Nestled deeply in a box canyon in the heart of the San Juan Range, and known as the “Switzerland of America” Ouray, CO is the real deal. Though Ouray is only 10 miles (as the crow flies –50 by road) from Telluride, it has a completely different vibe to it than its neighboring resort town. The hard winters, relative isolation, lack of a ski resort, and resistance to high levels of development allow this town to maintain its sense of authenticity, and there is an earthy feel to it. As you walk around town, it is easy to feel the traces of its mining, ranching and railroad history in the many 19th century buildings that are still standing and actively used, and the rough-hewn ethos of the Ouray locals is palpable.
Ouray offers outstanding hiking, climbing and mountain biking, during the summer months, and a large hot springs pool operates year round to ease aching muscles after a day (or a week) out on the trails. But the town’s claim to fame is that it is home to the world’s first ice climbing park –developed in 1994 by a group of dedicated volunteers (and ice-climbing devotees.)
Prevailing against the odds, this resolute group garnered the land needed and developed a sprinkler system, expanding the ice falls in a mile-long section of the Uncompahgre Gorge. This informal beginning, originally intended for the personal pleasure of a niche group, has evolved into the ice-climbing capitol of the world, and hosts the Ouray Ice Festival every January.
The culture of Ouray is purely outdoors –set as it is in some of the most rugged and scenic beauty in the country. Since the mining and rail dollars have dried up, Ouray is home to a collection of outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom rely on tourist dollars for income. That said, the atmosphere of Ouray is strictly local; it does not feel like a town designed with tourists in mind, but rather a place that welcomes visitors to partake in and enjoy what the locals like best.
In addition to the expansive outdoor opportunities, Ouray also offers several good dining options to suit every budget, many shops and galleries –most of which are either showcasing art which has been inspired by the landscape, or merchandise to enjoy it, and several historic sites which bring the rugged stories of the area to life.
Elevation: 7,500 ft
Avg Temp in January: 32/15
Avg Temp in July: 76/51
Known for: Ouray Ice Festival, Mountain Sports, Historic Mining & Rail Town, Hot Springs