Surrounded by the towering San Juan mountains, Ouray is a Southern Colorado mountain town pulled straight from a storybook.
We only spent 24 hours there, but I’m already daydreaming of the next opportunity we have to return.
The small mountain town of Ouray sits at 7,792 feet in elevation. But this town is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges standing 13,000 feet high.
Ouray is truly the most Instagrammable mountain town you need to add to your bucket list. No matter where in town you are, the view of the 13,000-foot mountains from 5,200 feet lower will overwhelm you with their beauty.
We visited in mid-April. Albeit off-season for the town, it felt like the perfect time to stay. Since we visited during the town’s off-season, rates were low (for more budget-friendly travel tips, read this article). The town and its trails weren’t too crowded. And, the sun shone over the town surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
When you do visit, visit with the intent to soak in this quaint, picturesque mountain town. After all, you won’t find restaurants open past nine, so it’s the perfect opportunity to tuck in and wake up early to take full advantage of your stay there.
Oh, and after spending all day hiking around its beautiful trails and mountains, you can sit back and relax in Ouray’s sulfur-free hot springs. You’ll enjoy ending the day relaxing your muscles in hot water.
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If you’re thinking about flying in to visit Ouray, the nearest airport is in Montrose, Colorado. The drive will take you South approximately 45 minutes.
You can drive to Ouray one of two ways. You can drive into town from either the North or the South via Highway 550.
Once you’re there, Ouray is very easy to navigate. The town itself is an eight block by eight block grid surrounded by beautiful mountains. While we were in town, we didn’t even need to drive.
Essentials to Pack for a Day Trip to Ouray
Alright. Has anyone else totally hated on this new “selfie stick” fad? (ooops!)
So…I’m definitely guilty of resisting the selfie stick. But, Mike and I have taken plenty of selfies on the various trips we’ve shared together. It’s disappointing when a photo turns out to be 90% our faces (regardless of how handsome
But, Mike and I have taken plenty of selfies on the various trips we’ve shared together. It’s disappointing when a photo turns out to be 80% our faces (regardless of how handsome he is) and 20% of the beautiful scenery we want to remember (see picture on the right for an example). And I’m way too socially awkward to ask a stranger to take our picture. Plus, there’s not always someone around to take it.
Given all of the above, I jumped the gun and bought a selfie stick. It’s a “business investment,” if you will. Plus, Mike is so often the man behind the camera when it comes to photos for my blog. But I want to snap more photos of us together with the beautiful places we see as a prominent background. Like this one:
Yeah, I still need to work on the whole acquiring better lighting through angling thing. But our photos already have a vast improvement!
If you’re interested in making the small investment, I highly recommend this Mpow Selfie Stick that fits most smartphones. The selfie stick works via Bluetooth and comes in Gold or Rose Gold. It’s a good quality selfie stick with a nightlight that firmly grips onto your phone.
I went overboard and packed three pairs of shoes for our trip to Ouray. To be fair, I used every pair on more than one occasion.
…does anyone vibe with my whole needing to pack a pair of shoes for practically every occasion?
The pairs I packed for this trip were:
- Nike shoes for walking around the various trails
- these black and white striped Soludos shoes, a casual, stylish and comfortable pair that looks great with denim shorts
- my black Dr. Scholl’s Svetlana flat, a stylish pair cushioned with memory foam that’s perfect for dressing up and walking around town
I toted the two pairs I wasn’t wearing in a little shoe bag and just dug into the bag when I needed a change of style.
Since Ouray is situated at such a high elevation, I recommend packing a jacket regardless of the season you visit. The weather is so unpredictable in Colorado. It snowed in mid-April following a few weeks of sunshine.
Then also remember to pack clothes for outdoor activity, a swimming suit, and of course a nice outfit to wear to dinner at the end of the night!
For the most part, I like using Airbnb while I travel. We planned our trip last minute so, by the time we looked, there weren’t any Airbnbs available.
However, we found a cute and budget-friendly hotel room right in town at the Matterhorn Inn. Ouray is such a small town that most of the hotel rooms you book will be within walking distance to everything (restaurants, hiking trailheads, shops).
Matterhorn Inn was located just a hop and a skip away from Main Street. And this budget-friendly accommodation really gave us a bang for our buck. The basic hotel room we stayed in was clean, comfortable and updated. They included parking and wi-fi with our rate. Plus, we received complimentary breakfast in the morning. They provided a hot breakfast ticket redeemable at Timberline Deli (only a couple blocks away), as well as coffee, juice, fruit and pastries back at the hotel.
For a one or two night stay, you can’t go wrong booking Matterhorn Inn. But there are a few other cute, affordable options in Ouray. Everything is located pretty closely together. And, booking a hotel in town makes it easy to get around town by foot.
- Matterhorn Inn
- Airbnb (Airbnb is great, plus by signing up with me, you get a $40 travel credit that never expires. So claim that free travel credit now!)
- Trusted Housesitters
- or, see other hotels in Ouray.
Day One in Ouray
We arrived in Ouray shortly after noon, which gave us ample time to explore the town before checking into our room at Matterhorn Inn. We drove past the town and headed straight to Bear Creek Falls.
Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls makes a great first stop during your trip to Ouray. Nestled a couple minutes south of the town off of Highway 550, it’s a beautiful place to begin your adventure exploring Ouray. After you exit the town, you’ll turn the curb and eventually go under a small tunnel.
After you exit the tiny tunnel, you’ll be able to pull over at the Bear Creek Falls lookout point. From the lookout point, you also get a beautiful view of the valley. You can even continue your drive through the valley on what’s known as the Million Dollar Highway.
The Million Dollar Highway
If continue heading South from Bear Creek Falls, you can continue on Highway 550 South. Highway 550 South, also known as the Million Dollar Highway is a road known for its narrow shoulders and steep cliffs.
The drive itself seems to go past different types of mountains. You get a variety of gorgeous views. Although we visited in springtime, just the sight of the aspen trees along the road gave us the hint that this road would be beautiful to drive on in the autumn.
There are few places you can pull to the side of the road and snap a photo. But when you get the opportunity, do it.
Oh, but be forewarned: do not drive this road if you’re an unconfident driver.
We followed an unconfident driver for a portion of the way. The extremely narrow shoulder scared her so much that she was driving in the opposite lane. Considering the road is also windy with tons of blind turns, driving in the opposite lane is not the brightest idea that has ever popped into her head. It was like following a car wreck waiting to happen.
Regardless, if you make the time to visit Ouray, also make the time to drive on Highway 550 south. If you make your way down to the next town of Silverton, the drive should take you about 1.5-2 hours round trip.
The Perimeter Trail runs along the upper perimeter (who would have guessed, right?) of Ouray. The trails all around town seem to lead to the Perimeter Trail at one point or another.
For our first adventure, we chose to start the Perimeter Trail at the Ice Park Trailhead.
We found this trail accidentally by exiting the town South and following signs that pointed towards “Box Canyon” off of Highway 550. You can find that sign by driving South right out of town, following the first curve. We parked in a large, unpaved area at the bottom of the hill and then walked up the hill. If you follow these directions, you’ll find the Ice Park Loop trailhead on your left-hand side.
After nearly 1 mile (0.9 per the signage), the Ice Park Trailhead merges onto the Perimeter Trail. Taking this way leads you into the forest, and across a river.
You’ll pass a hydroelectric dam, old cabins, beautiful views, a rushing river, and a crystal clear lake.
Eventually, the trail takes you back to town, where you can cross the street to continue on the Perimeter Trail. When you do, you are met with a gorgeous view of the valley and the mountains surrounding it.
We even saw Cascade Falls, which was across town. We saved that visit for Day 2.
After this hike, you are going to be sooo hungry for dinner! Per our coworker, we decided to enjoy dinner at Bon Ton Restaurant.
Bon Ton Restaurant
For a rustic, romantic ambiance, enjoy dinner at Bon Ton Restaurant. It’s situated in a basement beneath the St. Elmo Hotel. Its walls are made of stone, which truly adds to the romantic feel of the place.
They specialize in Italian entrees, but also serve other dishes like salmon, halibut, or eggplant parmesan. While you wait for your meal, you can enjoy their delicious bread and butter. I’m still trying to guess what delicious herbs they put in their butter!
Breakfast at Timberline Deli
If you’re staying at Matterhorn Inn, you receive a complimentary breakfast ticket redeemable at Timberline Deli. Even if you decide to stay elsewhere, Timberline Deli is a great place to catch a simple and tasty breakfast or lunch.
The ambiance has a cute, comfortable and homey feel to it. On the outside, they have patio seating. A unique touch to their patio is an old ski lift chair you can swing on while you wait for your food.
You can access the Box Canyon trailhead from Third Street in Downtown Ouray. The entrance fee is $3 or $4 per adult, but every dollar is worth it.
The entire experience at Box Canyon Park is unforgettable. I thought about writing an entire post on it, but I’ll try to keep this brief.
If you walk towards the back of the park, you’ll find a steel walkway that goes through the canyon towards Box Canyon Falls. The waterfall itself rushes down into the canyon. The canyon amplifies the sound of the water so you can really hear the water rushing.
At the end of the walkway, you can walk down and into the canyon.
I’m afraid of heights, so I couldn’t stand still on the steel walkway long enough to take many pictures. In fact, while Mike took his sweet time in the canyon, I totally rushed out.
Outside of the canyon, you’ll also find a staircase that leads up the mountain, giving you a beautiful view of the town.
At the end of the staircase, you’ll find a nice, shaded resting area with a good view of the town. You have the option to continue walking uphill. If you can manage, I recommend continuing. Just be prepared to walk uphill on rocks. If you’re used to it, it should be no problem given that the walk uphill isn’t a long distance.
Once you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views of the town.
If you do visit Ouray, consider this hike a must-do.
We ended our trip across town with a short walk up to Cascade Falls: a massive waterfall amidst a serene natural setting.
To get to Cascade Falls, you can park in the lot located at the end of 8th Avenue right in Ouray. Otherwise, the walk to the trailhead itself is very close to town and easily accessible by foot.
Once you’re there, you can easily find somewhere to get comfortable and enjoy a nice picnic by the water. We actually had our leftovers from dinner the evening before, so we enjoyed that for lunch. We finished exploring town around noon, and thus ended our far too short trip to Ouray!
Instagrammable Ouray: a year-round destination
I’m already looking forward to the next time we visit this beautiful mountain town. The outdoor activities to enjoy in Ouray are endless: jeep tours, canyoneering, hiking, rock climbing. All the while ending your day soaking in the sulfur-free hot springs with a beautiful freaking view of the surrounding mountains.
We visited during off season (mid-April) so there were shops and restaurants we wanted to try and see that were under renovation. For such a small town, it’s amazing that its activities are countless.
Like, if soaking in hot springs at the end of the day just isn’t your thing, doesn’t it sound great to enjoy a beer on the rooftop at the Ouray Brewery?
There’s truly something for everyone in Ouray.
You have to add this Instagrammable mountain town to your bucket list.
Like what you see? I think you’ll enjoy these other travel posts:
- Ice Caves and Waterfalls in Rifle, Colorado
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Trip on a Budget
- How to Plan a Stress Free Staycation
Now, it’s your turn! I want to hear your stories about Ouray! If you haven’t been there, what’s the most Instagrammable town you’ve visited?