Take the back roads in Ouray County and see more in just a short drive!
Often referred to as the Jeeping Capital of the World, Ouray and the surrounding area boast over 500 miles of four wheel drive roads. Each trail is filled with spectacular scenery; a journey into the colorful past that is the Western Slope of Colorado. Abandoned mines, wildflowers, mountain lakes and waterfalls are just a few of the sights awaiting you on any given trail.
Although many of these roads require the higher clearance of a four wheel drive, and are more fun if you take a jeep or a tour, there are several county roads off the beaten track that can be travelled in a regular passenger car. These are three of my favorite short drives which are easily accessed and won't damage your vehicle:
River Road (County Road 17) from Ouray to Ridgway
Drive time: ½ hour to an hour
Ever wonder how people get to the houses you see on the west side of Highway 550 north of Ouray? This road starts in Ouray as Oak Street, and is best to begin at the southwest corner of town near the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs. Travel up over Oak Street and the view of the town below is a spectacular way to begin the journey to Ridgway. Travel along the river for a short distance, the
road curves toward highway 550. At this junction, take the left curve which will take you back and up past the Black Lakes Subdivision, look down on Idlewild and finally into the open ranchland surrounding Ridgway. When you get to the base of the hill, you can either turn right, back to highway 550, or continue the back road all the way into Ridgway, exiting onto Highway 62. The majority of this drive is past private property, but the views are amazing and well worth the drive.
County Road 1 from Ridgway to Colona
Drive Time: 1 to 2 hours
County Road 1 is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Ouray County. Accessible by several routes in and around Ridgway Colorado, this road takes you up past the Divide Golf Course, meadows and ranchland, displaying the true diversity of landscape Colorado is famous for.
Perfect for viewing Fall Foliage, try driving County Road 24 first, then just follow the signs to Divide Golf Course. Instead of turning in at the clubhouse, just continue on the main road which will eventually exit onto Highway 550 at Colona. Turn right to head back to Ouray.
Owl Creek Pass to Silver Jack Reservoir (County Road 10)
Drive time: non-stop, about 2 hours, but easily a half day drive
Definitely a favorite for all of the history connected to this road, not to mention the fantastic scenery, County Road 10 can be accessed either off of Highway 550 about 2 miles north of Ridgway, or for the more adventurous, take County road 12 just south of the town of Ridgway's only traffic light, and circle up 12A which exits out onto county road 10. Take a right, and continue your adventure.
Beyond ranches as the road begins to climb, the entire valley is spread before you, it just gets better and better on this drive with the first glimpse of Chimney Rock. Entering the more forested portion of this drive, you can't miss Deb's Meadow, the scene of the famous shootout in the original "True Grit" movie. The road continues on to picnic spots by the river, and Silver Jack reservoir, a beautiful mountain lake. This road actually continues beyond this point, but gets a little rougher, and may not be as much fun in a passenger car.
In August 2010, the Alpine Triangle, near the towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City, in the San Juan mountains in SW Colorado were named one of the "Best Wild Places" by Field and Stream magazine. There are pictures from their three day adventure vacation into the area as well as some details outlining their route. Day 2 included a trip over Cinnamon Pass into Lake City. Day 3 began with a jeep ride into Ouray and Ridgway.
Guiding services can be provided by Tony Chelf (pictured above), also known as the Fly Fishing Cop (He was an officer with the City of Ouray Police Department for 30 years and he retired last summer). He knows the areas well and is a former President of Trout Unlimited Gunnison Gorge Chapter. If you would like further information on fishing in the area, contact the Fly Fishing Cop at (970) 596-4697.
You can also head to Ridgway, ten minutes north of Ouray. RIGS is a fly shop located in Ridgway, Colorado. They provide guide services year round in the vicinity of Ouray and Ridgway too. They sell Tenkara fly fishing rods and they are the only seller in Colorado to do so. These rods are used in the traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing where only a rod, line and fly - but no reel - are used. RIGS even maintains a fish report for the rivers and streams near Ouray and Ridgway.
Fishing in Colorado is regulated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and their full and comprehensive brochure for the 2012 fishing season for the state of Colorado is online. This link is a great place for anglers to begin trip planning to southwest Colorado. It includes information on licenses, gold medal waters, and fish species. Enjoy your Colorado Vacation in the San Juan Mountains as there are so many things to do in Ouray and beyond!