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Ouray Colorado Vacation Guide and Trip Planning Information for SW Colorado

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3 Ways Ouray Colorado Differs from your Home Town

Ouray is a very picturesque village in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.  Ouray boasts 900 year round residents, the worlds first "Ice Park" as well as a rich and varied history in hard rock mining.   Through it all, however, Ouray has flourished as an incredible town for more than 100 years.  In my opinion, more than likely, Ouray is quite different from your town. Three ways that Ouray differs from your home town are traffic jams, waterfights, and hot water.

ouray wildlife big horn sheepFirst, Ouray traffic jams are not like your traffic jams.  Wildlife frequents our town and our nearby public lands.  Our traffic stops for wildlife for picture taking and gawking.  Just north of town, a large herd of big horn sheep (the state animal of Colorado) jump off the rocks and into the roadway so when you see the signs that indicate wildlife is in the area, slow down.  When the sheep get in the road, they stop traffic.  I think they find salt on the winter roads of the San Juan Mountains.  Read more about different Ouray wildlife at our website.

ouray colorado fourth of july

Second, Ouray water fights are not like your water fights.  Every Fourth of July, Ouray puts on a spectacular celebration featuring a small town parade, a brownie and lemonade social, kids games in the park, and the largest waterfight on the western slope of Colorado.  Teams of two fight one another with firehoses.  Local towns people get their teams in place in June and begin practicing for the time honored tradition.  There are separate divisions for Men, Women, Coed, and Juniors.  The spectacle starts at 2:00pm and is a tradition.  US Highway 550 is rerouted during the waterfights and the intersection of 6th Avenue and Main serves as the stage.  City employees place bleachers on two sides of the street to allow more folks to see the action.  The newly opened Ouray Brewery has rooftop seating and may be an excellent place to enjoy all the action.  (Water fight photo courtesy of Kane Scheidegger of 2S Studioz.)

natural hot springsLast, Ouray hot water is not like your hot water.  Southwest Colorado boasts many towns and spas with natural mineral hot springs, but Ouray has the added good fortune to possess hot springs with very low sulfur content; soakers can enjoy the soothing heat of water full of minerals such as magnesium and calcium, without the distinctive odor of sulfur. Common to almost every mineral hot spring is a high content of sodium, which may explain the lightness so many bathers comment on when enjoying this natural wonder. 

Bubbling to the surface at temperatures from 140 to 160 degrees, Ouray does have to cool its water to make it safe for bathing. As part of our Green Initiative, the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs recently upgraded all of our buildings to use geothermal energy from our hot spring water to heat not only our bath and laundry water, but also to serve as the primary heating source for all of our guest rooms in the winter months. The Box Canyon Lodge provides four redwood tubs tiered on the hillside in our courtyard for guests to enjoy the peace and beauty of the San Juan Mountains while soaking in a more private, natural setting. The temperature of our mineral hot spring water is maintained between 101 to 108 degrees varying by a couple of degrees from tub to tub.  If you come to Ouray during winter, you may even get lucky enough to enjoy being snowed upon while soaking!

Consider a Colorado vacation to Ouray and make your comparisons to your own home town.  Let us know if you agree with our assessment by commenting below!


Things to do in Ouray Colo & February Events


Lee's Ski Hill Ouray ColoradoThere are terrific things to do during the winter months in Ouray Colorado including that all time favorite:  soaking in natural hot springs while being snowed upon.  If you are feeling the need to getaway for a quick winter respite, let our picturesque village revitalize you; Ouray Colorado cures most cases of cabin fever!  Remember, Lee's Ski Hill is open on the weekends and provides a free rope tow to all who show up.  It is a great place to teach kids to ski or snowboard without incurring too much expense.  Other events during February 2011 in Ouray County are below.

February 5, 12, 19, and 26:  Free Fly Tying seminar Saturdays from 10:00am - 12:00pm at RIGS in Ridgway:  In addition to Free Fly Tying Seminars, the Fly Section at the Shop has also expanded its new tying materials section to be the most comprehensive in the region. Every thing from new hook styles to the latest and greatest in dubbing, beads, tools and tackle.

February 6, 2011, 2:30pm:  Banjo Concert - Jayme Stone Concert: Room of Wonders Two-time Juno Award-winning banjoist Jayme Stone's brand new album, Room of Wonders, is inspired by folk dances from around the world: Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Bulgaria, Italy and North America. He'll be touring Colorado with gravity-defying guitarist Grant Gordy and Sandra Wong (nyckelharpa, fiddle). Sponsored by Ouray County Performing Arts Guild.  This concert will be held at the Wright Opera House.

February 11, 2011:  1:00pm - 7:00pm Winter Arts and Craft Fest.  Free admission and Artists' Demonstrations.  All pieces are for sale and the entries include any art or craft, such as fine art, jewelry, needlework, and another other art form.  Admission is Free.  Sponsored by the Ouray County Arts Association.  Info at (970) 626-3212.

February 12, 2011:  10:00am - 7:00pm Winter Arts and Craft Fest.  Free admission and Artists' Demonstrations.  All pieces are for sale and the entries include any art or craft, such as fine art, jewelry, needlework, and another other art form.  Admission is Free.  Sponsored by the Ouray County Arts Association.  Info at (970) 626-3212.

kids climbing collegeFebruary 12:  Kids Climbing College:  12pm at the Kids Wall.  There will be four ropes set up with four San Juan Mountain Guides on staff to instruct the kids on safety and on how to climb ice. Two ropes will be dedicated to pre-registrants while the other two ropes will be dedicated to "walk'up" customers. All necessary climbing equipment will be provided along with hot chocolate, but please have your future ice climbing stars dressed warmly!

February 13, 2011:  12:00pm - 3:00pm Winter Arts and Craft Fest.  Free admission and Artists' Demonstrations.  All pieces are for sale and the entries include any art or craft, such as fine art, jewelry, needlework, and another other art form.  Admission is Free.  Sponsored by the Ouray County Arts Association.  Info at (970) 626-3212.

February 12, 13, and 14, 2011:  Valentines Day Special Dinner.  The Outlaw Restaurant is offering a special couples dinner in honor of lovers everywhere.  The special includes 1lb of King Crab Legs and two 6oz Filets -- served with choice of soup or salad, French baguette, rice or potato, and our vegetable medley.  Each special comes with one dessert to share (choices are:  Crème Brule, Death by Chocolate, or Outlaw Mud Pie) for $95/couple + tax and gratuity.  They are also offering Wine Specials on those evenings as well:  

Lust Zinfandel, Micheal David, Lodi ($60/bottle) 

Clos Du Bois, Chardonnay, Sonoma  ($30/bottle).

February 14, 2011:  The Beaumont Hotel will be serving a romantic Valentine's Day Dinner in the Historic Grand Ballroom.  The three-course meal will include soup or salad, Ribeye or Petite Lobster and a delicious dessert.  Reservations only.  $69 per couple.

February 26, 2011: Snowshoe through San Juan Mountain Mining District:  Enjoy a glorious day of snowshoeing or skiing near Red Mountain Pass and learn about Ouray County's epic mining heritage with the Ouray County Historical Society and Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership.  A snowshoe tour on Saturday, February 26 will explain the silent mining structures that recall the mining boom that gave life to the towns of Silverton and Ouray. Not only are these buildings at risk of disrepair, but some also lay at sites where leftover or exposed metals harm the health of the land and water of the Uncompahgre Watershed. Participate in this day's event to hear how OCHS and UWP work to protect and restore this valuable area of Ouray County.

The tour will be from 10am to 2pm, and will include a catered lunch plus a hot toddy/tea and coffee. This is a fundraiser for the OCHS and UWP, so please donate at least $25 per person (make checks payable to OCHS). Due to limited space, reservations are required. The group will meet at the Ouray Visitor Center at 10am and carpool to CR 31. Please RSVP by February 20 to Rachel at For questions, call Don at 325-0931.

Mines to be visited include Guston, Robinson, Genesse-Vanderbilt, Yankee Girl, and discussion of teh Mountain King, Barstow and Idarado.

 February 27, 2011:  Chili Cookoff at the Elks Lodge.   Details to follow or call the hotel if you are interested.


Ouray Colorado: Cross Country Ski in Ironton with Friends!


Employee of Box Canyon LodgeNear Ouray, in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, there are several areas to cross country ski, including Ironton Park on Red Mountain Pass along the Million Dollar Highway.  Ironton makes for a fantastic day of skiing as demonstrated by Maria Ziemba (pictured with daughter Sylvia), one of the employees at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs.  Read her thoughts of her most recent ski day below.

Before we started, we reviewed the areas available for skiing on the Ouray County Nordic Council website and then we double checked weather forecasts to be sure weren't travelling into an area that was expecting nasty weather (that can lower the fun factor). We took my level of expertise into account and we chose Ironton for the first outing of the year.

Ironton Park is maintained all winter by the Nordic Council, and it has beautifully groomed ski trails of varied difficulty.  A map at the trailhead identified several trail options. We chose the Townsite Loop. This trail is about two miles long, travelling past serene meadows, slight hills and finally, the few remaining buildings of the town itself before a straight shot back to the entrance to the park.  

We rented some skis from Ouray Mountain Sports on Main Street. The weather report indicated a beautiful day was in store, so we decided to head out early. The snow is safer in the morning before it has had time to soften up too much, not to mention how unpleasant it is when softened snow builds up in the kick zone on your skis. (I fall more than enough without adding any more handicaps to my day.)  Properly geared up, with a safe itinerary in mind, we began our little adventure. We jumped in the truck and headed south up Red Mountain Pass (Highway 550).  The highway was dry and the skies were clear. The scenery in the San Juans Mountains with their snow covered peaks amazed us.

About nine miles past Ouray, by the summertime turn off for Corkscrew Pass, is the pull off for Ironton Park. It is marked by a blue sign, with the trail map I mentioned earlier at the trail head.   Fantastic! The snow was perfect for skiing and the trail had just been groomed; we enjoyed the awesome beauty surrounding us.  

Most of the Townsite Loop is flat, with just a few little dips, the majority is just skating along, pretty easy. (Just fit your skis into the existing track, and do a kind of walk and slide. Once you get the hang of it, you don’t even feel like you are working any more, just skimming along the top of the snow without a care in the world.) Of course, I do have a tendency to get so caught up in the scenery that I forget to watch where I’m going, and inevitably wind up off the track with one or both skis dipping into unpacked snow, catching me off guard, and giving me the opportunity to practice the proper way to fall. There are many ways to land in the snow without getting hurt, the key is to try not to mess up the tracks on a groomed trail and create a mess for everyone else wanting to enjoy the park.  

About a quarter mile into the trail, we reached a hill. As long as you’re confident, you can continue skating all the way to the top, then it is kind of fun to just crouch down and let your skis take you down the other side, and back up to where the track flattens out again.  Right.  To control your speed, you bend your knees, and place your poles between your legs into the snow. To control my speed, I bent my knees, flailed my poles, and sat down. Repeatedly. I believe the first couple of times, my friend was amused. By the time I get up the other side of the hill, she was a trifle annoyed.  Back on level ground, we skated the rest of the way to the town of Ironton.

Actually, the trail took us into a little ghost town. It is hard to believe that up until the 1940’s, these homes were occupied. There are about three houses fully intact; you can ski right up to the front door. It probably is not a good idea to go into any, regardless of how cold or windy it may be outside. These buildings have been abandoned for a long time, and the last thing we want to do is fall through the floor, or worse yet, some small woodland animal could be nesting in there. Cute fuzzy wild animals are much cuter when they aren't feeling trapped and I am not encumbered by a backpack and skis. It is always fascinating to wander around here a little. The last little bit of the loop is an easy jaunt back to the truck. 

We saw some deer in the distance and saw cars travelling along the Million Dollar Highway to our left. Once at the truck, we stored our gear in the back, and made our way to town. I felt pretty good about myself, and since my friend was still talking to me, I decided I must have done pretty well. We went to O’Briens Pub for a much deserved hot chocolate for the two of us.  Every year, I promise to go out and try something new in this beautiful area; I can’t wait to head out again!

Green Hotel in Ouray Colorado Solicits Help from Hotel Guests


The Box Canyon Lodge strives to be a very green hotel.  We look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet: we use geothermal  hot springs to heat water for our rooms and guest use, we have insulated our buildings, replaced windows and doors with more energy efficient materials, and changed out our commercial washers and dryers for more energy efficient models.  We recycled our older materials as much as possible to minimize impact to our local landfill.  We continue to work on our impact.  However, there are things that guests can do to help us in our quest to be green.  Here are a few suggestions to help you be a greener guest during your next hotel stay:

  1. Turn off the A/C or heat when not in the room.  Although we have sensors that help us monitor these units, it saves even more electricity if people turn them off on their own.
  2. When the outside temperature is not too warm, open the windows and let the fresh air in to cool the room rather than run the A/C.  Choose to operate a ceiling fan or box fan if available.
  3. Sleep a bit cooler in the winter.  Ask for an extra blanket rather than turning up the heat. 
  4. Turn off the electrical appliances and lights when they are not needed.  Unplug any battery chargers when they are not in use.  Even with nothing attached to them, they draw small amounts of electricity.
  5. Participate in the linen reuse program; reuse your towels and sheets rather than requesting daily changes. 
  6. Use the recycle containers and work with the property to understand what is recyclable.
  7. Carry your own coffee cup and ask for that cup to be filled when moving around.
  8. Drink from the sink.  Don't buy single use bottled water.  Our Ouray water is the best.  It is from the City of Ouray watersupply and comes from the Weehawken Spring.
  9. Limit the time spent in the shower and don't let the sink water run when brushing your teeth.  Water conservation is very important, even when in Ouray.   Ouray is part of the vast drainage that forms the mighty Colorado River and that river provides water to very dry and very populous areas in the southwest US.  No need wasting water when so many people downstream depend on it.
  10. Borrow our copy of the movie called "Bag It".  This movie was created in Telluride, a town not too far away.  It will encourage you to begin utilizing cloth bags wherever possible in your life.  At the hotel, we are currently working to reduce our plastic bag use but have not completely mastered that one.
  11. Leave brochures, rack cards, and visitor guides in the room.  We will remove them on checkout and put them in our lobby if they are in good condition so that others can use them.  It saves printing and paper!

Many of these practices work at your home as well and can be applied to your conscientious lifestyle.  Your wallet will thank you too! 

On your next visit to Ouray, stop by the front desk and ask for a free travel mug.  We are happy to give it to you for being a green hotel guest!

green hotel travel mug

Ouray CO: Winter Training with San Juan Mountain Guides


The "Switzerland of America", Ouray, Colorado, is located in the San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado. Ouray is the home of the San Juan Mountain Guides.  During the winter season, they offer many different classes that teach people how to enjoy the extreme sports of winter in a safe and competent manner.

kids-climbing-collegeObviously, Ouray is the home to the Ouray Ice Park and San Juan Mountain Guides are the official concessionaires for the park.  They run the super cool Kids Climbing College where kids can learn to ice climb for free on certain weekends during the winter.  ice climbing girlThere are two courses offered during the Ouray Ice Festival (January 8th and 9th) and there is another course offered on February 20th.  Many of the guides have their own children so they understand a child's unique needs.  The kids really enjoy their experiences and,  with some encouragement and warm clothes, everyone succeeds. 

Ice climbing instruction and guiding are also available for adults throughout the season.  They offer basic, intermediate and private instruction and typically they provide most of the equipment for their clients at no additional charge.

If you want to explore the backcountry in the winter, SJMGs are providing an AIARE (American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education) Avalanche 1 Course.  This course is simply the finest avalanche education offered in southwestern Colorado.  This is a three day course and provides comprehensive training for those new to travel in avalanche terrain.  battleship-slideSouthwest Colorado contains some of the most complicated snowpack in the continental US and it is in this area where you will receive your field instruction.  The instructors are more than ski guides, they are professional educators and as a result, there are 8 hours of classroom instruction and 16 hours of field instruction.  Anyone who recreates in the Colorado mountains outside of a commercial ski resort during the winter needs basic avalanche understanding to ensure a safe experience.  Snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and boarders need considerable knowledge of avalanches because they can be deadly.

Earn-your-turn skiingIf you are an intermediate skier at a Colorado ski resort but want to change it up a bit, why not learn how to navigate the conditions and terrain to become a competent backcountry skier? You can enroll in a backcountry ski instruction course.  Earn-your-turn skiing is gaining in popularity but it can be challenging to negotiate the variable snow conditions that develop in the backcountry as well as the unseen and unknown hazards.  Let the San Juan Mountain Guides hone your skills and provide you with a wealth of knowledge so you can enjoy this sport for years to come.  SJMGs provide the specialized backcountry gear and are taking 15% off of their normal ski instruction rates this winter.  Give it a whirl!

Afterwards, return to our hotel and soak your weary muscles in our natural hot springs.  You won't ever forget this experience!

Ouray CO: Wildlife Viewing in January


Ouray Colorado, the "Switzerland of America", is a quaint Victorian town in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado.  It is located on the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway, an incredibly scenic area.  In winter, it is quiet and serene on most any day and it is an excellent location for some wildlife viewing.  

Today, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep were hanging out on a hillside about 1.5 miles north of Ouray.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

The Bighorn Sheep are the Colorado State animal and are amazing to watch.  These animals are known for their large horns that develop on the older males.  Sure-footed and agile, they move through the rocky cliffs like ballet dancers, each foot placed in the perfect location.  Viewers are left wondering, "How can they do that?".  

Herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorns

It is common to see the Bald Eagles near the town of Ridgway along the river.  In fact, there is a little riverwalk (paved cement and wood mostly) that is an ideal location to see them.   Typically, they perch in the cottonwood trees along that stretch of river waiting for the right fish to swim by.  

The deer are at the park adjacent to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool  at dusk just about every night and typically, there are at least a dozen.  Of course, year round, you can catch those animals roaming but there are more in winter.  My belief is that the Hot Springs actually warms the ground a bit and the grass stays pretty green year round so it is a most delightful place to bed down at night.

When staying at our Ouray hotel, the deer have been spotted near the natural hot springs too.  They enjoy the land behind the motel as it is warm too.  There are also many birds that enjoy that hillside including several stellar jays, magpies and other smaller species.

Elk typically frequent the meadows along the highway that connect Ridgway and Ouray yet I have not seen them there this winter.  Sometimes I see Elk in the Dexter Creek drainage area too.

In all cases, these are wild animals so do not feed them and do not get too close so bring binoculars or special camera lenses instead. 

For more ideas on things to do in Ouray during the winter, download our Winter Fun in Ouray brochure.

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