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Ouray Colorado Vacation Guide and Trip Planning Information for SW Colorado

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Getting Ready for Summer Jeeping and Four-wheeled Driving in Ouray


clearing jeep roadsOuray enjoys a bountiful snowfall in most years and the high alpine terrain around Ouray Colorado gets even more.  To ensure a longer lasting and great 4WD season, Ouray and the surrounding counties call on their road and bridge department personnel to clear the roads.  In early May (weather depending of course), Ouray County starts the plowing efforts.  Typically, Camp Bird Road (Ouray County 361) gets the first days of plowing.  The bulldozer driver and a volunteer head up the way, slowly moving snow from the road to the side.  This road is plowed past Twin Falls and up to the location of the bathrooms.  The remainder of the basin remains unplowed for the time being. 

clearing jeep roads cork screwThen, the crew moves to the roads of Red Mountain and then onto Corkscrew Pass. Meanwhile, San Juan County (Silverton) and San Miguel County (Telluride) crews are also working on their roads.  Each county plugs away on their territory and the glorious sun does its work too (and hopefully, temperatures cooperate) and melts much of the snow away.  By the time the counties hit the high alpine passes in mid to late June, the job is still daunting, but the task is just about complete.  Road crews meet at the top and then residents and visitors alike can enjoy the spectacular San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado.  

imogene pass snowfieldThe process of clearing snow on the large north facing snowfield in Imogene Basin and then up on the pass is very dangerous.  Since the road is not visible, the dozer driver must be meticulous and accurate with ample experience to know where to plow next.  As you see from the photograph, the road is not very obvious so experience in the terrain is a must.  Imogene Pass is typically the last area cleared and the goal is that it is complete by July 4th weekend but never guaranteed.  With its high elevation, warm days are not the norm.  Enjoyable temperatures remain in the fifties and sixties at the pass itself, even on the hottest days in Ouray.  

If you are thinking of a scenic jeep tour in the Ouray area or you would like to rent your own jeep and drive the 4WD roads, the season typically begins in mid-May and lasts until the roads close again in the fall, typically by the end of October.

At our Ouray hotel, we are delighted to make reservations for your scenic tour.  Typically, one day notice is all that is required to get you on a tour, but, if you have a particular desire, it is best to let us reserve your trip with more advance notice.  The Box Canyon Lodge also offers a Stay and Play package that includes a jeep tour for two.  Our natural, odor free Colorado hot springs feel very good after a long day in the high country!

Latest Status:  As of May 22, 2011, Ouray Road and Bridge are still working in Yankee Boy Basin.  Follow us on Facebook and we will keep people updated.

National Historic District of Ouray: Historic Walking Tour


miners statue ourayEight blocks long by eight blocks wide, tucked at the end of a narrow valley in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, the National Historic District of Ouray sits waiting to show off her Victorian architecture.  There is a walking tour of the town that showcases many of the historical buildings. There are also some  photographs of a few of these structures.

The walking tour is a very pleasant walk along a few of Ouray's city blocks and can be an enjoyable afternoon activity; it is also one of the free things to do in Ouray all year round.

For those who prefer to be pampered, the Ouray County Historical Society now offers private guided walking tours of Ouray. They last 1-2 hrs and focus on both the Victorian homes near Main Street and the 19th Century commercial buildings on Main street. The tour guides discuss 36 separate buildings. This is a great way to learn about the history of Ouray. These private tours cost $10 per person (12 years and older) with a minimum number of four persons. Children under 12 are free. Contact the museum at 970-325-4576 to set up your own private walking tour of Ouray led by knowledgeable museum volunteers.

The people that work at our hotel in Ouray would be delighted to provide you with the Walking Tour upon arrival or we would work to coordinate a time to set up a private tour with the Ouray Museum.

Best Off the Beaten Path Picnic Spots in Ouray County - Part 1


I can’t think of a more beautiful area to stop and smell the wildflowers than Ouray County. At every turn you stumble across quite possibly the most picturesque spot you’ve ever seen in your life. Then, a little farther down the road, you again stumble across quite possibly the most picturesque spot you’ve ever seen in your life. Generally there’s a postcard-worthy stream nearby. And wildflowers. A big blue sky over red canyon walls. And it just goes on and on.

For a great adventure, try to picnic in one of the following gorgeous meadows at the base of incredible mountains.

Box Factory Park
sneffels wildernessHead toward Ridgway and then travel west toward Telluride on Highway 62. Look for County Road 9 as it exits the highway on your left. There is also be a sign that says West Dallas Creek. When you start out on CR9, you will go through the private property of designer Ralph Lauren’s Ranch. The Double RL Ranch is approximately 22,000 acres of perfect views. This dirt road winds up and splits at a fork and you’ll want to stay to the right as it turns into CR9A. You’ll drive along a mesa above Stough Draw, pass through old-growth aspen groves, and enjoy gambel oak as you get closer and closer to Mount Sneffels.  The road gets narrower toward the end, crosses some small streams, and can get marshy after a rain, but the payoff is worth it. You’ll know the picnic spot when you see it…the road ends in a magnificent field called Box Factory Park with one of the most amazing views of Mount Sneffels I’ve ever seen. The mountain is perfectly framed by a grove of aspen that you will enjoy walking through. Peaceful, off the grid, and a beautiful spot to enjoy your lunch.

Deb’s Meadow
Head toward Ridgway on Highway 550 and after you go through town, be on the lookout for CR10 and the sign for Owl Creek Pass, which will turn off the highway on your right. Follow the signs and be sure you take the right fork in the road on CR8 – right will take you up Owl Creek Pass and left will take you back out to the highway.

debs meadow owl creek passCourthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak will dominate the view in your windshield, as will all of the Cimarron Mountain Range. When Chimney Rock fills up your view and you feel close enough to touch it, you’re almost at the summit. Deb’s Meadow is just below the summit, so if you reach the top of the pass, you’ve gone too far. You can’t miss it though…it’s the only open field you’ll pass on the entire journey. The meadow is on the left and there’s a circle “drive” you can take to park. This is your picnicking destination for the day, complete with a gurgling brook -- Cow Creek.  Aspens line the corn lily-covered field and the view of Chimney Rock is astounding.  Walk to the middle of the field – watch your step, it can be marshy in spots - and roll out your blanket. And if this spot looks familiar, you may recognize it from the famous shootout scene at the end of “True Grit,” where John Wayne charged across on his horse, guns in both hands, reins in his teeth. It’s a picturesque little spot and you’ll enjoy imagining the Duke was there in 1968 filming the only movie that won him the Academy Award.

ironton million dollar highwayIf you enjoy history and want to eat your lunch in a real ghost town, travel out of Ouray on the Million Dollar Highway toward Silverton and spend the afternoon in Ironton. Ironton is located in a huge valley called Ironton Park, and was a natural shipping point for the mines in the Red Mountain Mining District, just up the highway. Established in 1883, it thrived for many years before fading away, like most mining towns do. The former townsite is very easy to find. On the north side of Red Mountain Pass, just after you descend the switchbacks, you will find a large clearing to your left. The town was located just to the east of U.S. Highway 550, with the old main street running parallel to the present road. There are a few houses still standing, some with aspen trees growing out of their living rooms. Follow the dirt road that runs parallel to the highway (you’ll only be 200 yards or so away from the Million Dollar Highway) and you’ll continue to find more homesteads and structures. A picnic table is among them. Enjoy your lunch and walk around the ruins set against a beautiful mountain backdrop. A creek runs behind the homes.  As you explore, imagine life in the 1800s and the families that once called these crumbling remains “home.” Be sure to listen to the wind. It has stories to tell.

Part 2: Best Off the Beaten Path Picnic Spots in Ouray County identifies two other great choices for a summertime picnic adventure in the San Juan Mountains

About the author:  Marion Zachary is a website designer, photographer, videographer and four-wheel drive enthusiast who attempts to spend every spare moment in the San Juan Mountains. Her website featuring her Colorado adventures with her Australian Shepherd, Rio, is filled with incredible information on jeeping roads and 4WD trails near Ouray.

San Juan Mountain Mining Conference in Ouray Colorado April 2011


red mountain creekJoin the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership at the San Juan Mountain Mining Conference to be held in Ouray, CO on April 27, 2011 in the Ouray Community Center from 3:00pm - 8:00pm.

Presentation Topics include:

  • Water quality of Red Mountain Creek (pictured)
  • Understanding the Idarado clean-up
  • Watershed restoration and navigating liability

The Partners and Guest Speakers include:

  • Mountain Studies Institute
  • Trout Unlimited
  • USGS
  • Lake Fork Valley Conservency
  • Animas River Stakeholders Group
  • Kerber Creek Restoration Project
  • Willow Creek Reclamation Committee
  • Western Hardrock Watershed Team

Sponsors are:  

  • Mosaic Community Project
  • Colorado NPS Pollution Program

The cost of the event is $25 which includes dinner.  For more information or to RSVP contact Rachel at

Our hotel in Ouray, Colorado, the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, will provide a rate of $69/night + tax for those who want to participate in the conference and stay overnight in Ouray.  Just mention the Mining Conference to secure your group rate when you make your reservation.  Contact us at (970) 325-4981.

Drive Your Electric or Hybrid Car to Ouray, Colo. and Stay for Free!


Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs OurayBe green, and earn some green. That’s the motto at Ouray’s Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs this Earth Day (April 22, 2011). Every guest who drives his or her electric/hybrid car to the lodging property on Earth Day stays for free that night. That means nearly $100 greenbacks in your pocket.

The Earth Day promotion is just the latest in the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs’ environmental initiatives. The lodge, which has earned the Four Key Rating from well-known eco-rating program, Green Key, has four natural hot springs on site. Not only does this water heat naturally to provide a rejuvenating soak for guests, but also the same geothermal hot springs water is used to heat the motel during the winter months and provides year-round heating to bathing water and laundry facilities. Since 2007, the property has reduced its gas consumption by 70 percent.

Avery adds that there are several other energy-efficient initiatives at the motel, such as additional insulation, energy-efficient light bulbs, low-flush toilets and showers, a towel/linen reuse program, and in-room recycling. Additionally, two new Continental Girbau washer-extractors help conserve electricity and water and consequently reduce drying times by 30 percent. New vinyl double-paned windows were installed in fall 2010 to conserve electricity. (The old windows were recycled.)

Gilcrest and Soames BeeKind body lotion and conditioning shampoo, which are free of parabens, phthalates and artificial colors, are offered in the guest rooms. The product comes in a paper bottle, resulting in a 92 percent reduction in waste compared to plastic.  Also, the property uses Green Seal certified cleaning products.

Finally, notes Avery, Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs use local suppliers and those that demonstrate a commitment to the environment and to the community, where possible. Breakfast consists of pastries from a local caterer and coffee from a local roaster, for instance.

There are many ways to get up close and personal with Mother Nature while you’re in Ouray.  Hire an expert from San Juan Mountain Guides to help you channel your inner Spiderman on the rock walls in Ouray. Venture into the backcountry for some spring skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. Or, simply mosey down the National Historic District downtown to shop for the perfect gift. Be sure to leave plenty of time to soak up Mother Earth’s beauty in the four hot springs tubs onsite at Box Canyon Lodge after your day of exploring.

About Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs:   The Box Canyon Lodge is located in beautiful Ouray, Colo., nicknamed “Switzerland ofAmerica.” Box Canyon Lodge, a hot springs motel boasting four, all natural hot springs tubs, offers a peaceful location, clean, comfortable and nicely decorated rooms, meticulously-maintained grounds and warm, personal service. The Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs has been recognized by a variety of publications, receiving the “Award of Excellence”by the Colorado Connoisseur and Travel Holiday magazine and listed as one of Sunset magazine’s “Best of the West.” Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs has also earned the four key rating from Green Key, a well-known eco-rating program.

3 Reasons to Take a Scenic Jeep Tour in Ouray Colorado


scenic jeep tour near Ouray ColoradoSummertime in Ouray, Colorado, is a fantastic time to get into the high Rocky Mountains.  One of the best ways to enjoy the flora and the fauna when in Southwest Colorado is to take a jeep tour.  There are three jeep tour companies in Ouray that can take you into the backcountry, across many historic roads and past many ghost towns.  Three reasons to take a jeep tour are:

  1. The guides are professional drivers.  They drive these roads all summer long and are able to manage all the turns and bumps with the precision of a surgeon.  They memorize the contours of the road and make the ride as gentle as possible.  You don't need to concern yourself with the route or the read a map.  They know where they want to take you and you are in safe hands.
  2. The drivers of the commercial jeep tours know the flora and fauna of the area.  They know the names of the animals and are really good at spotting the various creatures that live in the alpine zone.  They also know the names of the wild flowers and know great places to stop and take photographs too.  ironton ghost town
  3. The drivers are very knowlegable of the history and geography of the area.  They enhance your journey with stories and anecdotes of the mining days in the late 1800s.  They are able to bring some of the mining structures to life by explaining the purpose of the building or elaborating on the ruins.  Of course, there are other ways to learn about the San Juan Mountain mining history too.

A ride with a commercial jeep tour is a must and your stay will be enriched.  We will gladly book a tour for your stay in Ouray, Colorado with one of the commercial jeep tour companies.  We offer a jeep tour package during the summertime. 

All companies will pick you up at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and drop you off there too.  Tours are typically a 1/2 day but you can also go out for an extended tour.  Reservations can typically made the day before you want to go on the tour without any problems if you do not have a large group.  If you are very particular which tour you take, advance notice is the best option.  When you book with us, we can also get your tour set up for you at that time too.

The rides can be rough so a soak in our natural hot springs will be a welcome end to a glorious day!


Snowcat Tours in SW Colorado


snowcat on red mountainAtop Red Mountain Pass, high in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, about 13 miles south of Ouray, the San Juan Scenic Jeep Tour company began offering snowcat tours this year.  Their snowcat sits at the pass, waiting for people who want to have some winter fun.  You must have reservations in advance but for those who plan ahead, incredible scenery and snow await your arrival.  Great snow for snowshoeing or skiing is available for those with the proper equipment and skills.

snow cat sceneryThe snowcat adventures take place primarily on private land and utilize an old road that, in the summer, serves as access to the top of Red Mountain III.  It opens up into a beautiful basin covered in snow.  The snowcat transports you and your party to pristine wilderness so be sure to bring your lunch and plenty of sunscreen.  You may call the company directly at (970) 325-0089 to make your reservations.

San Juan Scenic Jeep Tours also use this property in the summertime to show visitors the grandeur of the mountains with visits to Red Mountain III.

Ouray Colo: Canyoning & Canyoneering


Ouray CO is a outdoor enthusiasts paradise; Ouray is home to the worlds most accessible ice park, the Ouray Ice Park, as well as many backcountry climbs and ski routes.  Guiding services and climbing instruction including rock, mixed and ice are available from our local guiding service, San Juan Mountain Guides.  Ouray is also home to Rigging for Rescue, a company that offers week long seminars whereby people can learn how to use ropes effectively and safely in technical rescue situations.  Rock climbing routes are being developed all the time and now, you can begin to learn canyoning (also called canyoneering) in Ouray too!

What is canyoning?  Canyoning involves hiking, rappeling, dangling in waterfalls, bouldering, scrambling, swimming, and more hiking.  It means using any means necessary using human powered equipment to explore any tiny slot canyons.   As it turns out, Ouray, located in SW Colorado, has some of the very best alpine canyoneering in the world!  The same geography and ecology that gave Ouray the ice park also creates an incredible spot to enjoy Canyoneering in the San Juan Mountains.  Watch this video of the sport and see if it doesn't look fun!


Now that you want to learn this sport, why not come to Ouray for the 2nd Annual Ouray Canyon Festival to be held this summer, August 13 - 21.  It is being fashioned similarly to the Ouray Ice Festival whereby there will be clinics for people to learn the skills necessary to enjoy the sport and there will be intermediate and advanced courses too.  Currently, the canyoning clinics run by the San Juan Mountain Guides are slated to include an ACA (American Canyoneering Association) Technical Course, an ACA Advanced Course, as well as a guided rappel down Cascade Falls.  

San Juan Mountain Guides offers canyoneering courses all summer long, so you could be well on your way to enjoying Ouray in a whole new way!  

Of course, after being doused in the waterfalls created by snowmelt, our natural hot springs are a welcome relief to cold and tired bodies.  

Ouray is in the Heart of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway


Part I:  Ouray to Cortez

San Juan Skyway Scenic DriveThe San Juan Skyway is probably the prettiest drive in Colorado and encompasses such diversity of landscapes that it is a favorite year round.  The San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway is a 236 mile journey (6 hours without too many stops) in Southwest Colorado and includes the towns of Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Dolores, Cortez, Durango and Silverton.  Drive the circular route in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction and jump on anywhere.  If you have a fear of heights, driving north from Silverton toward Ouray puts your car or motorcycle on the mountain side during the descent into Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway and many people prefer that side of the road.

This road is a fantastic ride for those on motorcycles too.  The road is less traveled and the pavement quality is mostly good. However, the range of climates can be extreme so bring appropriate gear.  You have to be prepared for thunderstorms at any point and the tops of the passes can be chilly (some might say cold), even in summer.  Cortez is downright hot in summer.

The route I describe heads in a counterclockwise direction and starts in Ouray.  Head north along US 550 until you reach Ridgway, a mere 10 miles away.  Between Ouray and Ridgway, enjoy the "magic carpet", several miles of pasture that blanket the valley floor and notice the ranches.  At the only traffic light in Ouray County, turn left on Highway 62.   As you drive through Ridgway and cross the Uncompaghre River, notice the kayak park below as well as the nice river walk that leads you to the Ridgway State Park, several miles north of town.  Pass Hartwell Park on your right; it was used to film in the filming of one of the scenes in the original version of True Grit.

mt sneffels on san juan skywayContinue on Highway 62 west and drive parallel to the Sneffels Massif, an incredibly rugged mountain mass that takes your breath away.  Standing prominently in the middle is Mt. Sneffels, a beautiful Colorado 14er (mountain higher than 14,000 feet) and the only one in Ouray County.  This area is a photographers paradise and during the peak fall foliage season, this section of the drive provides some dramatic scenery; golden aspens juxtaposed with the jagged, snow dusted peaks.  These mountains run along an east to west axis which is quite unusal for Colorado Mountains.  At the top of the Dallas Divide, there is a scenic overlook.  Stop there and enjoy the views.  Head down the other side and in Placerville, turn left on Highway 145 and head towards Telluride.

Telluride is an old mining town with a huge ski area.  It is broken into two small towns, Mountain Village and Telluride.  You must detour about 2 miles to see downtown Telluride.  The gondola runs free nearly year round and can be a fun stop (Public Transportation, Mountain Style!).  You can catch it in either Mountain Village or Telluride. 

Mt wilson san juan skywayJust past Telluride on Highway 145, Mt. Wilson is a prominent feature of the landscape.  It too is a 14er.  You can continue on this road and go over Lizard Head Pass, a lovely stretch of road with a mild approach on both sides and enter the town of Rico.  From Rico, continue along the route that parallels the Dolores River and descend into the valley into Dolores.

While in Dolores, train afficianados will appreciate their fully operational Galloping Goose and train museum that was restored in the late 1990s.  This train/car combination was part of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad that was conceived by Otto Mears.

The Anasazi Heritage Center is located near Dolores and provides families and heritage travelers great insight into the ancient puebloans.  Their museum has interactive exhibits, including corn grinders, weaving looms, and computer games that provide hands on teaching.  This museum, operated by the BLM, is world class.  This museum also serves as a visitor center for those who want to explore Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, one of the largest concentrations of ruins of the Ancient Puebloan people.  This area also has numerous hiking trails and outdoor adventures with the backdrops of the cedar forests and rocky cliffs.  Get trail info from the Anasazi Heritage Center.

Balcony House ladderOnce in Cortez, you are in Mesa Verde Country, which is the home to Mesa Verde National Park. (Photo courtesy of Mesa Verde Country and is of Balcony House Ladder Climb).  An incredible array of preserved clif dwellings and 14 centuries of human history exist within the park and it is definitely worth a trip.  You can stay in the park at the Far View Lodge and it is a favorite to those seeking to experience Mesa Verde.  If you have interest in SW Colorado archaeology, then you should plan a few days in this area.  There are other areas of interest including Lowery PuebloHovenweep National Monument and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

The towns of Mancos, Dolores, and Cortez also boast a strong agricultural tradition so you can visit ranches, farms, wineries, and farmer's markets too.  There are also numerous festivals that happen in the area that make it a great stop on your trip to Southwest CO. 

Part II: Cortez to Ouray is coming next week!

Small Green Hotel in Ouray Provides Relaxing Respite


Our hotel in Ouray Colorado has one job - to pamper you. We want you to feel as if you are our only guest; provided with top service, friendly faces, and the tools and knowledge to best achieve the vacation that dreams are made of.  The Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs has earned a four key rating from the Green Key Association. Much of the work done to achieve this high green hotel rating is never really seen but often enjoyed by our guests.  Whether you visit for one night, or two weeks, our goal is to accommodate you in a superior fashion. Often it’s the little things that make all the difference. 

Each morning, we serve a light continental breakfast consisting of muffins, juice, apples, and tea or coffee. Our goal is not to take business away from any of the breakfast spots on Main Street, but to provide a little touch of home and to thank you, our guests, for visiting. Sara Sharpe, a local fine food caterer, regularly brings us fresh muffins in a variety of flavors, and the coffee delivered by Exotic Earth, roasted and ground just a couple of blocks down the street, make for a pleasant start to your day.  We also purchase our juice and apples from our local market as a way to promote community sustainability (we all need a grocery store, right?).  

350 projectThe personal touch of a home-made muffin and a cup of our gourmet coffee serve a dual purpose. One of the many ways to sustain our community is to buy locally.    Then of course, there is the freshness and originality that cannot be topped from a local merchant’s wares and services.  Plus, we support The 3/50 Project and they say that local area merchants tend to reinvest over 68% of their income into their local economy, as opposed to a 43% reinvestment from national chain businesses.  We know this is true in Ouray!

Small businesses such as ours value the individual in a very powerful way, as every guest has a direct impact on us personally.  Every remark and suggestion, positive and negative, are taken into consideration and discussed so as to continually improve and to ensure the most spectacular experience possible. And so, although it might cost a little less to purchase bulk from a big conglomerate, the return we get from using local products and services comes every time we make you smile. 

About the author:  Maria Ziemba works at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and raises her daughter in Ouray.  

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