This was absolutely my favorite place we went during our road trip. It was such a surprise because I wasn’t expecting to love it so so much. I had visited Ouray during the winter and it was a ghost town honestly. During the summer, this place is ALIVE (even during a pandemic). There is so much to do here and something for everyone in this cute little town.
Things to do:
This is such an easy suggestion and a FREE way to see the amazing views this town has to offer. There are trails for all levels and some very unique trails available. One of these being the via Ferrata. This is a trail where you are basically hiking on the side of a cliff clipped into a harness. This is a very different experience than your typical walking trails! All ages can enjoy this, but if you don’t have experience it’s important to book through a guide your first time. There are also rental companies in the town to get the gear you need.
Ouray is also the perfect spot if you want some challenging hikes. Some popular trails include Ice Lake, Blue Lakes, and Mt Sneffles. These are some of the most amazing views you could ever see and worth the intense inclines. We only had time to do Blue Lakes, but you better believe we are coming back for Sneffles and Ice Lake!
This was the most beautiful hike I have EVER done. Seriously, this needs to be on everyone’s bucket lists. I’ve never seen such intense blue lakes! It’s important to note that this hike is pretty intense… some things to know before you go:
1. This trail is 8.2 miles round trip with 2,400 ft of elevation gain.
2. There is a ton of FREE camping near the trailhead that has incredible views. Great place to camp because you need to…
3. START EARLY! We started at 6 am and thank goodness we did. This hike is long and hard.. give yourself plenty of time to get up there and enjoy the lakes. This is also a very popular trail so I’m always doing what I can to avoid people. We started hiking back down around 11-12 and there were an absurd amount of people just starting… there were people parked over a mile away from the trailhead.
4. If you are looking for an overnight backpacking trip, you have to do this one! There is a ton of camping spots at the lower blue lake. This is also a very popular thing to do so make sure you get there early to get a good spot (or a spot at all).
5. The trail includes three lakes: lower, middle, upper. The lower is by far the prettiest and half the elevation gain of the entire trail. However, I think it’s totally worth it to do the whole thing and make it to the upper lake. You get better views of lower blue lake above and a good view of Mt. Sneffles, a Colorado 14er.
6. Bring some fishing gear! The middle lake is the best to fish in, you will easily catch a fish. The lower is harder to catch fish in but there are some MONSTER fish in there.
7. Be prepared for the hike down. I thought the hike up was hard… wooooooo the hike down ruined my knees. Take it slow and give yourself time!
Pro tip: The upper blue lake is at the bottom of Mt. Sneffles. A lot of people will continue hiking to the top of Mt. Sneffles, another 1,250 ft in only 1.4 miles 😵. The trail consists of a ton of switch backs and I’m sure is worth it at the top. The best way I would suggest to do this is to backpack in and set up camp at lower blue lakes. Then you can go to upper and hike Sneffles that day, come down, and spend the night instead of coming ALL the way down to the parking lot. Or you can hike Sneffles after a day of camping, whatever you choose! I just strongly suggest breaking it up or your knees might be broken lol! This is why we didn’t continue onto Mt Sneffles.. we were already so wore out.
Ouray has an absurd amount of Jeep tours, it’s like a staple of the town or something. Right outside of Ouray are a ton of awesome basins you can access by dirt roads. These jeep tours are awesome because you get to sit back and let someone else drive these scary bumpy roads and enjoy the ride. They also talk a lot about the history of the mining town, which is super interesting. We went on a tour with San Juan Jeep Tours and had a good time. It was $70 a person for half a day (plus tip). They can get a little pricey but if you can justify it, this is a super great way to see a lot in a short time. If I could do it again, I would go balls to the wall and do a private tour for a full day.
As I mentioned above, there are a ton of roads that go through the beautiful basins and mountains. Most of the people were in Ouray to take different vehicles out on these popular (and scary) roads. There were a ton of dirt bikes, ATVS, rzrs, and jeeps. A lot of people come prepared with their own, but there are plenty of rental companies in the town to provide you with whatever vehicle you want! Even San Juan Jeep Tours had private jeeps to rent for 24 hours. If you are comfortable driving some pretty intense roads with one of these, this is a great way to spend a day or two and see all of the area. The rental places give you a map, but beware there is no cell phone service once you get back into the basins. If I could do it again (and had more money), I would do a Jeep tour with a guide and then rent a vehicle the next day once I had a better of idea of where everything was.
Ouray is popppin! The downtown is so so cute and filled with cool shops, restaurants, and bars. We went to the main brewery which had an awesome beer selection, but of course was a little pricey. We found that Gold Belt Bar and Grill had the most reasonably priced food and was super good. We didn’t go, but Maggie’s is also a super popular place to visit for burgers.
You can’t visit Ouray without going to a hot springs… you seriously just cannot. I’ve been to both of the usual hot springs spots people use. One is right in town called Ouray Hot Springs Pool. This is super kid friendly which can be a plus or a reason to not go depending who you are. The rates are about $18 for adults and $12 for kids. They were only selling a super small amount of tickets for specific blocks of hours when we were there during the pandemic, so if you plan on going make sure you go in the morning and purchase tickets in advance.
My personal favorite hot springs in the area is Orvis hot springs. This hot springs costs $22 for a full day so it’s a little pricier, but worth it. This place is so more scenic where the other is literally just a pool. There are multiple natural looking pools with various temperatures which makes you feel like you are actually out in the wilderness in a hot spring. This place is not kid friendly in my opinion, although kids are allowed. This reason being…. this is a clothing optional hot springs. You can absolutely wear a bathing suit, but you might be the only one. If you are comfortable with nudity, GO! This place is amazing. Orvis also has a hotel and camping available and the rates include access to the hot springs.
Ironton Park Free Camping
Do not get tricked into paying for camping in Ouray. You also are going to be SOL in the summer because all the campsites are completely booked. Ironton park is just outside of Ouray via Million Dollar Highway and the coordinates are 37.93771193,-107.66943197. This camping area has a TON of spots. We got here super late after finding out all the campgrounds were full and easily found a spot. This is “dry” camping so there aren’t bathrooms or water available, be prepared!
Enjoy your time in Ouray! I know I did!