Growing up on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies meant proximity to some of the most beautiful mountain towns in the country. Ouray, Colorado, often called the “Switzerland of America” is no exception. The town is named after the late Chief Ouray of the Ute Native Americans and is well known by tourists for its relaxing hot springs and seasonal ice climbing.
Keep reading to learn more about this off-the-beaten-path, must-visit Colorado mountain town!
History of Ouray, Colorado
Ouray, a picturesque town nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, has a rich history that dates back to the 19th century. Originally inhabited by Ute Native Americans, the region became a significant part of their ancestral lands. The town itself was founded in 1876 during the Colorado silver boom, and its growth was fueled by mining activities. Ouray quickly became known as the “Switzerland of America” due to its stunning mountainous scenery. The town thrived with the influx of miners seeking fortune, and its historic architecture, including well-preserved Victorian-era buildings, bears witness to this prosperous era.
Chief Ouray, after whom the town is named, played a pivotal role in the history of the Ute people and the area. Born in 1833, Ouray was a respected leader and diplomat, known for his efforts to negotiate peace between the Utes and European settlers. He skillfully navigated the changing landscape as white settlers encroached upon Ute lands. Chief Ouray advocated for cooperation rather than confrontation, earning him the nickname “The Peacemaker.”
Ouray’s influence extended beyond the Ute tribe, as he forged alliances with governmental authorities to ensure the survival and well-being of his people. Today, his legacy lives on not only in the town that bears his name but also in the broader history of Native American relations with European settlers in the American West.
As you walk down Main Street in Ouray, you will also find various plaques and signage to learn more about the history, including which buildings were standing in its earliest years.
Relax in Ouray’s Famous Hot Springs
Hot springs, in general, are natural bodies of water heated by geothermal energy from the Earth’s interior. As the water percolates through the Earth’s crust, it picks up minerals, resulting in the mineral-rich composition that makes hot springs not only relaxing but also potentially beneficial for skin, circulation, and overall well-being. The hot springs in Ouray provide a perfect blend of natural beauty and therapeutic comfort, making them a sought-after destination for travelers seeking both relaxation and health benefits.
Our top picks for soaking in Ouray
Ouray, Colorado, is renowned for its rejuvenating hot springs, providing a unique and soothing experience for visitors. One of the prominent hot spring facilities in the area is the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. This facility features a series of mineral-rich pools, each with its distinct temperature and therapeutic benefits. The geothermally heated water originates from underground springs, offering a natural and relaxing soak against the backdrop of the stunning San Juan Mountains.
The Ouray Hot Springs Pool is celebrated for its family-friendly atmosphere, catering to a wide range of visitors seeking relaxation and the potential health benefits associated with mineral baths.
Another noteworthy hot spring destination in Ouray is the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings. This facility provides a more intimate and luxurious setting, offering an underground vapor cave with geothermal-heated mineral water. What sets Wiesbaden apart is not only its upscale ambiance but also its historical significance, having served guests since the late 19th century. The combination of historical charm and the therapeutic qualities of the mineral-rich hot springs make Wiesbaden a distinctive and inviting retreat.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention a newer addition to Ouray’s hot springs scene: Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs. This newly renovated hot springs facility features nearly a dozen different pools at varying temperatures along with two heated swimming pools making it another family friendly option for visitors. The property also offers vapor caves for guests to unwind in, including a dry sauna for those who want to enjoy their spa day with a little less intensity. During the summer months, the property also offers a Tiki Bar via the adjacent Mineshaft Restaurant.
Explore the Outdoors in Ouray, Colorado
Depending on the season, you will find both popular hiking trails or ice climbing adventures in Ouray.
Ice Climbing in Ouray
Ouray, Colorado, is hailed as the “Ice Climbing Capital of North America,” attracting thrill-seekers and adventure enthusiasts from around the world. The town’s unique topography, surrounded by towering cliffs and canyons, provides an ideal playground for ice climbers during the winter months.
The Ouray Ice Park, a world-renowned ice climbing venue, features a diverse array of frozen waterfalls and ice-covered cliffs that cater to climbers of all skill levels. With its extensive network of ice routes, the park offers a dynamic and challenging experience, from beginner-friendly ascents to more advanced and technical climbs. The annual Ouray Ice Festival further cements the town’s status as a mecca for ice climbing, drawing professional climbers and novices alike to partake in competitions, workshops, and the shared passion for conquering frozen heights in this winter wonderland.
Hiking in Ouray
Hiking in Ouray, Colorado, is a breathtaking adventure through the rugged and scenic landscapes of the San Juan Mountains. The Perimeter Trail, a popular hiking route encircling the town, provides hikers with spectacular views of towering peaks, lush valleys, and the charming streets of Ouray itself. This trail offers a diverse range of terrain, from forested paths to exposed cliffs, making it suitable for hikers of varying skill levels.
For those seeking an immersive nature experience, the Box Cañon Falls Park is a must-visit destination. The Box Cañon Falls Trail takes hikers through a narrow gorge to witness the awe-inspiring falls, where water cascades 285 feet into the canyon below. The trail is surrounded by towering rock walls and offers a close-up encounter with the power of nature. Hiking in Ouray not only provides physical challenges but also rewards adventurers with the stunning beauty of the Colorado wilderness.
Final Thoughts on Ouray, Colorado
Ouray always has been, and will continue to be, my favorite mountain town in Colorado. Not only are the surrounding views absolutely spectacular, but it is also away from the hustle bustle of more popular Rocky Mountain tourist destinations like Telluride or Summit County.
As a rare Colorado Native who doesn’t ski or snowboard, finding mountain towns in the winter that are not defined by these winter sports can be difficult. But Ouray, with its quaint atmosphere and natural hot springs, is the perfect place to relax for a winter get away from the busy ski towns of the Rocky Mountains. Likewise, it’s also a great base-camp for all your Summer adventures in the surrounding forests.