Ouray, Colorado, nestled beneath dramatic Rocky Mountain’s peaks, delivers not only fabulous views but also a charm of a well preserved Victorian mountain town. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts. Popular enough to have sufficient travel infrastructure, it remains uncrowded and welcoming. Nicknamed “The Switzerland of America” for its scenery and recreational opportunities, it is a perfect base for a fabulous vacation.
Talk about a fun trip! Two ladies cruising around Utah and Colorado in Dodge Durango. My friend, Lori, and I visited four national parks, two national monuments, and many lesser know attractions. Yet, one of the highlights of our adventure was a tiny town of Ouray, Colorado.
The town is located in the heart of the Uncompahgre National Forest in southwest Colorado, 35 miles south of Montrose and 70 miles north of Durango, CO – on Highway 550.
Getting to Ouray should be considered an adventure on its own so sufficient time is required. Road are well kept but because of the high elevation narrow and winding. Scenery is so breathtaking, you will want to take frequent stops. Also, you may need a break from driving to calm your nerves, especially if coming from Durango. This section, part of famous San Juan Skyway, will keep you on the edge – literally!
A variety of accommodations and services along with its close proximity to some of the regions most beautiful scenery make the town a perfect base camp for outdoor enthusiasts. Summer activities include hiking, rock climbing, biking, fishing, rafting, and off-road riding. After a long day of adventure, you can relax at Ouray County Hot Springs
Jeep tours from Ouray
Ouray proclaimed itself the “Jeep Capitol of the World” for the reason. The roads traverse a variety of terrain from extreme high mountain passes and rugged winding roads to areas of spectacular wildflowers. We took two most scenic tours of the area.
Corkscrew Pass Tour
There are many jeep tour companies in town. We picked one randomly – Switzerland of America Tours and Jeep Rentals.
I called the company and specified what I was looking for. My goal was to see the most picturesque scenery in the area and a lot of wildflowers. They recommended Corkscrew Pass Tour. They were spot on!
We started our tour on famous US-550, The Million Dollar Highway, which delivered great views of Ouray. Next, we entered the woods for a thrilling steep ride up.
Once out of the woods, we were wowed by open vistas of the Rockies! Soon I started to spot some read peaks. When we were approaching them, luckily weather improved from cloudy to party sunny! With the right lighting, the red mountains looked like colorful paintings. Breathtaking!
After a break to enjoy this beautiful scenery, we climbed the jeep again and started our final ride to Lake Como (only available if time allows). Wildflowers were everywhere! I wished we had more time to enjoy them but I also wanted to see the lake so I was fine with two quick stops. The lake turned out to be beautiful. Its turquoise water crowned with the high peaks created a gorgeous image.
Yankee Boy Basin
I devoted this tour to fulfill my longtime dream of seeing meadows of wildflowers. It was end of July, a prime season for flowers in the area! Getting to the basin was half the fun. The upper trail was very narrow and challenging. Our jeep driver was confident and doing his job well but at times I felt we were hanging on the edge of the cliff. The scenery was outstanding all the way up.
The most rewarding part was finally reaching the wildflower fields at 12000 ft. elevation. What a treat it was! There was a colorful display of flowers in each direction, among them beautiful columbine – a state flower of Colorado. Add to it breathtaking views of several mountains crowning the basin (most of them over 13500 feet), a gorgeous stream, and a waterfall – if there was a paradise, this is how it would look like!
Driving San Juan Skyway
Driving at lest a part of San Juan Skyway is a must when visiting Colorado. This stunning 233-mile loop crosses four high passes and connects Ouray to Silverton, Durango, Cortez, and Telluride. Along the route you’ll find outstanding vistas, fresh alpine forests, historic mining towns, expansive cattle ranges, and prehistoric Indian ruins.
From Durango, through Silverton and Ouray, to Ridgway, the highway delivers jaw-dropping scenery. It was cut from the side of the mountain and became know as the “Million Dollar Highway”. Warning: on this stretch, there are no standard driving safety measures like guardrails and shoulders. Take you time!
The road is kept open year-round but the thought of driving it during winter is not appealing to me. I am proud enough that I drove it in perfect road conditions.