Charming Ouray, Colorado, nestled beneath dramatic peaks of the Rocky Mountains, delivers two powerful punches: it’s a well-preserved Victorian mountain town and it delivers fabulous mountain views. 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 a Dodge Durango. My friend, Lori, and I visited four national parks, two national monuments, and many lesser known attractions.
Yet, one of the highlights of our adventure was a tiny town of Ouray, Colorado.
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Where is 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, Colorado, on Highway 550.
How Do I Get to Ouray?
Getting to Ouray is an adventure on its own. The roads are well-kept but because of the high elevation, they are narrow and winding. Allow sufficient time, especially because the scenery is so breathtaking, you will want to stop frequently.
Also, you may need a break from driving to calm your nerves, especially if you’re coming from Durango. This section, part of the famous San Juan Skyway, will keep you on the edge – literally!
Things to do in Ouray Colorado
A variety of accommodations and services along with its close proximity to some of the region’s 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 Capital of the World” for a reason. The roads traverse a variety of terrain from extreme high mountain passes and rugged winding roads to areas of spectacular wildflowers. We took the 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.
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I called the company and said I wanted 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 the 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 red peaks. When we were approaching them, luckily the weather improved from cloudy to partly 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 the 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 12,000 ft. elevation. What a treat it was! There was a colorful display of flowers in each direction, among them the beautiful columbine – the state flower of Colorado.
Add to it breathtaking views of several mountains crowning the basin (most of them over 13,500 feet), a gorgeous stream, and a waterfall – if there was a paradise, this is what it would look like!
Driving San Juan Skyway
Driving at least a part of the 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 known as the “Million Dollar Highway.”
TravelingMom Tip: On this stretch of the highway, there are no standard driving safety measures like guardrails and shoulders. Take your 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.