Geotourism Mapguide: A travel guide to the places most respected and recommended by locals.
  Village or Town

City of Ouray

 
Mt. Abrams and the entrance to Ouray
 

Ouray has been a special destination for world travelers for more than 100 years. This small, intimate community is nestled in some of the most rugged and towering peaks of the Rockies. Set at the narrow head of a valley at 7,792 feet and surrounded on three sides with 13,000-foot snowcapped peaks, Ouray has been eloquently nicknamed the "Switzerland of America."

Remarkably, two-thirds of Ouray's original Victorian structures, both private and commercial, are still occupied, and have been lovingly restored in order to preserve their turn-of-the-century charm.

Ouray is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Whether you set out to conquer the mountains with rope and caribinier, on foot, bike, or four-wheel drive—there’s a route for everyone. Autumn is truly an outstanding time of year, with aspen stands and mixed conifer forests exhibiting glorious displays of golden colors. The winter months are enchanting. At night when the lights meet the formations of ice and snow, they join in a shimmering dance of magical light. It's no wonder that this area has been described as the "Switzerland of America."

Ouray is the perfect retreat for rest and relaxation. In addition to the area's outdoor opportunities, we have unique shops and galleries, summer and winter events and entertainment, the Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, and a variety of dining and lodging options.

There are panoramic vistas, mountain basins with waterfalls and wildflowers, and an inspiring winter wonderland waiting to be captured on film, so don’t forget your camera!

Location

Ouray is located in the southwestern part of Colorado along U.S. Highway 550, approximately 80 miles north of Durango and 35 miles south of Montrose. The portion of Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton, 24 miles to the south, has been named The Million Dollar Highway and is part of the San Juan Skyway, one of the most scenic and spectacular mountain drives in North America.

History

 

Millions of years ago, the mountains surrounding Ouray began their formation when immense volcanic eruptions resulted in deep lava-formed craters. Within the last two million years, ice followed the fire and glacial activity creating the rugged mountain topography of the San Juan Mountains. Glacial erosion of these faulted and fractured zones created valleys and gave birth to high country basins and gulches. These rock alterations created an ideal environment for the deposit of ore. This rugged mountain range is one of the most highly mineralized areas in Colorado.

Centuries before the white man arrived, the Tabeguache Ute, a nomadic band, traveled to this idyllic setting in the summer months to hunt the abundant forest game and to soak in what they called “sacred miracle waters." Even then, they knew the springs that simmer beneath much of Ouray were therapeutic. In fact, the town’s original name was “Uncompahgre," the Ute word for “hot water springs." The Utes served as guides for expeditions seeking passage through the southern Rockies in the 1700s. These Spanish explorers named this rugged range the San Juan Mountains. The Spaniards were not interested in settling such a harsh and unforgiving environment. It was the miners, flooding the region in the late 1800s in search of silver and gold, who would forever change the face of these mountains. In fact, many of the high-country roads recreationists enjoy today are access routes that the miners developed over a hundred years ago. The century-old ghost towns of Sneffels, Red Mountain Town, Animas Forks, and Mineral Point, as well as abandoned mines along the way, are undeniable evidence of this area’s roots.

In 1873, the famous Ute Chief, Ouray, reluctantly signed a government treaty releasing the Utes treasured San Juan Mountains to encroaching settlers. The town, officially incorporated in 1876, was named in his honor. In its first year, 400 struggling inhabitants forged their way through the long frozen winter and eagerly greeted spring with its blooming alpine flowers, rushing brooks, and gentle mountain rains. By 1880 with the frenzy for precious metals, Ouray had grown into a booming mining town with over 2,600 inhabitants. The town included a school, several churches, a hospital, restaurants, saloons and brothels, hardware, and clothing and supply stores for the miners, hotels, and boarding houses. By 1888, the town celebrated the arrival of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad. Less than five years later, the value of silver fell drastically, challenging the resolve of Ouray’s residents. However, the town proved a survivor when Tom Walsh discovered one of the richest mines in Colorado—the Camp Bird gold mine located southwest of Ouray. He was known for compensating his miners well and before he died, he gave Ouray a fully stocked library and saved the community hospital, presently the Ouray Historical Museum, from financial ruin.

Physical and Climate

  • Elevation: 7,760 feet
  • Topography: Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, the youngest and steepest range of the Rockies.  Peaks surrounding the town rise 13,000 to 14,000 feet.
  • Population: 900 year-round
  • Size of Town: 9 blocks long, 6 blocks wide
  • Climate: 285 sunny days per year
  • Summer: A typical summer day is sunny, in the 70s and 80s with evening temperatures in the 50s. The humidity is very low with brief afternoon showers typical in July.
  • Winter: 140" average snowfall. A typical winter day is sunny and bright, with highs averaging in the 40s and lows in the high teens. Snowstorms are sometimes heavy. Although not necessary, it is advisable to have four-wheel drive, snow tires or chains.

Distances

  • Durango: 80 miles (2 hours)
  • Telluride: 47 miles (1 hour)
  • Montrose: 34 miles (40 minutes)
  • Silverton: 23 miles (40 minutes)
  • Cortez: 125 miles (3 hours via Telluride)
  • Grand Junction: 96 miles (2 hours)
  • Mesa Verde: 110 miles (3 hours)
  • Moab: 133 miles (3 hours)
  • Colorado Springs: 267 miles (5–6 hours)
  • Denver: 300 miles (6–7 hours)
  • Albuquerque: 300 miles (6 hours)

Transportation

Ouray can be reached by automobile or by flying into one of several nearby locations. Air service is available in Montrose, Telluride, Grand Junction, or Durango. Limo transportation services are available to and from Ouray and Montrose with car rentals available at all surrounding airports.

For More Information, Contact:

Executive Director

ouray@ouraycolorado.com
OurayColorado.com
1230 Main Street, PO Box 145, Ouray, CO 81427
(970) 325-4746 · toll-free (800) 228-1876
 

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Boundaries and names shown do not necessarily reflect the map policy of National Geographic.

Latitude: 38.022993600
Longitude: -107.670371500
Elevation: 7800 FT (2377 M)
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Karen Avery
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