There are a lot of amazing places to explore in Colorado that picking one place to focus on can be incredibly challenging. This is so much so that the first time we visited Colorado, we spent three weeks bouncing all over the Rockies. Check out that series of 3 blogs to see if there is another area that catches your interest. Otherwise, the decision I was left with from that trip was that I wanted to have a trip dedicated to just one area: Ouray.
Ouray is the perfect mountain town. It is very tightly surrounded by mountains on all sides. It has fantastic shops and a good variety of restaurants - check out our 9 favorite restaurants. It has an absolutely fantastic hot spring. Lastly, there is more hiking than you can possibly explore in just one trip. That being said, I wanted to present the photographer's perspective on what the top 9 spots were from my trip.
Below is a short summary of my experiences from each of the nine, followed by a gallery of my favorite 42 images from this trip. I hope you enjoy my story and images and will consider giving Ouray a visit!
Feel free to enjoy the photos first and then come back up here to read about areas you are interested in learning more about. I also apologize for the seemingly "spammy" links scattered through this blog, but I assure you they are 100% informational. They are either links to other blogs by us with more details, or links to Google Maps listings / websites for you to know exactly where these locations are.
Of course, the downtown itself has plenty for you to do, as mentioned before. There are plenty of shops and restaurants. Don't forget to spend a day or two or twelve enjoying the amazing hot springs. There is nothing like soaking in hot mineral water with a view of the mountains surrounding you after a long day of hiking. Take a 360 View to further convince you.
There is a lot to unpack here. There is the Box Canyon Falls Park itself, an official and affordably-charged park that covers a small area of the Box Canyon and leads to a beautiful waterfall at the bottom of the canyon. I highly recommend doing this. There are also views of the "Box Canon" sign above the park, as well as the box canyon river that goes into the town and can be enjoyed from many angles. Our hotel had a patio that directly touched this beautiful river.
I also took the unique journey, after discussion with the proper authorities, to the top of the mountain and stood right behind the Box Canon sign. It was a great journey and all from walking right from my hotel! There was also a very nice campfire setup I found just a bit further down. Photos of both are below, of course. Here is a 360 Tour of that simple campsite.
Similar to Box Canyon Falls Park, taking a visit to Cascade Falls Park is a no brainer. The trailhead is right at the edge of town and is just a short 3/4 mile hike to get to this waterfall. It is so tall that you can actually see it from most places in Ouray! It is also along the Perimeter Trail (#5 below).
This scenic trail takes you around the gorge that features the amazing Ouray Via Ferrata. I had never heard of a Via Ferrata until stumbling upon it, but it looks very intense! It is basically a style of climbing where you are secured to a cable system. So while it is rock climbing, it can certainly be much safer than free climbing and so it makes climbing much more accessible to the masses. However, don't take that to think this is easy. You are basically climbing through vertical walls of rock with just small foot-sized metal loops to walk on. The path takes you horizontal and vertical and across bridges of just a single rope in some places. However, I have heard great things about this particular Via Ferrata, which boasts that you have a cable system 100% of the entire time. Not all Via Ferrata's have such a level of cabling. I was tempted to brave this adventure, but honestly lacked the time by the time I discovered it.
I digress, back to the trail! This trail is about 2 miles and is a full loop. At the middle you are down on the water and have a nice walking bridge over the Uncompahgre River. It was a peaceful hike and also a great place to go in the winter, hence "Ice Park"! This trail is also right across the road from the Perimeter Trail.
This trail is quite a feat. It is a trail that goes completely around the entire town of Ouray, up in the mountains. Here is a 360 View of my favorite spot, right between the Ice Park Trail and Box Canyon Falls Park. The entire loop is a surprisingly short 6 miles. I did not take the entire adventure but instead went along several segments on my journey to other areas (like the Ice Park and Box Canyon sign). It also takes you to many of the places above: Cascade Falls, Box Canyon Falls Park, and Ice Park Trail.
This is where we shift to going a bit outward from Ouray, but don't worry - not far! Yankee Boy Basin became a much bigger part of my trip than I expected and so I would rank it #1 of places that were a pleasant surprise. First of all - please be safe. This road gets progressively more "out there" and dangerous the further you go. The last 1 mile was so dangerous of a road that I parked and walked that last mile. Shortly into that walk, I saw a jeep flipped over and crushed far into the canyon. The road gets very narrow and full of large potholes. A four wheeler is essential or mountain bike. The road I was on went MUCH further than I explored, but on foot it was not possible for me to get much further than I did. My goal had been to check out the Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes by Mt Sneffels. I had noted to check out the Twin Falls Sneffel Creek "along the way". That ended up being as far as I got to be safe.
However, the road from Ouray to the Twin Falls Sneffel Creek is absolutely stunning. It is similar to the Million Dollar Highway (#7 below), but with gravel roads that are very narrow. You are in a tighter valley and there are many great spots to stop and enjoy the view. The photos below include quite a few from this area, as there was a lot of area to cover. You will see the four waterfalls, the dangerous road, and the Atlas Mill.
The destination, Twin Falls Sneffel Creek, turned out to be a series of four different waterfalls all within a half mile or less of each other. It was a rewarding view for the dangerous journey to get there. Here is a 360 View of the third waterfall, my favorite of the four.
My photos below do 0% justice of this amazing highway, due to the fact that during my first trip here I did spend quite a bit of time photographing this amazing highway and so I didn't spend as much time photographing it during this trip. It starts directly south of Ouray and the best views are those first 3 or 4 miles. That sounds short, but it will take you a good 20 or 30 minutes to go safely through this windy and narrow road, which in places has no railing and if you are a passenger you will literally not even see the road out of your window, just empty air to a long drop. I am not exaggerating. It is very well paved and a full road wide, but some parts have not a spare inch between the white line and a straight cliff drop. It is one of the most stunning highways in Colorado.
It also leads you to the next two destinations, how convenient!
This iconic town is tucked in a valley that branches off into three valleys, giving it an amazing view of all three valleys and pushed right against a large mountain. This quaint town only has 2 or 3 paved roads and maybe 1 traffic light. They have fully embraced having a "Western Town" and it is fantastic. There are plenty of great shops and restaurants, as well as trains that pull directly and fully into the town twice a day, before then leaving with passengers to Durango.
It is a beautiful town to photograph and you could honestly consider staying here for a few days of your trip as well! One of the best spots to photograph the town is up the hills (very easy access) to the Christ of the Mines Shrine. It overlooks the entire town and is where some of the photos below were taken from.
Visiting Ouray to enjoy the hot springs was my #2 reason for coming back to Ouray for this dedicated trip. Reason #1, by a large margin, was South Mineral Campground. If I were to tell the entire story of visiting this location, then the length of this blog would double. Instead, it deserves its own blog post, it really does. I have decided it deserves the title of "Colorado's Best Kept Secret", due to how there is no signage that will lead you to these amazing waterfalls (take a 360 Tour of my favorite spot). You will likely see few to no people during your hike. However, my journey to revisit this time was fraught with problems. From wildfires to road closures, you can enjoy that story and video/photos from this location now:/p>
So there it is, my nine top places to visit around Ouray, Colorado! Now, your favorite part (or at least mine): Photos! Below are my favorite 42 images, as well as an aerial video compilation to showcase many of these areas.
Comment below which of the nine places you would most want to see!
Founder and visual artist, specializing in all aspects of a businesses presence from imagery and video to graphics and web. A graduate of IPFW with a Bachelor in Fine Arts, Concentration Photography as well as an Associates Degree in Business. His personal photography works are focused on landscape, travel, and aerial photography.