Enjoy a Slice of Switzerland in Ouray


by Debbie Stone

If you’re craving the Swiss Alps, but don’t want to travel across the pond, don’t despair. Just head to Ouray, Colorado to experience a “Little Switzerland.” And even if you don’t hear any yodeling, the scenery alone will transport you to an alpine wonderland.

Though tiny, with a population of only 1,000, this charming western town has a big reputation as an adventure playground. Nestled in a canyon at the base of the dramatic San Juan Mountains, Ouray’s jagged cliff walls and towering peaks offer opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to hike, mountain bike, rock climb, and more.

If you’re a hiker, there are paths aplenty, with seventy-six trails available at the tip of your hiking pole. Both locals and visitors enjoy the Ouray Perimeter Trail, a popular six-mile, circular route, featuring a variety of terrain and offering an up-close look at the area’s geology.

One of the town’s main attractions is its waterfalls. Box Cañon, which is located in Box Canyon Falls Park, is regarded as Ouray’s own wonder of the world. The 85-foot waterfall plummets into a very narrow, granite chute and can be enjoyed from vantage points above and below. Opt to take the short hike to the suspension bridge that crosses the gorge for picture-perfect views.

The canyon is a magnet for rock climbers, and in winter, an area of the gorge becomes an ice climbing paradise. Known as one of the top venues in the world to develop and perfect ice-climbing skills, the Ouray Ice Park is minutes from town, and even better, it’s free.

Add Cascade Falls to your list of impressive sights. This multi-tiered cascade drops about forty feet from cliffs on the east side of town and is a visible scenic landmark in Ouray. A short, but steep walk leads to the waterfall from the parking lot. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer heat.

For another high-octane experience, try the Ouray Via Ferrata. This “iron path” is a protected climbing route with built-in rungs and cable traverses. Participants progress through the route while harnessed and clipped onto a wire. If heights aren’t your thing then you might want to skip this activity!

After a day of outdoor fun, relax those sore muscles with a soak in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Several lodges also have their own thermal baths on the premises for guests’ usage. You’ll be delighted to discover that Ouray County’s hot springs don’t have that pervasively strong, rotten egg odor found at many other springs. Thank the water’s mineral content and the local geology for this plus.

After a heavenly soak, make your way to one of the breweries in town and enjoy an ice-cold one. After all, this is Colorado, the state known for perfecting the art of craft beer.

For those who need a bit of retail therapy, the eclectic shops along Main Street sell everything from unique clothing and hand-crafted items to antiques and fine art.

When your stomach rumbles, you’ll have your pick of numerous eateries, offering everything from burritos and pub grub to innovative, farm-to-table cuisine. And to satisfy your sweet tooth, make a beeline to beloved Mouse’s Chocolates! Just another reason to feel like you’re in Switzerland!

History is alive and well in Ouray, as this is a town where the spirit of the Old West abounds. Many of the buildings and Victorian-era homes date back to the late 1800s and are on the National Historic Register. Outside Ouray, you can tour a gold mine or explore one of the ghost towns in the San Juan Mountains.

If you go: www.ouraycolorado.com    

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

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