Welcome to The Switzerland of America – photo by John UhlesCredit: photo by John Uhles

The beautiful town of Ouray, Colorado, nicknamed “The Switzerland of America,” is nestled in the San Juan Mountain Range at the foot of Red Mountain.  This old mining town offers activities year round and is a must visit for travelers to the area. 

Brief History of Ouray 

The first settlers in the Ouray area were the Ute Indians who spent their summers hunting and soaking in the therapeutic waters of the hot springs.   In 1873, Chief Ouray signed a treaty allowing white settlers into the San Juan Mountains and in 1876 the town of Ouray was officially incorporated.  Originally called Uncompahgre which meant “hot water springs” in the Ute language, it was changed to honor Chief Ouray when it was incorporated.  

Miners flocked to the area when silver was discovered and the population peaked at over 2,600.  However, the town went the way as most of the other boomtowns in Colorado and when the sliver panic of 1893 hit; the population dwindled.  It revived for a time when gold was discovered by Tom Walsh.  Many of the buildings from 1880-1900 are still standing today and have been restored to their original glory.  The current population is approximately 900. 

Winter Activities Include Ice Climbing in the Ice Park 

One of the most popular activities in Ouray during the winter is ice climbing at the Ice Park.   Ouray is ranked as one of the most popular places to ice climb in the world.   Ice climbing in the Uncompaghre Gorge started in the 1970’s as ice formed on the sheer rock walls and ice climbingIce Climbing in The Ice Park – photo by Kellen ScriffinyCredit: photo by Kellen Scriffiny enthusiasts perfected their skills.   

In 1994, a few locals manipulated water over the edge to form thicker ice on the walls and the ice park was born.  Bleachers were added for spectators as word spread among climbers and more and more people came to watch.  In 1996, the first annual Ouray Ice Festival was held and attracted not only climbers, but vendors and spectators as well. 

If ice climbing isn’t the interest, Ouray offers many other winter activities.  Close by, skiers test their skills on various slopes, snowmobilers make new tracks in the back country, and skaters etch figure eights in the ice rink.   Winter fly fishing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing round out the available winter fun. 

Summer Activities 

Summertime visitors won’t be disappointed with a visit to Ouray.  Whether by foot, bike or horse, mountain trails give breathtaking views of the beautiful wild flowers and waterfalls. Fishermen can catch fat rainbow trout; campers, rock climbers, and even golfers will find their interests satisfied.   

People interOuray Nestles in the Mountains of Colorado – photo by unknownCredit: photo by unknownested in history have the option of strolling through the local museum or venturing out onto the country roads to view the old mines in the area.  Ouray offers jeep tours for the many routes that are accessible by four-wheel only.   Maps of the different routes are available for those who wish to navigate the roads on their own.  

Natural Hot Springs After a Day in the Mountains 

After a day of activity a dip in the pool may just be the answer to sore muscles.  Ouray’s Natural Hot Springs Pool was opened on July 4, 1927.  The townspeople wanted to attract more tourists to the community and spent six years planning and eventually opening the Natural Hot Springs Pool. 

The public pool is 250 to 150 feet, depending on section and has several soaking sections at a variety of temperatures that range from 96-106 degrees.  The pool has a lap swimming section, a diving area, a large slide and a shallow end for younger children.  It also has an area where people can play water volleyball.   

In addition to the pool, the facility offers a fitness center and massage center and a bathhouse with showers and other such accommodations for the family.  Adjacent to the Hot Springs Pool is an area with a running track, picnic area, playground and softball diamond.  Whatever, the interest, this area can accommodate.  

If a more private visit is to the liking; Ouray can accommodate that as well.  The historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodging is one of several inns in town and sits over the emanation points of several natural hot springs ranging in temperatures from 78-128 degrees and offers a full Restored building in Ouray Colorado – Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldonrange of spa treatments.  

Ouray can be found on US Hwy 550 in the mountains of Southwestern Colorado.  It offers fine lodging, numerous gift and specialty shops, dining to satisfy any palate; and a rich history to explore. 



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