Ouray is one of the great little mountain towns you’ll find along the San Juan Skyway scenic byway, which connects Silverton, Durango, and Telluride. The town is famous for its hot springs, but you’ll also find great trails, waterfalls, 4-wheel-drive roads, and an interesting museum here.
Over the years, I had passed through Ouray several times, but I had never given this town the time it deserves. During the fall colors of 2014, I decided to make it a two-night stop, which would give me an entire day to get to know the town and the surrounding area. And, since the worst weather of my trip was moving in, I was happy that I didn’t need to go anywhere.
Downtown Ouray lines up along US Highway 550. Ouray is at the northern end of the Million Dollar Highway — the name given to US 550 between Ouray and Silverton, for its million-dollar views, and the expense that went into building the road. Main Street is also 3rd Street, and the town is only a couple of blocks wide on either side of the main road. The town is also built on a slant — 4th and 5th Streets are up the hill from Main Street, while the other side of town slopes down towards the Uncompahgre River.
There’s no suburb in Ouray, and no shopping malls to steal business away from downtown. You’ll find storefronts open with shops and restaurants. Everything is within walking distance of everything else.
Even though it was a drizzly, foggy day, the town was still beautiful. Clouds hung low over the cliffs that surround the town.
Could there be a better place to have your wedding photos taken?
You may be sleeping with ghosts at the Western Hotel, on the lower side of town. I didn’t stay here, but I did stay at the Ouray Chalet, just a couple of blocks away on Main Street. It’s a nice motel with clean rooms and reasonable rates.
The Elks Lodge was built in 1904. The clock isn’t broken — it’s a tradition at Elks Lodges for the clocks to always read 11 o’clock.
If you need to set your watch, take a walk up 6th Avenue, where you’ll find a more accurate clock on the tower at Ouray City Hall, and the Walsh Library. The first story was built in 1891, and the rest of the building was completed in 1899.
If you’d prefer a smaller library, feel free to exchange books at this Little Free Library, attached to a tree across the street.
The Ouray County Courthouse is at the corner of 6th Avenue and 4th Street. The courthouse was built in 1888, and had a moment of fame in John Wayne’s 1969 movie, True Grit. Some scenes in the movie were shot inside.
Keep climbing the hill on 6th Avenue, and you’ll find the Ouray County Historical Museum. It was originally the St. Joseph’s Miner’s Hospital when it opened in 1887.
Since the weather was gloomy, and I had the rest of the afternoon to kill, I decided to wander around the museum and learn more about the area. I’ll show you what I found on this page devoted to the Ouray County Historical Museum.
Just a couple of blocks away, and also on the ‘high’ side of town…
… you’ll find Cascade Falls. More on it, as well, on a separate page.
And while I’m mentioning some of the area’s other attractions, I’ll strongly encourage you to take a drive up to Red Mountain Pass via the Million Dollar Highway. If at all possible, do it during the last week of September or the first week of October, when you have the best chance of catching some of the area’s incredible fall colors. As you can see, this was a beautiful drive, even though the sky was gloomy. I’ll tell you all about my drive over the Million Dollar Highway — that included rain, snow, a great hike, and a surprising waterfall — on a separate page.
You also may want to check out my 2012 drive over the Million Dollar Highway, which includes some photos from Ouray and neighboring Ridgway.
The Bottom Line
Ouray is one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns. Plan to spend at least a couple of days here, enjoying everything that the town and the surrounding area has to offer.
Ouray, Colorado (pronounced like HOO-ray!) is located along US Highway 550, at the northern end of the Million Dollar Highway segment of the road. From Grand Junction, Colorado and Interstate 70, take US 50 east, then US 550 south through Delta, Montrose, and Ridgway.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive over Red Mountain Pass on the Million Dollar Highway, between Ouray and Silverton: