February 13, 2015
JEEPING • HIKING • BIKING • CAMPING • GOLF • WINTER • HOT SPRINGS
PERHAPS IT IS THE SPELL of the legendary “Sleeping Indian Princess” the Utes saw in the rugged skyline of the Amphitheater—Ouray is one of those places that seems to bewitch all who encounter her. Nestled in a beautiful steep-walled canyon and surrounded by an extravaganza of mountains (with twelve peaks in the county reaching 13,000 feet or higher), the entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts. However you choose to stay and play in Ouray, you will find that she is, indeed, the “Switzerland of America.”
JEEPING. Touted as the “Jeep Capital of the World,” Ouray is linked to nearby Silverton, Lake City, Telluride and Creede by a 500-mile network of some of the country’s best four-wheel drive roads, winding through high mountain passes and plummeting gorges, evergreen forests and aspen glades, wildflower- frolic fields and century-old ghost towns. Take a guided tour or rent your own jeep from one of the many outfits in town. If you opt for the latter, you might keep in mind the humble advice of a sign that once was posted at the outset of Black Bear Pass: “You don’t have to be crazy to drive this road…but it helps.”
HIKING Ouray County offers two wilderness areas (Mt. Sneffels and Uncompahgre) and 49 trails. If you love to hike, the hardest question you’ll face while you are here is “Which way shall we go?” The trail guide “Hiking Trails of Ouray County” may help you decide. Two local “Fourteeners, ” Mt. Sneffels and Wetterhorn, and countless other rock spires woo serious mountaineers.
BIKING Mountain bikers revel in the variety of terrain available to them in and around Ouray—everything from a gentle pedal along the river road to a serious hammering up Imogene Pass. You’;ll need gears in the double digits for this one, folks!
CAMPING. Opportunities abound in Ouray County. Ridgway State Park has three campgrounds, each with its own modern facilities and stunning vistas of the Cimarron and Sneffels mountain ranges. Several yurts are also available for nightly rental. All areas have easy bicycle access and natural surface trails for hiking and picnicking. The park’s large reservoir offers a year-round outdoor recreation paradise for boaters, anglers and swimmers. Above Ouray, you’ll find the gorgeous Amphitheater Campground, run by the National Forest Service. Set up your tent under the branches of pine trees and enjoy an eagle-eye view of the valley below. Camp Bird Road is popular for backcountry camping. Those in search of a “civilized” campground setting or a place to park their RV will find several other options in and around Ouray and Ridgway.
GOLF. Golf under towering ponderosa pine trees with snow-capped views of the Sneffels Range at the Divide Club (formerly Fairway Pines), the 702-acre, 18-hole championship golf course northeast of Ridgway on top of Log Hill Mesa.
WINTER SPORTS. Come winter time, Ironton Park (15 minutes south of Ouray) offers a system of cross-country ski tracks, maintained by the Nordic Council. The San Juan Hut System skirting the Sneffels Range reserves cabins and yurts for multiple day ski touring. The major local winter attraction is Ouray Ice Park, with its phantasmagoric icefalls on the sheer north-facing walls of the Uncompahgre Gorge. It is the only ice park of its kind, anywhere, and has become a coveted destination among ice-climbers worldwide. The Chamber of Commerce estimates more than 10,000 climbers come to the park each winter. The Ouray Ice Festival each January features exhibition climbing, free clinics, seminars, slide shows and gear demos.
HOT SPRINGS. No matter what the weather or the time of year, there is no better way to end a day spent in the fresh mountain air than easing your weary bones or sore muscles into the steamy water of the million-gallon outdoor Ouray Hot Springs Pool or Ridgway’s intimate Orvis Hot Springs. Both are natural hot springs that have been used for therapeutic and recreational relaxation for hundreds of years. [Related article.] Adjacent to Ouray Hot Springs Pool is the Ouray Town Park with a gazebo, picnic area suitable for family gatherings and weddings, playground, tennis and basketball courts, ball field, track and modest skate park.
Story by Samantha Tisdel Wright for San Juan Publishing Group, Inc.
Photos: Montage: Vertical Exposure, Fairway Pines, RIGS; Laurie, Casselberry, Tom Wulf.
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