Explore Southwestern Colorado
Scenic & Historic Destinations Along Colorado's Western Slope and Four Corners Region
Fall is the perfect season to explore the charming towns of Southwest Colorado. If you haven’t experienced autumn in the San Juan Mountains, now is your chance.
One of our favorite scenic drives this time of year is from Ouray to Telluride, passing through Ridgway and Placerville. Stop for a bite in town and then head back to Ouray for a soak in our famous sulfur-free hot springs.
Download a list of scenic drives that will make you want to extend your visit to Ouray.
Photo Courtesy of Nature's Finest Images
Destinations to the South:
Ironton Park & Red Mountain Mining District
(9 miles South of Ouray)
This town is no longer a town, but a ghost of a mining boom town that died in the 20s and again in the 40s. The last resident left in the 1960s and now visitors may enjoy visiting the remnants of this once-thriving mining district. The vistas from here are beautiful.
(Hwy 550 south, 45-minute drive over the spectacular Million Dollar Highway)
Before starting out from Ouray, be sure you have plenty of film in your camera for this incredible 24-mile drive. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. The Million Dollar Highway was a toll-road built in the 1880's by Otto Mears. His toll-gate was located out beyond the Bear Creek Falls pull-out three miles south of Ouray.
Throughout this drive you will find the mountainsides packed with old mine buildings. Be sure to stop and explore the buildings and take photographs, but leave the sites as you found them for others to enjoy.
"A gritty little mining town with Victorian pretensions!" Silverton features lovely shops, restaurants, a historic train depot, and one of the best extreme ski areas in the country. Founded in 1875, the town is currently home to around 500 residents.
(71 miles south of Ouray on Hwy 550)
Founded in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad, Durango's retail core is a historic Victorian downtown surrounded by endless outdoor adventure opportunities. Durango is home to Fort Lewis College, the Purgatory Mountain Resort and the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which offers one-way and round-trip options on a historic steam train between Durango and Silverton through the fall and into the valley north of Durango in the winter.
Mesa Verde National Park
(Hwy 550 south of Ouray and Hwy 145 west of Durango. One-way time to reach Mesa Verde is 3 hours.)
Ancient Indians built and lived in these cliff dwellings in the 1200s to 1600s. This park is one of the most beautiful around. Hike, bike, or drive around these unique ruins. The park protects 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
Recently named the most popular National Park in the U.S., the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are worth the drive. You will be able to see why these ancient Indians felt protected by their surroundings.
We recommend arriving as early in the day as possible to avoid the afternoon heat and then spending at least three to four hours at the park. The park opens at 9:00 a.m. Try to take in the museum before actually visiting the various ruins, as this will make the viewing of the ruins more meaningful.
Destinations to the North:
(10 miles north of Ouray)
Ridgway, Colorado, is the only other incorporated town in Ouray County. It offers great mountain biking on the Ridgway Area Trails, golf atop Log Hill Mesa, Pioneer Town, the Ridgway Railroad Museum, True Grit Film History, nice eateries, a brewery and plenty of cultural and outdoor activities. It is a Certified Creative District and is known as the Gateway to the San Juan Mountains.
Ridgway State Park
(Hwy 550 north of Ridgway. One-way time to reach the Park is 20 minutes.)
Colorado's newest State Park, a year-round recreational paradise, stretches nearly five miles into the Uncompahgre River Valley. Plan on spending the day there - hiking or biking the 15 miles of developed trails, gold medal trout fishing, taking advantage of the boat rentals at the full-service marina, camping, swimming, boating, waterskiing and lots more.
Cimarron Mountains & Owl Creek Pass
(Hwy 550 north of Ouray and east on CR 10 beyond Ridgway. One-way time to reach the top of the pass is 1.5 hours.)
Considered one of the most scenic drives in the U.S.A., this pass travels through unique mountains, historic sites, and great opportunities for wildlife viewing and fishing. This route, laced with strands of aspen, is especially beautiful in the fall.
Only 15 miles north of Ouray, turn east onto County Road 10. This adventurous day trip will take you into the heart of the magnificent Cimarron Mountains. Be sure to follow signs directing you through ranchlands, alongside creeks and over high country meadows to the pass at 10,114 feet.
The peaks of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain will watch over you as you drive along this route which once was a cattle drive trail. When you get home, watch the original True Gritfilm. You might recognize several locations throughout the movie, which were filmed along this drive.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
(Hwy 550 north of Ouray and east of Montrose on Hwy 50. One-way time to reach the Park is 1 hour.)
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the newest National Parks in the U.S. The entrance to this spectacular National Park is only eight miles east of the All-American City of Montrose off Hwy 50. The canyon, one mile deep at its deepest point, and 1,150 feet across at its narrowest, was carved out over millions of years by the Gunnison River. This is a great half-day adventure.
Begin your visit in the park at the visitor center, where you can get information on current activities and accessible facilities. Exhibits explain the history, flora, fauna, and geology of the park. Enjoy it by driving the scenic rim road, or by hiking into the canyon to fish, raft or climb. A variety of short trails lead to overlooks on the canyon rim. Although most are rated easy, remember that you are hiking at an elevation of 8,000 feet.
Colorado National Monument
(98 miles north of Ouray)
The monument is an incredible preserve of semi-arid terrain full of sculpted rocks and monoliths. It offers camping and picnic areas, hiking trails and an incredibly scenic drive into nearby Grand Junction. It is also a great place to bike.
The Rim Rock Drive offers 23 miles of breathtaking views. The road climbs from the Grand Valley of the Colorado River to the park's high country, then winds along the plateau rim. The drive is ideal for bicycling as well as motor tours. A guidebook is available at the visitor center.
You can park at several roadside overlooks along the way and enjoy panoramas of the park's great rock sculptures, canyons and distant valleys and mountains. There are also a variety of picnic areas. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular in the area.
Destinations to the Southwest along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway:
This 236-mile loop connects highways 550, 62, 145, and 160 and weaves you through Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Rico, Dolores, Cortez, and Durango. Autumn is particularly stunning along this drive, especially when you start hitting red rock country.
(Hwy 550 north of Ouray to Ridgway, west on Hwy 62 and south on Hwy 145. One-way time to Telluride is 1 hour.)
A National Historic District, Telluride is charming and serves up a world-class ski resort, free summer gondola, festivals galore and some of the best dining in the West. Mountain Village is worth a stop for golf and spa treatments. Hiking and biking trails are abundant.
On your drive to Telluride, just west of Ridgway on Hwy 62, you will pass the magnificent Sneffels Range on the south side of the highway. This has become one of the most photographed range of mountains in the Rockies. Make sure to take your camera to capture this beautiful site on film.
Rico, Dolores, & Cortez
(71-115 miles southwest of Ouray)
Founded in the mining and ranching heyday of Colorado, these towns have unique characters. McPhee Reservoir, the Dolores and San Juan rivers and other waterways attract wildlife viewers and water sports enthusiasts alike. It features a rec center, museums and eateries aplenty.
Destinations to the Northwest along the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway:
(66 miles northwest of Ouray)
Take part of the San Juan Skyway to Norwood then head north. This terrain is incredibly varied and transitions from the mountains to the arid canyons to the north. Stop to see the Hanging Flume and have lunch in Gateway.