Have an Agricultural Adventure in the Uncompahgre River Valley
While Ouray was the mining hub of Ouray County, the rest of Ouray County and the Uncompahgre River Valley was devoted to ranching and agriculture, and many ranches and historical markers remain today. If you’re here for an extended stay, plan a day to take a scenic drive past centennial ranches (ranches that have been family owned for more than 100 years), visit our Ouray County Ranch History Museum, get some fresh local produce at a farmer’s market and taste delicious high plateau wines at our regional vineyards.
Photo Courtesy of Natures Finest Images
We recommend you take a day trip for the agritourism* tour of Ouray County and the Uncompahgre River Valley – a Friday, Saturday or Sunday would be best. Start with a locally sourced breakfast in town or at one of our regional farmer’s markets. Cavallo’s Restaurant and the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour offer locally-grown options for breakfast and you can find a farmer’s market in Ridgway from 10-3 on Fridays and in Montrose from 8:30-1 on Saturdays. Take the back route along County Roads 17 and 23 from Ouray to Ridgway and stop to say hello to the cattle, yak, sheep, alpacas and even a camel that call our County’s ranches home as well as Shining Mountain Herbs, which creates tinctures and extracts for all that ails you. Stop off at Cimarron Books and Coffee or Exotic Earth Coffee Roasters for a locally-roasted cup of coffee (Mouse’s Chocolates also roasts a great cup in Ouray if you need one before you leave town).
Continue north along Highway 550 to the Ridgway Reservoir and Ridgway State Park, your stop for local trout, though you need to catch it yourself! If you want to extend your back road tour, continue driving along County Road 1 (follow the signs to the Divide Ranch and Club out of Ridgway) all the way to Colona; this mesa hosts a commercial greenhouse and a high-altitude lavender farm. Once in Colona, you can spend some time at the Ouray County Ranch History Museum, which is open on Saturdays, Sundays and by appointment if you call ahead. This summer, the museum features the brands of Ouray County and the stories behind the families and herds that used them. Your trip north into Montrose continues past many small family ranches and organic farms. Keep an eye out or ask at the Visitor’s Center – many times one of them will be hosting an open house!
If you want to see where our plentiful water comes from, make a side trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – specifically the Crystal Dam outflow. The Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers supply the western slope with water and allow it to be one of the breadbaskets of Colorado. Definitely continue north into Olathe, CO – the sweet corn capital of the United States. If you’re here in late July and August, you’re in for a treat. Every farmer’s market and roadside stand overflows with Olathe sweet corn and the first crop Palisade peaches – two western slope specialties that you won’t soon forget. Pick up a few and continue west from Olathe for a mini winery tour. Mountain View Winery, Cottonwood Cellars and Garrett Estate Cellars are all within a short drive of each other and offer delicious, slightly dry, purely western slope wines and blends. Rocking W Cheese, made from milk at the dairy next door is a bonus along the way.
If you can’t commit to a full day out in the valley, then at least spend some time at our local retailers. The Wildflower Boutique/Colorado Room, Khristopher’s Culinaire, Duckett’s Market, and Ouray Liquors all carry local produce, meats and products. Enjoy your tasty and scenic agritourism tour through the Uncompahgre River Valley and be sure to ask your restaurant what’s local and fresh today!
*Agritourism is one of the fastest growing types of tourism. But what is agritourism exactly? In short, it’s tourism based around agricultural experiences. Don’t let this short definition fool you - agritourism takes many forms and offers exciting opportunities for recreation and education related to a unique landscape. The Colorado Department of Agriculture lists three classifications of agritourism activities: on-farm/ranch, food-based (farmers markets or farm-to-table experiences), and heritage activities.