Latitudes: Discover a slice of Switzerland in Ouray

Photo courtesy of Debbie Stone

By Debbie Stone

If you’re craving the Swiss Alps, but don’t want to travel across the pond, don’t despair. Just head to Ouray, Colorado to experience a “Little Switzerland.” Though tiny, with a population of only 1,000, this charming western town has a big reputation as an adventure playground.

Nestled in a canyon at the base of the dramatic San Juan Mountains, Ouray’s jagged cliff walls and towering peaks offer opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to hike, mountain bike, rock climb and more.

If you’re a hiker, there are paths aplenty, with 76 trails available at the tip of your hiking pole. The Ouray Perimeter Trail is a popular six-mile, circular route, featuring a variety of terrain and offering an up-close look at the area’s geology.

One of the town’s main attractions is its waterfalls. Box Cañon, which is located in Box Canyon Falls Park, is regarded as Ouray’s own wonder of the world. The 85-foot waterfall plummets into a very narrow, steep canyon and can be enjoyed from vantage points above and below. Opt to take the short hike to the suspension bridge that crosses the gorge for picture-perfect views.

The canyon is a magnet for rock climbers, and in winter, an area of the gorge becomes an ice climbing paradise. Known as one of the top venues in the world to develop and perfect ice-climbing skills, the Ouray Ice Park is minutes from town, and even better, it’s free.

For another high-octane experience, try the Ouray Via Ferrata. This “iron path” is a protected climbing route with built-in rungs and cable traverses. Participants progress through the route while harnessed and clipped onto a wire.

After a day of outdoor fun, relax those sore muscles with a soak in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool (call ahead to ensure it’s open). Several lodges also have their own thermal baths on the premise for guests’ usage. You’ll be delighted to discover that Ouray County’s hot springs don’t have that strong rotten egg odor found at many other springs. Thank the water’s mineral content and the local geology for this boon.

Then make your way to one of the breweries in town and enjoy an ice cold one. After all this is Colorado, the state known for perfecting the art of craft beer.

For those who need a bit of retail therapy, the eclectic shops along Main Street sell everything from unique clothing and hand-crafted items to antiques and fine art.

When your stomach rumbles, you’ll have your pick of numerous eateries, offering everything from burritos and pub grub to innovative, farm-to-table cuisine. And to satisfy your sweet tooth, make a beeline to beloved Mouse’s Chocolates!

History is alive and well in Ouray, as this is a town where the spirit of the Old West abounds. Many of the buildings and Victorian-era homes date back to the late 1800s and are on the National Historic Register. Outside Ouray, you can tour a gold mine or explore one of the ghost towns in the San Juan Mountains.

Debbie Stone is a former reporter and feature writer for The Woodinville Weekly. She is currently touring the Southwest states.

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