Aerial view of Ouray, Colorado

Ouray, Colorado

Ouray is a small home-rule municipality nestled in the San Juan Mountains in Ouray County in southwestern Colorado. Ouray was initially established as a mining settlement and was called Uncompahgre. Soon after, the town's name changed to commemorate the chief of the Ute Tribe, Chief Ouray. Ouray has been designated as one of the United States' most beautiful towns and has earned the nickname "Switzerland of America." High up in the alpine, the surrounding mountains make this area a playground for mountain sports enthusiasts.

Geography Of Ouray

Ouray, Colorado, is a tourist mountain town with a Hot Springs Aquatic Center
Ouray, Colorado, is a tourist mountain town with a Hot Springs Aquatic Center. 

Perched at 2,375 meters above sea level, Ouray is situated close to neighboring towns and counties. The Uncompahgre River runs through the city, including six creeks that run from the mountains and drain directly into the mighty river. One hundred forty-eight kilometers south on highway 550 is the New Mexican state border. Approximately 6 hours northeast, driving through the scenic Rocky Mountains, motorists will reach the capital city of Denver. Utah, the beehive state, is 171 kilometers west of Ouray. Its strategic location is home to many accessible hot springs, hiking trails, camping, climbing, ski areas, rivers, and lakes.

Climate Of Ouray

Ice climber ascending at Ouray Ice Park, Colorado
Ice climber ascending at Ouray Ice Park, Colorado. 

The mountainous city of Ouray receives 3.4 meters of snow each year, exceeding the national average by over 2.5 meters. Winter lows drop to -11˚C, and approximately 195 nights of the year have temperatures drop below the freezing point. Despite the cold weather, the city has over 240 sunny days each year. Spring weather warms up but still accumulates some snowfall; 3 months of the year do not receive significant flurries. The warmest month is July, plus high temperatures of 25˚C, which is cooler than many cities in the state. Roughly 617 millimeters of rain will sprinkle over Ouray throughout the year. August is the rainiest month, with 66 millimeters of precipitation for 15 days. Summer months bring warm days and crisp nights, making it a perfect camping destination. 

Brief History Of Ouray

Court House in Ouray, Colorado
Court House in Ouray, Colorado. 

Over 500 years ago, the Ute Tribe lived off the land in and around Ouray. The earliest introduction to European settlers was in 1765. Fifty years later, fur traders entered the area of Ouray, which increased Ute's ability to communicate with outsiders in search of beaver, otters, and other valuable furs. In 1849, a group of Ute chiefs signed a peace treaty with the US government that included the free movement of US citizens into Ute territory. After the Colorado Gold Rush, the Ute region shrunk, and tribe members had to relocate years later. Mining prospectors reached Ouray in 1861 after the first discovery of gold in the area. A dozen years later, more and more European miners poured into the area causing many conflicts between the two parties. The Ute Tribe fled to the surrounding plains and basins to salvage their land in 1873. Changing the city's name in 1876 encouraged the first construction of stores, hotels, saloons, and blacksmith services. The town consisted of more than 200 households and businesses, and over 400 people called Ouray home. The dangerous toll road, the Million Dollar Highway, opened in 1883 that connected the city to nearby municipalities. Now it is one of the top treacherous highways in Colorado.

Population And Economy Of Ouray

Main Street in Ouray, Colorado
Main Street in Ouray, Colorado. Editorial credit: shu2260 /

The mountain village is home to 1,106 residents, and the town has seen an increase in its population over the past few years. The average age is 46 years old, and the median household income is $87,716, alongside a poverty rate of 8.02%. The city has two major ethnic groups, which are 95% Caucasian and 3.5% Asian. A typical home within the city limits costs around $374,000, and rental units cost $865 monthly. Seventeen restaurants and 20 hotels can accommodate many tourists throughout the high seasons. Within Ouray, 621 employees work in the hospitality, food, scientific, and retail industries.

Attractions Of Ouray

Ouray Hot Springs Pool

Ouray Hot Spring Pool in winter
Ouray Hot Spring in winter. Editorial credit: Arina P Habich /

The hot pools of Ouray date back to the Ute Tribe era. The warm water would collect along the banks of the Uncompahgre, and the tribe believed the odorless waters had healing powers. The pools visitors can see today opened in the summer of 1927, but a renovation in 2012 had updated the aging facility. The relaxing waters are an excellent way for locals, tourists, and athletes to unwind after a day in the nearby mountains. 

Alchemist Museum

Collecting medication for over 50 years has given the museum astonishing exhibits. Visitors will learn about the history of medicines while exploring the antique artifacts and advertisements. The displays and dated medication will take visitors back to the Frontier days — over 700 glass pharmaceuticals by private tours only.

Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour

A very popular mine from the 1800s is now where people can see how miners would have worked and lived over a hundred years ago. Tours provide information about the mining industry in the San Juan Mountains during its glory days. Tourists may enjoy a miner's breakfast followed by a gold panning lesson. It is a great chance to experience what it was like to live during the great gold rush.

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