Trail level: moderate
Round trip distance: 4.2 miles
It’s possible I’ve never been to a place as beautiful as Ouray. The little town sits nestled into the mountains… and I really do mean nestled: steep bare mountains rise dramatically on all sides so every view is stunning. To get the most out of the crisp fall weather and those unbelievable views, we chose to hike Ouray’s Perimeter Trail.
As the name implies, this trail runs the perimeter of Ouray, providing visitors with views of the town and the mountains from all directions. This hike is 4.2 miles round trip with lots of starting and ending options; hikers can start and stop from a number of different places, which makes this trail system one of the more convenient hikes I’ve experienced. We didn’t have enough time to hike the entire thing, so we took one of the many trails leading back into town.
We began at the Ouray Visitor’s Center. The trail gains elevation pretty quickly at the beginning, which was a bit of a challenge for our friend who was visiting from sea level. The trail itself, even in the steep bits, wasn’t overly technical or challenging, but this would be a bad place to start if you’re looking for a smooth, flat walk. Other sections of the trail were definitely easier.
We wound our way through woods, past Cascade Cliff, and across stunning Cascade Falls. From each angle we were treated to a new view of the peaks surrounding Ouray. In the shade, the air was chilly and brisk, but in the sun it was warm and welcoming. We saw the Baby Bathtubs (such an interesting erosion of beautiful rock) and enjoyed a brief snack in the sun. I could have happily stayed there all day and delayed leaving as long as I could.
My favorite part of the trail was where it reaches its highest elevation (8,500 ft) — the trail peaks over a rocky, windswept hill and the views (over Uncompahgre Gorge and toward Hayden Mountain) were unbeatable. We wandered through the Ouray Ice Park before finally turning our way back into town… and vowing that we’d return to Ouray for the next ice festival (held every January) to watch climbers scale the gorge’s walls.
Read about it: Iceventure!
Most people know Ouray for its ice climbing — and I’m sure that’s a great reason to visit this little mountain town — but if you’re able to get there during the warmer months, I recommend exploring not only Ouray’s Perimeter Trail but any of the 84 maintained trails in the county. Ouray Trail Group has tons of information to share with updates, maps, and FAQs. Let us know how your visit goes!