Telluride and Ouray: Finding Treasures in Two Mountain Towns

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Visitors to the Colorado towns of Telluride and Ouray find Western ambience, a wide choice of outdoor activities and some of America’s most stunning mountain scenery.

Telluride, Colorado has come a long way in the last 30 years, with new housing, new stores and restaurants, and a whole new village where a mountain ranch used to sit, now called Mountain Village, 795 feet above Telluride itself.

While the town of Telluride 30 years ago couldn’t have handled tour groups of any size, today it is equipped to feed, clothe, house and entertain thousands of visitors, especially during ski season when it goes into high gear. There are now nearly 25 hotels, inns, lodges and B&B’s, plus many individual homes where you can rent a room.

Telluride is part of the San Juan Skyway, a 232-mile scenic loop through the San Juan Mountains, one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the country. The town, at 8,750 feet, and upscale Mountain Village at 9,545 feet, are linked together by a free gondola that runs from 7 a.m. to midnight every day, and connects the two towns with a 13-minute ride.

Old West Mining Town

Telluride in the valley was originally an Old West mining town. In 1875, prospector John Fallon made the first mining claim in the Marshall Basin above Telluride, registering the Sheridan Mine with the Silverton County clerk; the find proved to be rich in zinc, lead, copper, iron, silver and gold. Some say the town was named for the famous send-off given to fortune seekers headed to the southern San Juan Mountains— “To-hell-you-ride!”

The main street still has the feel of the Old West, but today the town is best known for its chic but Western feel. The whole town is designated a National Historic Landmark District.

Active groups will find so much to do that it will be hard to do it all within a few days. There are numerous trails to explore, such as Ridge Trail to Mountain Village; mountains to climb, such as 14,017-foot-high pyramid-shaped Wilson Peak and the gnarly El Diente (called The Tooth); and paddleboarding in nearby lakes.

Cyclists take the San Miguel River Trail on the valley floor to the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls or along the old railroad grade. Other activities include rafting, fishing and hiking. You can attend concerts in the park and explore the Telluride Historical Museum. Festivals throughout the year include the Bluegrass Festival, Wild West Fest, Wine Festival, Playwright Festival and Jazz Celebrations. For shoppers, there are dozens of stores on main street that offer clothes, shoes, sports and hiking equipment, jewelry and souvenirs.

Today, Telluride’s permanent population (about 2,000) is less than half of what it was during its mining heyday. Bearded, rough-edged miners have been replaced by skiers and festivarians, but the history of Telluride remains intact and is celebrated.

Ski Area Improvements

The ski area today includes a mix of groomed, un-groomed, beginner, intermediate, advanced and off-piste terrain, as well as multiple terrain parks for all levels of skiers and riders. Upgrades continue on the ski slopes to improve the winter sports experience of guests. With the opening of Revelation Bowl in 2008, the Telluride Ski Resort currently boasts more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain and an average of 300 inches of snowfall annually.

The fresh air, towering mountains, rushing streams and waterfalls, and Western feel to Telluride give it a charm that will invigorate your group.

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For accommodations, the Mountain Lodge in Mountain Village ( features a spa and fitness center, an outdoor heated pool, three log-and-stone buildings and a main lodge featuring a large lobby warmed by an immense river-rock fireplace.

Ouray’s Splendor

Ouray, Colorado

Ouray, Colorado

The last time I stayed overnight in Ouray, population 1,000, was probably 30 years ago, and I’m glad to say that little has changed. That’s a good thing because this small town, surrounded by red sandstone cliffs on one side and something called the Amphitheater on the other side, is quite special.

Ouray is called the jeep capital of the United States, as well as “The Switzerland of America,” and walking down its main street you’ll see why. The surrounding landscape dominates, and the only way to get up into the far reaches of these 13,000-foot-high mountains is by roads accessible by jeep. Mt. Sneffels is the town’s “local” 14,000-footer.

You can rent a jeep, join a backroads adventure offered by one of the many jeep tour companies in town or drive up the dramatic Million Dollar Highway, which connects with Ouray. Nearby ghost towns include Red Mountain Town, Ironton, Animas Forks and Alta.

Be sure to see Box Cañon Falls Park, where a tremendous waterfall inside a mountain gushes downward into the Uncompahgre Gorge. The waterfall spills thousands of gallons every minute into a narrow stream, and a high bridge trail takes visitors 200 feet above the gorge for a spectacular view. Next to the falls is Ouray Ice Park, where many groups participate in an annual international climbing competition.

The Alchemist Museum

Curtis Haggar takes visitors on a narrated tour of his Ouray Alchemist Museum

Curtis Haggar takes visitors on a narrated tour of his Ouray Alchemist Museum

Ouray boasts the largest pharmacy museum in Colorado. Curtis Haggar takes visitors on a narrated tour of his Ouray Alchemist Museum, which houses his 40-year collection of pharmacy signage, old prescriptions and colorful medicine bottles. The museum entrance is through an 1880s leaded-glass wooden front obtained from the Aspen, Colorado drugstore. Tour groups are welcome.

A walking tour of the town, using a brochure from the visitors office, shows buildings from the 1880s, such as the Ouray County Courthouse, remnants of Chief’s Ouray’s summer cottage and St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Hiking, fishing, rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, zip lining, biking and mine tours are available in the area. On the Bachelor-Syracuse mine tour, visitors walk 1,500 feet into Gold Mountain to get the feel of old-time mining. Expert tour guides like Ronnie Dickson explain the drilling and blasting processes that produced the precious ores. Tours of the mine, which maintains a constant 52 degrees, run on the hour every hour.

After a day of sightseeing and outdoor activity, relax in the town’s public hot springs. Ouray’s sulfur-free hot springs pools, opened in 1927, contain more than one million gallons of natural spring water with temperatures ranging from 80 to 106 degrees.

Not matter which way you look at it, Ouray is a mountain town with a lot going for it.

If you go…

Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs ( in downtown Ouray is recommended by Sunset magazine in their “Best of the West” category. It features four natural hot spring tubs terraced on the hillside, easy walking to the downtown district and a friendly staff.

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