The owners of the Box Canyon Lodge in Ouray, Colorado were gracious enough to offer me a complimentary stay at their hotel while I explored the area, and though my original itinerary didn’t involve much more than merely passing through the small city on the way back to Denver, I’m now actually disappointed that I couldn’t stay here longer.
Ouray is billed as the Switzerland of America due to the similarities in terrain, enclosed on nearly all sides by steep mountains with only a narrow valley providing entrance and exit from the region. You are literally cocooned from the rest of the world here, and that’s just the way I (and I suspect many other visitors) like it.
Box Canyon Lodge is one of the few lodging establishments with a license to use the hot springs of Ouray, harnessing the mineral-rich water to fuel the hot tubs they offer to their guests. Passing up a chance to soak in the tubs here is like passing up a chance to sit on Mickey Mouse’s lap at Disney World. If you have a bucket list, add the hot tubs of Box Canyon Lodge to the list. Trust me.
My room was situated on the second floor with a generous view of the mountainside, large and clean with cute saloon doors that separates the bathroom from the rest. The Wi-Fi signal was perfect (thank you GOD), while electrical outlets were conveniently located near the dining table, allowing me to charge all my slim shady gadgets with ease. The furniture arrangement made it easy for me to relax by the window and enjoy the views while typing away on my MacBook and sipping on my delicious coffee from nearby Artisan Bakery. The Hilton could have never measured up here.
The staff is also quite friendly and eager to please, quick to offer suggestions on what to do in Ouray while offering fun prizes to guests who can correctly figure out the water temperatures of the hotel’s hot tubs.
One of the entrances to the waterfalls of Ouray (Box Canyon Falls) is literally right next to the lodge too. It’s actually the exit path for the park, but you can freely walk in if you want. If you’re lazy like me though, you can still take the long way around to drive to the official entrance, then leave and immediately find yourself back at the lodge again. The hotel is pretty busy though, so be prepared to lose your parking space. I did find it encouraging that despite its busyness, the atmosphere was very quiet and serene, almost as if the mountains, like a stern librarian, had reduced us all to speaking in mere whispers so as not to disturb the sanctity of this holy place.
Ouray is also considered the jeep driving capital of the world, and there are no lack of places in town from which you can either rent a jeep or participate in a jeep tour to visit some of the more popular scenic areas surrounding Ouray, including Yankee Boy Basin, Black Bear Road, and the Alpine Loop. Do note that guard rails are considered luxuries here, so if you’re not keen on the prospect of cliffside driving on rocky terrain, well, there’s always ice climbing instead (another pastime Ouray is famously renowned for.)
Fortunately for those like me, (whose idea of extreme sports or activities is a hike in town to the nearest coffeehouse), Ouray offers plenty of options that allows us to keep both our feets planted firmly on the ground. Or in the water too, as in the water of Ouray’s hot springs park, so neatly kept and maintained that I thought it was actually a typically manmade town pool. Only the blackness of the steaming hot water gave away its natural origins.
Ouray is also the sight of the northern entrance to the famous Million Dollar Highway, reportedly named as such because of the precious metals once transported on a regular basis via this stretch between Ouray and Silverton. The road is well paved and not as harrowing as the cliffside driving of say, Alpine Loop, but it does make one wonder what the locals seem to have against using guard rails. Guard rails are our friends after all.
Still, I didn’t find it overly terrifying to drive on, even in the rain, and this is coming from somebody who has issues with heights. There were some moments where the road seems to disappear altogether, but they go by quickly, and more often than not I found myself driving on level ground rather than along a cliff. It’s worth it to drive slowly and pull into a turn off whenever you can so you can fully appreciate the scenery here. The views you will find of an endless valley of roads, mountains, wisping clouds and the breezing movements of Aspen trees absolutely demand it.
Once conquering the Million Dollar Highway, you can spend some time in nearby Silverton to experience the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tours, or explore nearby ghost towns such as Animas Fork (provided you’re in a jeep or doing a jeep tour). Even Hillside Cemetery is worth a visit in Silverton, hosting some of the most intriguing inscriptions you may ever see on its gravestones.
North of Ouray and minutes away lies Ridgway, an equally small city hosting rodeos and other western themed activities for visitors to enjoy. While the stretch between Ouray and Ridgway is not as scenic as the Million Dollar Highway, returning south back to Ouray offered a panoramic view of the San Juan mountains that will stay with me for a long, long time.
If hiking and camping is your thing, Ouray boasts an impressive series of nearby trail systems (such as the Perimeter Trail), which tunnel through mountains, loop around canyons, cross over creeks and streams, and provides the earnest hiker with views of rock formations impressively spanning a full rainbow spectrum of vibrant colors. Campgrounds and RV parks are also well maintained and consistently receive rave reviews from visitors who crave the outdoors.
For dining, Ouray offers quite a few options, from Duckett’s Market if you need groceries (make sure to get there before six when they close) to the Bon Ton Restaurant, a local favorite that often requires reservations in advance, or the perhaps The Outlaw to enjoy tasty western steaks and friendly chats with its resident bartender. For breakfast, do stop by at either the Artisan Bakery for fresh pastries and coffee that even satisfies finicky coffee drinkers like me, or Mouse’s Chocolates for an array of handmade truffles, curiously flavored shakes, and scrap cookies made from the left over ingredients of the day. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
In spite of the numerous outdoor-centric activities Ouray offers, it’s easy to forget that sometimes we don’t come to do it all, but to get AWAY from it all. If ever a place offered that true getaway feeling, it would be Ouray.
But alas, after only three days a melancholy mood has set in, knowing I must take my leave in the morning and eventually make my way to Denver for the flight back home. Still, I will remember that there is another home in the mountains of Colorado, one that will always beckon for me to return and ever eager to embrace me in the warmth of its hot springs.
And its hot tubs.