Ouray, Colorado

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Ouray, Colorado
City of Ouray [1]
Ouray, Colorado.JPG
Ouray looking north from Highway 550
Switzerland of America [2] [3]
Ouray County Colorado Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Ouray Highlighted 0856420.svg
Location of the City of Ouray in Ouray County, Colorado.
Usa edcp location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location of the City of Ouray in the United States.
Coordinates: 38°1′24″N107°40′20″W / 38.02333°N 107.67222°W / 38.02333; -107.67222 Coordinates: 38°1′24″N107°40′20″W / 38.02333°N 107.67222°W / 38.02333; -107.67222
Country Flag of the United States.svg  United States
State Flag of Colorado.svg  Colorado
County Ouray County [4]
City Ouray [1]
Incorporated March 24, 1884 [5]
  Type Home rule municipality [1]
   Mayor Greg Nelson
  Total0.86 sq mi (2.23 km2)
  Land0.86 sq mi (2.23 km2)
  Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
7,792 ft (2,375 m)
(2019) [8]
  Density1,198.15/sq mi (462.76/km2)
Time zone UTC−07:00 (Mountain (MST))
  Summer (DST) UTC−06:00 (MDT)
ZIP Code [9]
81427 (PO Box)
Area code(s) 970
FIPS code 08-56420
GNIS feature ID 0204753
Website www.ci.ouray.co.us City of Ouray

The City of Ouray ( /ˈjʊər/ ) is the home rule municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Ouray County, Colorado, United States. [10] The city population was 1,000 as of the 2010 census. [10] [11] The Ouray Post Office has the ZIP code 81427. Ouray's climate, natural alpine environment, and scenery has earned it the nickname, "Switzerland of America". [2]



Ouray, Colorado in 1901 Ouray, Colorado-LCCN2008678205.jpg
Ouray, Colorado in 1901
D&RGW Railroad station in Ouray, 1940 D&RGW Ouray station 1940a.jpg
D&RGW Railroad station in Ouray, 1940

Originally established by miners seeking silver and gold in the surrounding mountains, the town at one time boasted more horses and mules than people. Prospectors arrived in the area in 1875. In 1877, William Weston and George Barber found the Gertrude and Una gold veins in Imogene Basin, six miles south southwest of Ouray. Thomas Walsh acquired the two veins and all the open ground nearby. In 1897, Walsh opened the Camp Bird Mine, adding a twenty-stamp mill in 1898, and a forty-stamp mill in 1899. The mine produced almost 200,000 ounces of gold by 1902, when Walsh sold out to Camp Bird, Ltd. By 1916, Camp Bird, Ltd., had produced over one million ounces of gold. [12] :51, 84–86,91

At the height of the mining, Ouray had more than 30 active mines. The town—after changing its name and that of the county it was in several times—was incorporated on October 2, 1876, named after Chief Ouray of the Utes, a Native American tribe. By 1877 Ouray had grown to over 1,000 in population and was named county seat of the newly formed Ouray County on March 8, 1877.

The Denver & Rio Grande Railway arrived in Ouray on December 21, 1887. It would stay until the automobile and trucks caused a decline in traffic. The last regularly scheduled passenger train was September 14, 1930. The line between Ouray and Ridgway was abandoned on March 21, 1953.

In 1986, Bill Fries, a.k.a. C. W. McCall, was elected mayor, ultimately serving for six years. [13]

The entirety of Main Street is registered as a National Historic District with most of the buildings dating back to the late nineteenth century. The Beaumont Hotel and the Ouray City Hall and Walsh Library are listed on the National Register of Historic Places individually, while the Ouray County Courthouse, St. Elmo Hotel, St. Joseph's Miners' Hospital (currently housing the Ouray County Historical Society and Museum), Western Hotel, and Wright's Opera House are included in the historic district.


View of Ouray in 2016 Ouray CO.jpg
View of Ouray in 2016

Ouray is located at 38°1′24″N107°40′20″W / 38.02333°N 107.67222°W / 38.02333; -107.67222 (38.023217, −107.672178), [14] in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. It is about 40 miles (64 km) south of Montrose. It is only 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Telluride, but due to the severity of the landscape, the drive is about 50 miles (80 km). Ouray is connected to Silverton and then Durango to the south by Red Mountain Pass which crests at just over 11,000 feet (3,400 m). The drive along the Uncompahgre River and over the pass is nicknamed the Million Dollar Highway, although the exact origin of the name is disputed. Yankee Boy Basin is located a few miles from the town.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 0.8 square miles (2.1 km2), all of it land.


Ouray experiences four distinct seasons. Summers are warm in the day and mild to cool at night with brief thunderstorms often occurring in the afternoons in July and August sometimes resulting in intense, though short lived, rainfall. Autumn is cool and mostly clear with occasional rain. Winters are long and cold—though seldom extremely so—with considerable snowfall. Spring is generally cool with early spring often bringing the largest snowfalls; late spring into early summer (mid-May through late June) is mild to warm and is usually the driest time of year. The Köppen climate classification for Ouray is Dfb. [15]

Climate data for Ouray, Colorado
Record high °F (°C)60
Average high °F (°C)37.0
Average low °F (°C)15.0
Record low °F (°C)−22
Average precipitation inches (mm)1.72
Average snowfall inches (cm)24.7
Source: Western Regional Climate Center [16]


Beaumont Hotel on Main Street Beaumont Hotel Ouray Colorado.JPG
Beaumont Hotel on Main Street
Stagecoach in front of the Beaumont Hotel, ca 1890 Ouray ca. 1890.jpeg
Stagecoach in front of the Beaumont Hotel, ca 1890
Ouray City Hall and fire station DowntownOurayCO.jpg
Ouray City Hall and fire station
The Ouray Hot Springs Pool, renovated in 2018 Ouray Hot Springs Pool.jpg
The Ouray Hot Springs Pool, renovated in 2018
Climbers at the Ouray Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge Ouray Ice Park.jpg
Climbers at the Ouray Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge

The majority of Ouray's economy is based on tourism. Ouray bills itself as the "Switzerland of America" because of its setting at the narrow head of a valley, enclosed on three and a half sides by steep mountains.

Much of the town tourism is focused on ice climbing, mountain biking, hiking, trail running and off-roading in four-wheel drive (4WD) expeditions into the San Juan Mountains. Ouray has also become a popular destination for motorcyclists, as it marks the beginning of the Million Dollar Highway. This stretch of highway connects Ouray to its neighboring cities of Silverton and Durango. The Million Dollar Highway is frequently regarded as one of the most beautiful roads in Colorado, but is also considered one of the most dangerous due to its sharp turns, steep ledges, and lack of guard rails. [17] Destinations include Yankee Boy Basin, Engineer Mountain, and Black Bear Road. Recording artist (and later Ouray mayor) C. W. McCall helped make Black Bear famous in the area. His song "Black Bear Road" borrowed the phrase, "you don't have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps", from a sign once posted somewhere at the beginning of Black Bear Pass. [18]

Ouray is a popular destination for ice climbing. [19] The world's first ice climbing park, expanding on previously-popular natural falls, consists of dozens of frozen waterfalls from 80 to 200 feet (61 m) high farmed along more than a mile of the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water is supplied by a sprinkler system developed and maintained by a volunteer organization and supported by donations from local businesses, gear manufacturers and climbers. The Ouray Ice Park is free and attracts climbers from around the world. The annual Ice Festival is a weekend-long extravaganza of contests, exhibitions and instruction with many of the world's top ice climbers. Ice climbing has been a boon to the local economy as well, with hotels and restaurants that previously closed through the winter months now staying open to accommodate climbers.

There are five developed hot springs in Ouray and nearby Ridgway. These include thermal pools and vapor caves. Ouray Hot Springs is the largest facility with numerous pools. [20]

There are numerous waterfalls along the road from Durango to Ouray, and within the city limits there are two waterfalls within easy reach. Cascade Falls [21] is a short, 1/4 mile hike accessible from a parking lot on 8th Avenue. Box Canyon Falls is at the southwest edge of Ouray.

Ouray was originally a mining town. The largest and most famous mine is the Camp Bird Mine, the second-largest gold mine in Colorado, established by Thomas Walsh in 1896. [20] Even though there was an operation permit filed in 2007, the mine still remains inactive. [22] During its lifespan, the mine produced about 1.5 million troy ounces of gold, and 4 million troy ounces of silver, from 1896 to 1990. [23] In 1995 the old milling equipment "The Crusher" was disassembled and sold to a smaller mine located in Mongolia where it operated for about two years. [20] The vacant mine can be seen on the steep 2WD road leading to the 4WD roads to Yankee Boy Basin and Imogene Pass.


Historical population
1880 864
1890 2,534193.3%
1900 2,196−13.3%
1910 1,644−25.1%
1920 1,165−29.1%
1930 707−39.3%
1940 95134.5%
1950 1,08914.5%
1960 785−27.9%
1970 741−5.6%
1980 684−7.7%
1990 644−5.8%
2000 81326.2%
2010 1,00023.0%
2019 (est.)1,034 [8] 3.4%
U.S. Decennial Census [24]
Downtown building in Ouray Ouraybuilding1.jpg
Downtown building in Ouray

As of the census of 2010, [25] there were 1,000 people, 457 households, and 283 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,250 people per square mile (454.5/km2). There were 800 housing units at an average density of 1,000 per square mile (363.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.2% White, 0.1% (1) African American, 0.4% (4) Native American, 0.8% (8) Asian, 1.9% (19) from other races, and 1.6% (16) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.2% of the population.

There were 457 households, out of which 26.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.1% were married couples living together, 7.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.1% were non-families. 32.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.76.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.7% under the age of 18, 28.1% from 18 to 44, 33.2% from 45 to 64, and 17.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,094, and the median income for a family was $45,313. Males had a median income of $35,217 versus $27,083 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,127. About 9.3% of families and 8.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.1% of those under age 18 and 6.4% of those age 65 or over.


Switzerland of America sign on the Million Dollar Highway SwitzerlandofAmericaOuray.jpg
Switzerland of America sign on the Million Dollar Highway

The nearest airport with scheduled service is Montrose Regional Airport, located approximately 40 miles (64 km) to the north.

US 550.svg US 550 is the only paved road into or out of Ouray. U.S. 550 begins roughly 40 miles (64 km) north of Ouray in Montrose. It runs south to Bernalillo, New Mexico, via Durango, Colorado, and Aztec, New Mexico. The stretch of U.S. 550 that runs south from Ouray to Silverton is known as the Million Dollar Highway.

Ouray County Courthouse where scenes from True Grit were filmed in 1968 Ouray County Courthouse in Ouray, Colorado.JPG
Ouray County Courthouse where scenes from True Grit were filmed in 1968

In the fall of 1968, the film True Grit was filmed in Ouray County, including some scenes in the city of Ouray and the nearby town of Ridgway, Colorado. The interior of the Ouray County Court House was also featured in the film.

In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged , the protagonist's secret hideaway was located in an unnamed valley in the Rocky Mountains called Mulligan's Valley or "Galt's Gulch." Rand later said that Galt's Gulch was inspired by Ouray, where Rand found inspiration to complete the novel. [26]

In the television series MacGyver , Ouray is the home of MacGyver's grandfather, Harry. The town and surrounds are used as the backdrop for the first-season episode, "Target MacGyver".

Telluride native David Lavender related his experiences working at the Camp Bird Mine in the 1930s in his memoir One Man's West.

Coors and Chevrolet have both filmed commercials in the area, particularly Twin Falls in Yankee Boy Basin.

Major League baseball pitcher Smoky Joe Wood was born in Kansas City but grew up in Ouray. [27]

The opening scene to the movie Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone runs straight through downtown.

The Netflix original series The Ranch is set in the fictional town of Garrison, Colorado, but the opening shot of the town during the credit sequence is of Ouray, and the San Juan Valley just north of Ouray.

Ouray is a significant location In Chuck Wendig's novel Wanderers.

See also

Related Research Articles

San Juan Mountains Mountain range in Colorado and New Mexico, United States

The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. The area is highly mineralized and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.

Telluride, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States

Telluride is the county seat and most populous town of San Miguel County in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Colorado. The town is a former silver mining camp on the San Miguel River in the western San Juan Mountains. The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875, and early settlement of what is now Telluride followed. The town itself was founded in 1878 as "Columbia", but due to confusion with a California town of the same name, was renamed Telluride in 1887 for the gold telluride minerals found in other parts of Colorado. These telluride minerals were never found near Telluride, but the area's mines for some years provided zinc, lead, copper, silver, and other gold ores.

Leadville, Colorado Statutory City in Colorado, United States

The City of Leadville, is the Statutory City that is the county seat and only incorporated municipality in Lake County, Colorado. The city population was 2,602 at the 2010 census and an estimated 2,762 in 2018. Leadville is situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet (3,094 m).

San Miguel County, Colorado County in Colorado, United States

San Miguel County is one of the 64 counties of the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 7,359. The county seat is Telluride. The county is named for the San Miguel River.

San Juan County, Colorado County in Colorado, United States

San Juan County is one of the 64 counties of the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 699, making it the least populous county in Colorado. The county seat and the only incorporated municipality in the county is Silverton. The county name is the Spanish language name for "Saint John", the name Spanish explorers gave to a river and the mountain range in the area. With a mean elevation of 11,240 feet (3426 meters), San Juan County is the highest county in the United States.

Ouray County, Colorado County in Colorado, United States

Ouray County is a county located in the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,436. The county seat is Ouray. Because of its rugged mountain topography, Ouray County is also known as the Switzerland of America.

Ward, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States

Ward is a home rule municipality in Boulder County, Colorado, United States. The population was 150 at the 2010 census. The town is a former mining settlement founded in 1860 in the wake of the discovery of gold at nearby Gold Hill. Once one of the richest towns in the state during the Colorado Gold Rush, it is located on a mountainside at the top of Left Hand Canyon, near the Peak to Peak Highway northwest of Boulder at an elevation of 9,450 feet (2,880 m) above sea level.

Durango, Colorado Home rule municipality in Colorado, United States

Durango is the home rule municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of La Plata County, Colorado, United States. It is home to Fort Lewis College. The United States Census Bureau reported a population of 16,887 in the 2010 census.

Ridgway, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States

Ridgway is a home rule municipality in Ouray County, in the southwestern portion of the U.S. State of Colorado. The town is a former railroad stop on the Uncompahgre River in the northern San Juan Mountains. The town population was 713 at the 2000 census and 924 according to the 2010 census.

Silverton, Colorado Town in State of Colorado, United States

Silverton, officially the Town of Silverton, is the county seat and only incorporated municipality of San Juan County, Colorado, United States. The town is located in a remote part of the western San Juan Mountains, a range of the Rocky Mountains. The first mining claims were made in mountains above the Silverton in 1860, near the end of the Colorado Gold Rush and when the land was still controlled by the Utes. Silverton was established shortly after the Utes ceded the region in the 1873 Brunot Agreement, and the town boomed from silver mining until the Panic of 1893 led to a collapse of the silver market, and boomed again from gold mining until the recession caused by the Panic of 1907. The entire town is included as a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District.

U.S. Route 550 (US 550) is a spur of U.S. Highway 50 that runs from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Montrose, Colorado in the western United States. The section from Silverton to Ouray is frequently called the Million Dollar Highway. It is one of the roads on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways.

The San Juan Skyway is an All-American Road and a component in the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway System. It forms a 233.0-mile (375.0 km) loop in the southwest part of the U.S. state of Colorado traversing the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It roughly parallels the routes of the narrow gauge railways: Rio Grande Southern ; and the unconnected Ouray and Silverton Branches of the Denver & Rio Grande along US 550 with the Silverton Railroad bridging a part of the gap. Its origin can be traced to the Around the Circle Route promoted by the D&RG.

Weminuche Wilderness Protected area in southwestern Colorado, US

The Weminuche Wilderness is a wilderness area in southwest Colorado managed by the United States Forest Service as part of the San Juan National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide and the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of the divide. The Weminuche Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993. It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of the town of Silverton, 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Durango, and 8 miles (13 km) west of South Fork. At 499,771 acres (2,022.50 km2), it is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. Elevation in the wilderness ranges from 7,700 feet (2,300 m) along the Animas River to 14,093 feet (4,296 m) at the summit of Windom Peak.

Idarado Mine

The Idarado Mine was a mining operation in the San Juan Mountains of Ouray County, Colorado near the now-ghost town of Guston, producing primarily lead, silver and zinc along with lesser amounts of gold and copper. The mine is within the Sneffels-Red Mountain-Telluride mining district. The remains of the operation are visible from the Million Dollar Highway, north of Red Mountain Pass, between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. The tunnels of the Idarado extend some 5 miles (8 km) west under 13,000 foot mountains to the Pandora Mill near Telluride, a trip of more than 60 miles (100 km) by highway.

Otto Mears

Otto Mears was a famous Colorado railroad builder and entrepreneur who played a major role in the early development of southwestern Colorado.

Camp Bird Mine

The Camp Bird Mine is a famous and highly productive old gold mine located between Ouray and Telluride, Colorado. The mine is within the Sneffels-Red Mountain-Telluride mining district in the San Juan Mountains.

Ironton, Colorado Ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado

Ironton is a ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado, United States. It lay south of the present town of Ouray, adjacent to the sites Guston of Red Mountain Town, fellow ghost towns. During the 1880s and 1890s, Ironton formed part of the Red Mountain Pass mining district, the second largest silver mining district in Colorado.

Emil B. Fischer published six detailed maps of the San Juan area of southwestern Colorado between 1883 and 1898. A surveyor’s son, he came to America around 1872. He moved to Durango in 1880 when the building of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway to the San Juan attracted widespread attention, then to Silverton. These maps aided silver and gold prospectors to file their claims; they enabled investors to locate mines and view their proximity to famous neighboring mines; and they encouraged tourists to visit the depicted mining regions and invigorate the local economies.

Guston, Colorado Ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado

Guston is a silver mining ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado, 11 miles (18 km) south of Ouray following the "Million Dollar Highway". Nestled in Champion Gulch, it is located near Red Mountain and the remnants of Red Mountain Town and Ironton. The Silverton Railroad ran from Guston in the Red Mountain Pass to Silverton in San Juan County.

Red Mountain Town, Colorado Ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado

Red Mountain Town is a silver mining ghost town in Ouray County, Colorado, south of Ouray along the "Million Dollar Highway".


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