A weekend guide in Ouray, the country’s No. 1 vacation destination of 2024 – Daily Democrat

By LILY O’NEILL | The Denver Post

My birthday is close to Memorial Day weekend every year, and I like to take advantage of the long weekend by checking a town off of my Colorado travel list.

In years past, my friends and I have soaked up the San Juan Mountain views in the warmth of the Pagosa hot springs and gone whitewater rafting in Class 4 rapids down the Royal Gorge in Cañon City. This year, we’re planning on sandboarding through Great Sand Dunes National Park.

But it was my trip to Ouray in 2022 that still has me in pure awe. The mountain town is tucked in a valley surrounded by the San Juan Mountain Range and lives up to its “Switzerland of America” nickname. It takes roughly 5 1/2 hours to get there from Denver.

This month, Men’s Journal named Ouray the No. 1 vacation destination in the U.S. out of 50 on its 2024 list — for good reason.

Here’s a quick guide to my Ouray vacation for your reference, before the out-of-state tourists start crowding the humble mountain streets:

Where to stay: We booked Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs on the edge of town. Our room in the old-school lodge was small but affordable, and we weren’t spending much time inside anyway. When it rained, we warmed up in the red cedar tubs that are fed by mineral hot springs water.

Where to eat: We fueled up on coffee and chocolate croissants from Artisan Bakery & Cafe, watching topless, bright yellow tour Jeeps whiz down Main Street. We caught the golden hour (when only the peaks of the mountains are shrouded in sun) with some beers on the rooftop of Ouray Brewery. Then, for my birthday dinner, we celebrated with espresso martinis followed by braised short ribs and whipped Yukon potatoes at Brickhouse 737.

A view of Ouray from Box Cañon Falls Park. (Photo by Lily O'Neill -- The Denver Post)
A view of Ouray from Box Cañon Falls Park. (Photo by Lily O’Neill — The Denver Post)

What to do: Our hotel was a quick walk away from Box Cañon Falls Park, where I highly recommend getting misted by a 285-foot waterfall plummeting into the quartzite canyon.

For summer visitors, horseback riding should be a top priority. We booked a two-hour ride in Ridgway, just down the road from Ouray, with Action Adventures Guide Outfitter. Riding through the aspen tree forests, creeks and alongside Ouray’s colorful landscape was an absolute dream.

If your legs need a break from all the nearby hiking trails, take a drive down the Million Dollar Highway. Not for the faint of heart, the 25-mile-long road winds around mountain and gorge views of all different hues of red, orange, blue and green. There’s also a “Switzerland of America” lookout point for a photo op.

On your way home, make a pit stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, an hour outside of town. The steep look into the gorge, which I likened to the Grand Canyon’s little sister, reminds you just how small you are in this big world.

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