There is nothing like the beauty of spring to lift our spirits: trees are blossoming, the skies turn blue, and the sunshine starts to melt the winter snow.
Ouray in spring is majestic. The mountains are still snow-capped but nature is busily preparing for the explosion of color that is spring.
In short, there is no better season to take your car for scenic drives around Ouray. Trails and roads have become more accessible but the air is still crisp and fresh. Take a picnic basket, your phone, and your good mood and enjoy the area surrounding Ouray from your car. Stop at forest-surrounded waterfalls to admire the view and take in the breathtaking vistas of the mountains and valleys.
You will be spoilt for choice, as there are dozens of scenic drives around Ouray. From the famous Million Dollar Highway to lesser-known ones, you are bound to find the perfect drive to inspire you.
Black Canyon of Gunnison
Divided into the South Rim, North Rim, and East Portal, the Black Canyon is easily reachable from Ouray.
The gorge with the river meandering at the bottom will astound you with its rugged mountain cliffs. The road surrounds part of a deep, steep-walled gorge carved by the Gunnison River. The winding East Portal Road descends to the river while roads along the north and south rims offer spectacular views of the Black Canyon’s dramatic drops and the striated Painted Wall cliff. Wildlife includes mule deer, elk, and golden eagles.
Along the way, you will find plenty of designated areas to stop and admire the view. There is also a visitor center on the South Rim. Each viewpoint is easily accessible even for children and will grant you an amazing view of the area and the gorge.
Owl Creek Pass
Situated in the Uncompahgre National Forest, this 40-mile-long scenic drive was originally an 1885 cattle-drive trail. Today, it is a gravel road that is safe for conventional cars to drive on as long as it’s dry.
You will enjoy the stunning peaks of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain along with jaw-dropping cliffs, rivers, reservoirs, forests of tall white-barked aspen trees, spruce, and fir, and seas of wildflowers. The road leads to the 325-acre Silver Jack Reservoir—a favorite fishing spot. Silver Jack is about 15 miles from the pass and boasts five miles of shoreline.
The Alpine Loop
The Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway is a 65-mile-long, moderately trafficked loop trail that displays all the beauty of the mountains and lets you experience an alpine natural environment highly representative of the American West. Your drive will take you through seven mining ghost towns, including Animas Forks. The whole loop is only suitable for 4×4 cars and will take you between four and six hours to complete.
If you want to immerse yourself into Native American culture, then head for Mesa Verde, famous for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace. Make an early start and drive to the Mesa Verde National Park, which is a two-hour drive from Ouray.
Once you reach the Mesa Verde National Park, take the winding scenic drive inside with panoramic canyon views. The Mesa Top Loop Road will take you up on the mountains, past archaeological sites and overlooks that include the Sun Point Overlook. You will pass several more overlooks where you can stop and take in the views.
Aside from the architectural and historical interest, you will experience a natural environment that is both rough and enchanting. The area is brimming with wildlife like deer and horses and you will get plenty of opportunities to take spectacular photos. You can spend a whole day driving around past ancient dwellings and admiring the mountainous terrain before heading back to Ouray.
Million Dollar Highway
Running from Silverton to Ouray, the Million Dollar Highway is probably the most famous scenic drive around Ouray. It is part of the San Juan Skyway and is often described as the most scenic drive in the US.
The 25-miles-long Million Dollar Highway curves around the Uncompahgre Gorge. The depth of the gorge offers astonishing views of the mountains and cliffs where you can witness nature at its most majestic. For a little bit of adventure, you can stop and enjoy the ghost mining towns that dot the area.
The drive provides overlooks for you to stop and take in the views, have a picnic, or just breathe the fresh air.
Before you set off, you may wish to check the road conditions and see which trails are open. Ouray is already turning green in May and the nearby creeks and streams are running high with snowmelt. However, the surrounding mountain peaks and trails are still covered in snow.
It may also be a good idea to check on local ordinances regarding mask requirements in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Once you have all the information you need, it’s time to set off! Whether you are looking for deep gorges, waterfalls, rivers, alpine terrain, mountain tops, or a little bit of history, a scenic drive starting from Ouray will offer all that—and more. For even more adventure, choose from one of the many four-wheel-drive trails in Ouray.
After spending the day exploring Ouray’s scenic drives, unwind in the relaxing comfort of the Ouray Chalet Inn. We are a centrally located, family-owned-and-operated hotel with comfortable rooms at affordable prices. Book a room now or give us a call at 866-337-3585 and enjoy the best of Ouray’s attractions!