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Ouray: Hiking the “Switzerland of America”

Program Number: 13797RJ
Start and End Dates:
8/3/2013 - 8/10/2013;
Duration: 7 nights
Location: Ouray, Colorado
Price starting at: $1,395.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Walking/Hiking; Natural History Activity Level: n (see description)
Meals: 18; 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 5 Dinners    

Hike the magnificent San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado while learning about the local geology, alpine ecology and mining history. From your base in the historic mining town of Ouray — the “Switzerland of America” — daily hikes on different trails explore forests, meadows of wildflowers, hot springs, alpine tundra, extinct volcanoes and mineralized areas. Naturalist and geologist guides enrich your understanding of the natural history in this unforgettable place.


• Hike the high alpine meadows of Yankee Boy Basin and enjoy southern Colorado’s best wildflowers and volcanic scenery.
• Discover, via hiking, the history of this once booming silver mining area and hike the amphitheater area in the sub-alpine zone around Ouray.
• Experience this mining town’s municipal natural hot springs and one of the best small-town museums in the West.

Activity Particulars

Hiking 4-8 miles a day. Hiking elevations of 8,000-14,000 feet.

Coordinated by Mountains and Plains Institute.


The Victorian mining town of Ouray is surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, the most rugged range in the Rockies. Named after a famous Ute chief, Ouray — on the scenic San Juan Skyway — has been a popular destination of travelers for over a century.

Comfortable motel with indoor swimming pool in the heart of downtown.
Meals and Lodgings
   Ouray Chalet Inn
  Ouray, CO 7 nights
 Ouray Chalet Inn
Type: Motel
  Description: Located in the heart of downtown Ouray within walking distance of restaurants, stores, and museums.
  Contact info: 510 Main Street
Box 544
Ouray, CO 81427 USA
phone: 970-325-4331
  Room amenities: Phones, wireless internet, refrigerators, hair dryers, coffee maker, satellite TV
  Facility amenities: Sun deck, hot tub
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Check in time: 2:00 PM
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Arrive and motel check-in between 3 and 5:00 pm. Required orientation at 5:00 pm. followed by dinner. You will be staying at Ouray Chalet Inn that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends after breakfast. Room check-out is 10:00 am. You will be staying at Ouray Chalet Inn the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. Acknowledgement of Risk-Liability Waiver Form to be mailed back to Mountains and Plains office.
  Parking availability:
No charge
To Start of Program
  Location:  Ouray, CO
  Nearest city or town:  Montrose, CO
  Nearest highway: US Hwy 550
  Nearest airport:  Montrose, CO
  From End of Program
  Location: Ouray, CO
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
Travel Details



From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
See below
Advanced Reservations Required


If flying into Montrose (MTJ) or Grand Junction (GJT), commercial shuttles are available: Mountain Limo: 970-728-9606 and Telluride Express: 970-728-6000

Driving Directions
  US Highway 550 North and South Ouray is 70 miles north of Durango and 98 miles south of Grand Junction on US Highway 550 where it intersects with I70 East and West. Denver is 342 miles via I 70 and US 550.
Elevation Note: Ouray is at 7,700 ft, hikes will be 8,000-14,000 ft.

Equipment Requirements: Daypack, water bottles, good broken-in hiking boots, rain gear, recommended list will be mailed.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Hotel Check-in 3-4 pm, Orientation and required safety lecture 5 pm followed by dinner.
(Saturday, August 3)

Note: Ouray has been a special destination for more than 100 years. Set at the narrow head of a valley at 7,792 feet and surrounded on three sides with 13,000 foot snowcapped peaks - Ouray is home to hundreds of miles of historic roads, hiking trails, sulfur-free hot springs with stunning views and the world-famous Ouray Ice Park. Remarkably, two-thirds of Ouray's original Victorian structures, are still occupied, and have been lovingly restored in order to preserve their turn-of-the-century charm.

 Arrive To: Arrival by 4 p.m. Required safety orientation 5 p.m.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant where you will order off of the menu.
 Evening: Prepare for next morning's hikes
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Portland Trail above Ouray/Box Canyon Park. Note on each day's hikes: We begin with easier hikes both in distance and elevation gain/loss building each day in length and difficulty so that participants can acclimate to both physical and altitude factors.
(Sunday, August 4)

Note: Today's hike will be 4 miles round trip, 4 hours total including trail lunch, elevation gain of 500' and maximum altitude of 8,000'.

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: Today we begin our hiking adventure with an easy hike in the Forest near Ouray. We gather in the brisk morning mountain air with our resident geologist and leader. This short trail, gains about 500 feet elevation over its well-groomed course. It follows Portland Creek through the basin above the Amphitheater, a large depression in one of the mountainsides surrounding Ouray. The Amphitheater resulted from volcanic activity some 60 million years ago. The reward of the hike are the magnificent vistas and nearby waterfalls that fall magnificently into the amphitheater area.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: After lunch we travel to and take a short hike in Box Canyon Park. The Box Canyon Waterfall & Park is Ouray’s natural wonder—formed when the rushing waters of Canyon Creek eroded a deep and very narrow box canyon through fault weakened limestone. The trailhead begins at the southwest end of town and allows us another view of the town nestled in its valley. We then walk along the gorge, high above the ribbon of Canyon Creek. We crossed "The High Bridge" built in 1900 to carry a water pipeline between two reservoirs. The project was disbanded in 1950 when extra water was no longer needed. We make our way into Box Canyon, reaching Box Canyon Falls along a catwalk passing a winch left by miners, unsuccessful at finding gold in the creek sediments.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant where you will order off of the menu.
 Evening: Free for exploring the historical, Victorian town of Ouray or a possible swim in the hot springs pool.
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: High alpine hiking near Silverton, CO/ Historic guided Mine and Mill Tour
(Monday, August 5)

Note: A moderate hike 4 miles round trip over 4 hours including lunch on trail, elevation gain of 800'. maximum altitude 12,500.

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: To reach the trailhead for today's hike, we travel south from Ouray on US Route 550. This road is known as the "Million Dollar" (for views) Highway. We cross Red Mountain Pass. The red results from the highly oxidized iron content of the mountain. We take a rough gravel road to the trailhead in an alpine meadow at 11,400 ft. Beautiful views of the mountain ranges start the hike on a jeep road, making for easy walking occasionally encountering late summer snowfields and pristine runoff streams. Notable throughout this walk are an absolute carpet of flowers. The hike destination is Bullion King Lake in the Porphyry Basin at 12,500 feet. Porphyry refers to a texture of igneous rocks. In its non-geologic, traditional use, the term "porphyry" refers to the purple-red form of this stone, valued for its appearance. We stop for lunch and a lecture about the geology of the area.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: We descend by foot and van into the mining town of Silverton and then drive to the Old Hundred Gold Mine for an authentic undergound tour. We also visit and tour the Mayflower Mill where millions of dollars of gold were processed for several decades.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is at a Silverton restaurant where you will order off of the menu.
 Evening: Return to Ouray
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: All day hike to Alpine Mine on the Weehawken Trail
(Tuesday, August 6)

Note: Moderately difficult hike 5.5 miles round trip, 6 hours 2,200' elevation gain, highest elevation 10,900'

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: A challenging all day hike due to the long uphill gain, but ultimately very rewarding for the views and the rich geologic story along the trail. The first mile of this trail climbs through aspen groves and open meadows. Signs of elk and beer scar the aspen trees and flowers fill the grassy meadows. The views of the Mt. Hayden massif to the east are ominous and beautiful. The trail splits after 1.3 miles. The right fork is the Alpine Mine Trail. The Alpine Mine "overlook", at 2.7 miles, provides a view down to the town of Ouray (approximately 2000' below), a view of the red rocks of the Cutler Formation and the multiple series of volcanic rocks that drape the Cutler. All of this exposed within the glacially-cut Uncompaghre River Gorge. A view well worth the effort.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: After lunch on the trail continue the hike. Arrive back in Ouray mid-afternoon. The town is named after the great Ute Chief Ouray (c. 1833–August 24, 1880). Ouray (Arrow in the Ute language) was a Native American chief of the Uncompaghre band of the Ute tribe, then located in western Colorado. Because of his leadership ability, Ouray was also acknowledged by the United States government as a chief of the Ute. In 1880 he left Colorado to travel to Washington, D.C., where he testified before Congress about the Ute uprising of 1879. He tried to secure a treaty for the his tribe, Uncompaghre Ute, who wanted to stay in Colorado; but, the following year, the United States forced the Uncompaghre and the White River Ute to the west to reservations in present-day Utah. Although unsuccessful in keeping their homelands in Colorado, Ouray was renowned as he sought reconciliation between peoples, with the belief that war with the whites likely meant the demise of the Ute tribe.
 Dinner: Dinner on own to explore Ouray restaurants
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 5: All day hike on the Ice Lakes Basin Trail
(Wednesday, August 7)

Note: Moderately difficult day hike from 6 to 8 miles round trip depending upon hikers interests; 6 to 8 hours including lunch on trail, elevation gain 1,200' to 2,000' with highest elevation 12,500'.

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: We retrace our earlier in the week's drive south on US550 to today's trailhead and the Ice Lake Basin Trail. This at times strenuous all day hike has the attraction of reaching three spectacular lakes on this trail. We hike through intermittent forest for 1.8 miles. Once in the lower Ice Lake Basin, rugged mountain views are constant. There are also numerous big waterfalls and creeks. Wildflowers are tall and thick. The trail to the upper basin cuts up through a massive rock wall. Ice Lake, the first lake encountered is surrounded by sharp, jagged peaks. The rolling hills are festooned with flowers. The view is as one author put it, "classic Colorado. Inspiring!"
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: After a welcome lunch break, options for additional hikes to two more lakes are available. Fuller Lake is a relatively easy 1.7 miles round trip hike. We continue on the same trail that brought us to Ice Lake. It is a good trail that passes an un-named little lake before making the moderate ascent to Fuller Lake. Wildflowers and a spectacular look back to Ice Lake make this a great side trip. Another option is to hike to Island Lake: We cross the outlet stream from Ice Lake and pick up a trail contouring north up the mountainside. Island Lake is around the saddle 1.2 miles round trip above. Once again spectaculat views and fields of wldflowers prevail. We return to Ouray in late afternoon.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant where you will order off of the menu.
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Local Mining and train History-Guided hike of an old mining "ghost" town, mine remains and a engineering marvel railroad grade and turntable
(Thursday, August 8)

Note: Easy hiking day with 4 miles total round trip, 4 hours hiking including lunch on trail, 200 feet elevation gain, maximum altitude 10,000'

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: Today we explore the Red Mountain mining area. Walking along old rail beds we visit several mines—in particular, Yankee Girl and American Girl, both of which produced the most gold and silver in the area. We learn about extraction operations of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The mines and the towns that grew up with them were relatively short-lived—most lasted little more than five years. We visit Guston, where by 1888, several dozen homes had been built and the population was about 200. The town's streets were so steep that they had to snake up the mountainsides. In 1897 all three mines closed, and Guston quickly became a ghost town. The only structures remaining in the area are the mining structures and of the Yankee Girl mine.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: Our hike follows the railroad which served the towns and the mining operations were really the engineering marvels of the time. We discover how the railroad came through the valley, we see an engineering marvel of the day, the turntable and ‘Y’ configuration of the tracks so the locomotives could be turned around, and the “cut and fill” method of keeping the tracks on a level by cutting through rock ridges and filling in gullies. We return early afternoon for a self guided tour of Ouray Historical Museum.
 Dinner: Dinner on own to explore Ouray
 Evening: Free for reflection, relaxation; optional Hot Springs and Swimming Pool visit
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 7: High Alpine Day (high alpine basin exploration) with hikes to Blue Lakes Pass or Mt. Sneffels
(Friday, August 9)

Note: Choice of hikes in Yankee Boy Basin, 5 to 7 miles round trip, time 8 hours with lunch, elevation gain 1,100 to 2,150 feet. Maximum elevation either 13,100 or 14,150 depending upon hike chosen.

 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
 Morning: Guided hiking from 11,500' Yankee Boy Basin with two hike options: ascent of 14,150' Mount Sneffels or hike to 13,100' Blue Lakes Pass. Choice of hike will depend on individual hiking ability, weather conditions, and group interest.
 Lunch: Picnic box lunch on trail
 Afternoon: Continue morning hike-climb. Speak Yankee Boy Basin to any seasoned Colorado photographer and they'll probably wax philosophical about their past visits to this popular wildflower haunt. No single place in Colorado defines the wildflower bloom and the budding anticipation of the season than this destination in the beautiful San Juan Mountains. Nestled at an elevation between 11500 and 12000 feet, Yankee Boy Basin contains some of the most prolific stands of wildflowers in Colorado.
 Dinner: Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant where you will order off of the menu. Celebrate with your fellow Road Scholar participants the hiking achievements of the week.
 Evening: Free for relaxation and packing.
Accommodations: Ouray Chalet Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Departures after breakfast, motel check out 10 am
(Saturday, August 10)
 Depart From: Independent departures after breakfast
 Breakfast: Full breakfast at a local restaurant.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

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