Ouray Perimeter Trail

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 5.9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 7661 - 8413 feet
Elevation change: 1426 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Ouray Visitor Center
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views, waterfalls, historic mining town




View Ouray Perimeter Trail in a larger map

The Ouray Perimeter trail is located at Ouray, Colorado. The town of Ouray, nestled in the rugged Rocky Mountains, is often referred to as the Switzerland of America. The Perimeter trail encircles the town by climbing around the mountain sides passing old mines, waterfalls, the Ice Park and other scenic points of interest en route. The last portion of the trail spills out onto the streets of Ouray where it passes by some quaint old historical houses as it returns to the spot where it began. The trail can be hiked in one big loop or broken up into smaller segments by making use of other trailheads along the way.


The best place to park and start the hike is in the gravel area behind the Ouray Visitor Center. The Visitor Center has a very nice museum and restrooms inside.


The trailhead is across the Million Dollar Highway in front of the Visitor Center. The road got its name when the state took over the road from Otto Mears in the 1920's and spent over $1 million dollars to redo a six mile section of the road that was on a 1000 foot high shelf blasted out of solid rock.


The trail takes off to the right of the trailhead behind some townhomes and begins climbing the side of the mountain.


The trail switchbacks up the mountain gaining almost 1000 feet in the first half mile. The trail passes through lots of talus but it is well made and easy to hike and follow other than being a bit steep of course.


We had heard about a narrow section of trail along a cliff that turned out to be not that narrow after all. Perhaps if a person was cross country skiing or snowshoeing the trail in the winter it would be something to reckon with but under these conditions it was very pleasant and not uncomfortable at all.


The trail passes by Cascade Falls after about 3/4 of a mile. Cascade Falls can be very dramatic during a heavy runoff. The trail descends into the valley at the falls giving up over a hundred feet of elevation.


A short video clip of the falls.


The trail crosses Cascade Creek in the valley below falls. The Perimeter trail intersects with the Cascade Falls trail at this point. The hike could be cut short at this spot by making your way back through Ouray to the Visitor Center.


After crossing the bridge at Cascade Falls the trail begins climbing once more. Most of the climbing is over with after a few long sweeping switchbacks. The trail continues through pleasant stands of pine trees and a few stretches of oak brush.


The trail comes to the amphitheater road and follows it downhill to the right for a short distance. It is a little confusing which way to go when you initially get to the road unless you turn around and face the trail sign. Anyway, if you follow the road to the right you will find where the trail picks up again at the Baby Bath Tub trailhead.


The Perimeter trail follows the Baby Bath Tub trail for the next segment of the hike.


The Baby Bath Tub trail passes by some interesting potholes and follows along the north side of a ravine until it meets up with the Portland trail. It is hard to imagine a baby enjoying a bath in the cold mountain water but maybe they grow up tough in Ouray.


The Perimeter trail only follows the Portland trail for a very short distance before it departs on the left side and climbs the hillside to a campground. After passing through the campground the trail follows a gravel road past another mine where it shortly leaves the road at the highest point of the trail.


The major climbing is over with at this point and the trail begins descending back toward the highway on the south side of town. The next few pictures are a little blurry because the once sunny skies have given way to a light rain. It only lasted 10 or 15 minutes before it once again cleared off. You've gotta love Rocky Mountain weather.


The trail crosses the Million Dollar Highway and picks up again near a green gate on the opposite side of the road. There is a shortcut trail somewhere here that will cut almost a mile off of the hike but it is an easy mile that passes through a very pretty area.


From the gate the trail continues away from town heading south into the canyon along the east side of the Uncompaghre River. The trail crosses over to the west side of the canyon just before getting to a dam that diverts the water from the river into a pipeline. You may have noticed in the previous picture that this section of the trail is open to horses. This bridge has a 500 pound maximum capacity limit so be sure the horse that you are riding can either jump a long distance or fly since the average horse weighs about twice that much.


The trail crosses the bridge and then crosses the pipeline and at this point begins looping back toward the start of the hike. The Ouray Ice Park is in the canyon on the right side of the trail. There are water lines with sprinklers that they use to build up the ice on the sides of the cliffs to make a very popular venue for ice climbers.


After a pleasant jaunt out of the canyon the Perimeter trail crosses County Road 361 that leads into Yankee Boy Basin. From there it continues around the hill and comes out near the bridge above Box Canyon Falls. If you make a detour down to the lower end of the falls you will need to pay the entrance fee but just to cross the bridge here will cost you nothing. And, you get to go through a short tunnel that was once a route for an old water pipe.


Here is a short video clip of the waterfall. Notice how much louder it is than Cascade Falls was.


There is a steep down climb after passing through the tunnel.


At the base of the falls the trail dumps out onto the city streets. The trail markers might be a little more scarce than the street signs at this point but the trail basically follows Pine Crest Drive to Queen Street and then heads north on Oak Street. There are some very interesting historic houses along the way. Most all of the places have unique yards and buildings that will keep you entertained as you stroll by.


Continue down Oak Street past the RV and mobile home park where you will find another Perimeter trail sign directing you across a bridge to the other side of the river. From there you simply follow the road behind the Ouray Hot Springs Pool back to the Visitor Center. The RV park has some nice tent and small trailer spots that have electric and running water.


The kiosk at the trailhead gives the length of the hike as 4.2 miles which you will notice is quite a bit shorter than what we came up with. If you take the short cut at the Ice Park and quit measuring the distance at Pine Crest Drive then that is about what you will come up with. The terrain distance which takes into account all the ups and downs is actually 6.1 miles. Since the main purpose of this website is to help people know just what to expect now you know. Ouray is one of those places that keeps drawing visitors back again and again. The town has a lot to offer from their hot springs pool in a beautiful mountain setting to leisurely walks through the downtown district. Many people don't realize they also have some great hiking trails. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.