Ouray Colorado – The Switzerland of America

A postcard from Ouray

Ouray, Colorado.

Created in a valley and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Ouray grew with the state of Colorado. The town’s history is synonymous with the growth of mining and the railroads needed to ship the mined silver and gold. Only two months after Colorado became a state, the city was incorporated in October 1876.

Ouray County Courthouse

The town of Ouray only had about 400 residents upon incorporation but grew rapidly as the mining industry grew. In 1887, the railroad tracks finally led to Ouray and by 1888, the year the county courthouse was built, there were railroad excursions to visit the burgeoning mining town.

St. Elmo Hotel and Wright’s Opera House

There are many original buildings from the 19th century still standing in Ouray. Two examples are the St. Elmo Hotel built in 1899 and Wright’s Opera House constructed in 1888.

Walsh Library and Ouray City Hall

Tom Walsh, the wealthy owner and the operator of the Camp Bird Mine was responsible in part for the addition of a library and public hall on the second floor of the city offices constructed in 1900. Built to resemble Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the structure burned in 1950. It took 38 years, but in 1988, a reconstruction and restoration plan was brought to completion and the building’s historical facade again graces the city.

Residences nestled in the valley

Our visit to Ouray concluded our first ever journey on the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton. As I noted in an April 5, 2022 post, the highway is beautiful, but it can be treacherous in poor weather conditions. The beautiful drive past Red Mountain and the many mining areas is one of the most scenic drives I’ve taken recently, and if you read my blog regularly, you know I am saying a lot here.


This beautiful building now houses several small businesses. At one point, it used to house a gas station.

Cascade Falls

Ouray is home to three waterfalls, Box Cañon Falls and Cascade Falls, and Bear Creek Falls. Cascade Falls is visible from almost any point in Ouray. At the east end of 8th Avenue, the Cascade Falls parking lot, there is a trailhead where you will begin the moderately steep but thankfully short walk to the waterfall.

Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls

Just out of town, on the highway from Ouray to Silverton, a pull-off with a large parking area is a must-see stop. Walk along the short sidewalk to the viewing area where you will get a spectacular view of Bear Creek Falls. Just above the falls is a bridge that first spanned that chasm on Otto Mears toll road, the beginning of the first 6.5 miles (10.4 km) of the Million Dollar Highway.

So ended our journey to Ouray and we found ourselves on that section of U.S. 550 known as the Million Dollar Highway. You can click on any of the images above to view them in 2K HD on my Flickr site, or you can visit the entire album here.

John Steiner


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