Ouray, Colorado is a small mountain town nestled in the San Juan Mountains that offers breathtaking views and arguably one of the best 4th of July parades in the United States. The town is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America” because of its picturesque setting at the base of a towering mountain peak. Whether you’re looking for adventure or just a chance to escape the city and enjoy some peace and quiet, Ouray is the perfect place to spend a weekend.
Getting to Ouray is a sort of adventure but to us that makes it so much more enjoyable. There are two nearby regional airports that offer the easiest way to visit Ouray if you are not looking to drive from far away. Grand Junction Regional Airport is roughly 2 hours and Montrose Regional Airport is roughly an hour away, but our preference tends to be Grand Junction.
During our last visit to the area Victoria flew into Grand Junction, CO since Gus was already in the state doing a few other hikes (yes, he has way more PTO). Grand Junction is a fun little town in Western Colorado and a good base camp for some adventures. The main reason we chose Grand Junction was for its proximity to the Colorado National Monument, which we highly recommend, and the town offers a bit more to do if you are spending the night.
Both airports should suffice if you are looking to fly in and out, but we would encourage you to look at the rental car situation and what your plan might be if you want to do more than just Ouray. These two towns are not the largest so expecting to just be able to get the rental car at any hour might not be the easiest thing. Lastly check prices for both airports since they are regional you might see some large differences in costs from your location.
If you do have more time and are up for a good drive then going up the mountain path from Durango, CO and through Silverton, CO is an amazing drive that is a must if you have spare time.
If you do have time to spend in the area, we recommend taking some time to explore two rarely visited parks. Outside of Grand Junction, CO you will see Colorado National Monument and outside of Montrose, CO you will find the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
These two parks each would need a minimum of one day each since they do require some driving between them but are both a must see if you are in the area.
Where to stay
Lodging in Ouray requires some planning depending on when you are visiting the town. During their annual 4th of July celebration, the town goes all out and tends to sell out weeks if not months in advance. The cool thing about Ouray is that you will not find any major hotel chains or mega resorts taking away from the laid-back mountain lifestyle.
During our last visit we stayed at the River’s Edge Lodge and while not the fanciest place we have stayed we loved it just as much. We did book the room at the very last minute so didn’t have much choice on where to stay so ended up booking what seemed like a room inside their main house. It gave us bed and breakfast vibes, since we had to walk through the living room to get to our room upstairs. We do want to say that everyone was extremely nice, and we ran into no issues during our stay.
Alternative Ouray Lodging
If you are looking to RV camp there are plenty of RV camps right before entering town and if you are looking to camp, you can stay at Ridgeway State Park less than 20 minutes away.
One thing we do highly recommend is if you are here for the 4th of July festivities is that you stay in town since parking during the events is limited unless you arrive very early. It was also nice to be able to go to our room and shower before fireworks without worrying about driving back and forth.
4th of July Celebrations
Our favorite thing to do in Ouray, CO is visit during their 4th of July celebration every year! We have never seen a town go as big as Ouray goes on 4th of July and the buy in from the community is incredible. If you love small mountain town vibes where even the pharmacy closes for the parade, then you are going to love Ouray.
There are plenty of festivities to attend and the best place to find times is on the Official Visit Ouray website. If you are driving into town that day, make sure to get there early and be ready to spend an entire day since the parade and fireworks are not the only thing to see.
The parade normally starts around 10am but you will want to be there well ahead of time to secure a good spot! A big word of warning for first timers is to pick the correct side of the street to spectate from, since one side of the street is the wet side meaning you will be in a full-on water fight with the Ouray Fire Department trucks!
Once the parade is done, then the fun begins with the fire fighters water fight on 6th and Main Street. This is not your typical water fight and one that you must be present to fully appreciate. In basic terms fire fighters and volunteers face off at each corner of the intersection with firefighting water hoses! Pictures will just not to it justice to how exciting this entire event is!
The day ends with bouncing around the breweries if you are like us or getting some ice cream at the local shops, until the Jeep parade down the mountain followed by one of the best fireworks shows in the country. Due to the town being inside a canyon surrounded by mountains the echoes of the fireworks are one of a kind.
What else to do
While the 4th of July parade and events are normally what brings us to Ouray every year, there are a ton of other outdoor activities to appreciate in this great mountain town.
Depending on the time of year you can hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail and see Ouray from some amazing viewpoints. You can also find plenty of other great hikes at Ouray Trail Group (https://ouraytrails.org/city-ouray-trails/perimeter-trail). If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take one of the coolest drives in Colorado up the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton.
If you are visiting during the winter, you can enjoy the Ouray ice Park (https://ourayicepark.com)! A man-made ice climbing park situated right outside the town and completely free to the public but if you do not have experience ice climbing, please go with one of the local guide companies.
Plan Your Visit
Ouray is truly a gem of Colorado and a perfect destination for anyone who loves nature and adventure. We had a blast exploring this charming town and can’t wait to go back. If you are looking for a place to visit this summer, we highly recommend Ouray!