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How to Hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail

The Ouray Perimeter Trail is a unique hike that circles around the town of Ouray, taking you to incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The loop is kind of a choose-your-own-adventure, with different options for hopping on and off the trail in town. This guide will tell you how to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail, what you’ll see along the way, and tips for enjoying the hike!

A view of the mountains along the Ouray Perimeter Trail in Colorado.

Head’s up: some of these links are affiliate links, so I get a commission if you make a purchase (at no cost to you). But that’s great, because I was going to share anyway, and this helps me keep making free guides for you!

About the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Before you hit the trail, here’s what you need to know about the Ouray Perimeter Trail!

Ouray Perimeter Trail Stats

  • Distance: 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) loop, with options to make it shorter or longer
  • Elevation Gain: 1600 feet (488 meters)
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Hike Time: I consider myself to be an average hiker, and this trail took me 4 hours and 8 minutes. You can check out my hike on Strava!

Leave No Trace on the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Anytime you’re outdoors, it’s essential that you practice Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that help us understand our impact on the outdoors – because while we usually have good intentions, the environment is more fragile than we think, and one snap-second decision can cause damage to the environment that will take the earth years, even decades to repair. This is a pretty popular hike, so it’s super important to make sure to prevent damage!

Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature, as much as it’s possible to do so. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply when you hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail!

  • Plan ahead and prepare – though this trail is close to town, the terrain does get rough! Read this guide, know what to expect, and bring water.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces – stay on the trail and don’t take any shortcuts, as this causes erosion, kills plant life, and damages trails.
  • Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash, or anything else, behind. Pack it out!
  • Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a cool rock or leaf, but leave these things where they belong! Animals often use these, and if everyone takes one, the trail won’t be as pretty.
  • Minimize campfire impacts – campfires are not allowed on the trail.
  • Respect wildlife – don’t approach wild animals, and never feed them.
  • Be considerate of other visitors – yield to uphill hikers, and be respectful – no speakers or loud music.

The Best Time to Hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail

The best time to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail is usually May through October. Ouray sits at about 7,700 feet (2345 m) above sea level, so winters are very harsh, with snow and ice on the trail. You can hike this trail during shoulder seasons, but will likely need microspikes.

Late spring is great for hiking this trail, because the snowmelt causes wildflowers to bloom, and waterfalls are at their fullest. The weather is also ideal for hiking, as it’s not too hot.

Summer is a popular time to visit Ouray, so you can expect to see more people on the trail. The weather is warm, but afternoon thunderstorms are common, so it’s best to plan your hike for earlier in the morning.

Early fall is beautiful with the leaves changing, and the weather is cooler! Keep in mind that weather can be less predictable, and snow can start to accumulate at high elevations.

What to Bring to Hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail

When you hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail here’s what you’ll need to bring! To see all of my favorite gear picks, you can check out my Rockporch.

What to Wear to Hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Me walking along the Ouray Potato Trail, at Potato Patch with mountains behind me.
Wearing the Sahara Sun Shirt, Trailmade shorts, and Chacos.

What to Bring to Hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail

  • Backpack – you’ll need a backpack for water and snacks. I use an Osprey Hikelite 26L.
  • Water – water is a must, always – and bring more than you think you need. I usually bring my 2L hydration pack on hikes, along with a Nalgene water bottle that I put electrolytes in.
  • Sunscreen – no matter the time of year, make sure to protect yourself from the sun. Being this high above sea level means the UV index gets pretty extreme!
  • Headlamp – if you want to get an early start, or stay to watch the sunset, make sure to bring a headlamp. It’s also a good idea to always bring one just in case!
  • Trekking Poles – hiking with poles can help with stability, and can be especially helpful if you have knee pain going downhill.


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Directions to the Ouray Perimeter Trail

If you’re flying in for your trip, the closest airport is the Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ). You might also choose to fly into the bigger Denver International Airport.

Expedia is a good way to find flights and rental cars, and I super recommend signing up for Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) – they send you amazing deals, so you can find cheap flights. The free account is great and totally worth the few minutes it takes to sign up, and I do recommend the premium account too!

From Denver, it’s about a 6 hour drive to Ouray, so you will need a car to get there. If you fly, you can rent a car through Discover Cars or Rental Cars. But, a great alternative to a rental car is a tiny home on wheels! With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option for vans is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb for campers – you can rent a van, RV, or trailer from a person in the area.

From Montrose, there is a shuttle (called OurWay) that can take you to Ouray! Once you’re in Ouray, the town is very small and easy to get around by walking, and you can get to the Ouray Permeter Trail easily, right from town.

To get to Ouray from Denver, you’ll take I-70 W > US-141 at Clifton > US-50 E > US-550 S to Ouray.

From Montrose, you just take US-550 S right to Ouray!

Once you’re in town, there are a few places where you can hop onto the trail, since it’s a loop. I recommend parking at the Ouray Visitor’s Center, next to the hot springs pool, as this parking lot is big and has bathrooms.

Ouray Perimeter Trailhead Coordinates: 38.0295676,-107.6729827

Ouray Perimeter Trail Map

Here is a map of the Ouray Perimeter Trail, which shows you different places to park, things you’ll see along the trail, and some other trails you can take if you want to make your adventure longer! This map is from OurayTrails.org.

Screenshot

Hiking the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Once you’ve parked and are ready to start hiking, here’s what you can expect on the Ouray Perimeter Trail! I started and ended at the Ouray Visitor’s Center, and went clockwise.

Ouray Visitor’s Center

There are a lot of options for where to park to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail, and the Visitor’s Center parking lot is the most popular. It has plenty of parking, has bathrooms, and is right next to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. From here, you’ll cross the street, walk past the condos, and find yourself on the trail. Wooden stairs climb the hillside, and you’ll ascend into the forest. The hike is pretty steep right away, and I found this beginning section to be the hardest part of the trail.

You’ll keep going uphill, slowly getting further away from the noises of cars and kids playing in the pool below you, and it’s an interesting contrast between the quiet forest in front of you and the town just below.

Cascade Falls

Soon, the sound of traffic will be replaced by the sound of rushing water, and about 0.8 miles (1.3 km) in, you’ll come to Cascade Falls. The waterfall is beautiful, falling down the rocky cliff side. The trail then descends down to the creek and the base of the falls, and this portion of the trail is busy, as it intersects with the short Cascade Falls hike. Cross the bridge and follow the signs to keep going on the Ouray Perimeter Trail, and you’ll be going uphill again.

You’ll walk towards a gorgeous view of the mountains, then find yourself on the pavement of Amphitheater Campground Road before getting back on the trail.

Baby Bathtubs

Here, you’ll be on the Baby Bathtubs trail that walks along the creek – there are some spots where you can get to the water, and this is a great way to cool off in the summer. Keep walking through the forest, cross the bridge over Portland Creek, and after a little while you’ll be on Portland Mine Road – a steep, rocky 4×4 road.

Potato Patch

You’ll walk on Portland Mine Road for a little bit, and then turn right to the Potato Patch. This is an open field, where potatoes used to be grown! Just across the patch you’ll find yourself on a rocky knoll, with flowers around you if you’re hiking in spring or summer. This is the highest point on the Ouray Perimeter Trail at 8500 feet (2591 m).

From here, you get to go downhill for a while! The views coming down towards the highway are really incredible – the best on the trail, in my opinion. After crossing the Million Dollar Highway, you’ll go down a wooded path through aspen trees.

Ouray Ice Park

Follow this trail, and you’ll cross a bridge over a river – the views here are amazing! Keep going, and go over the metal stile and the big pipeline. Now, you’re on Ice Park Access Road.

In the winter, the Ouray Ice Park is a place for ice climbing in the gorge – and in the summer, the trail goes by a river and gives you views of the canyon. You can also see the formidable Ouray Via Ferrata, and watch climbers tackle the route!

Box Cañon Bridge

After the Ice Park, you’ll head up a trail that soon crosses the road and goes up to the Box Cañon Bridge. You can also take another trail down to lower Box Cañon, but there’s a fee to go into the park. Cross the suspended bridge, stopping to admire the view below you, and then you’ll have to go through a tunnel. You might have to duck! The rocky tunnel is fun to go through, and on the other side, stairs lead you down the cliff.

A tunnel along the Ouray Perimeter Trail, just after the Box Cañon Bridge.

Oak Creek Canyon

At Pinecrest Drive, you can get off the trail and come down into town, but to finish the loop, there’s another steep uphill section.

You’ll climb up, and there’s a big Box Cañon sign up here that you can get close to. After some more ascending, you’ll finally start going downhill – this portion of the trail was steep, with loose rock, so watch your step because a little slipping does happen! Cross the Oak Creek Bridge, and continue on the trail, following signs until you find yourself back in town, at the starting point.

A view of the town of Ouray and the Rocky Mountains from the Ouray Perimeter Trail.

Where to Stay Near the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Ouray is a great Colorado mountain town for a little getaway, so here are the best places to stay while you’re here!

camping in Ouray

For camping in Ouray, I recommend using The Dyrt – it’s the best way to find campsites. You can use the free version to find campsites, but with The Dyrt Pro you’ll also be able to see the boundaries of national forest land just outside of town. You can stay right in town in one of the paid campsites, or, in the national forest, you can camp just about anywhere for free! You can try The Dyrt before you commit, so click here for a free trial.

There are plenty of options for free camping near Ouray – so check out this guide to learn how to find free campsites!

Try the Dirt Pro

Free for 30 days

Find campsites, plan road trips, and see the boundaries of national forest land where you can camp for free!

hotels in Ouray

Ouray has lots of hotels, inns, and lodges that make for a convenient place to stay in town.

Some options for places to stay:

For more options, check out this map of places to stay. Make sure to change the dates, and zoom out to see all of your options!

 

Cabins, Glamping, & Yurts

For a unique place to stay during your trip, check out Hipcamp! It’s like Airbnb for campsites – and you can find yurts, cabins (like this yurt), glamping sites, and more. 

You can even get $10 off your first booking here!

A Camper van

With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans. Another option is to use Outdoorsy, which is more like Airbnb – you can rent vans, RVs, and trailers from people who live nearby!

More Adventures Near the Ouray Perimeter Trail

Have you hiked this trail, or are you adding it to your bucket list? Let me know in a comment below!

There are so many more incredible hikes Ouray, and I recommend doing the Chief Ouray Mine Trail next.

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