Want to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail in Colorado? In this guide we share everything you need to know before hitting the trail, including when to hike, fun features along the way, and our experience!
After spending a week or so enjoying Silverton, Colorado and driving the famous Million Dollar Highway, we continued our Southwest Colorado adventures north to the town of Ouray.
Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America” because it is nestled in a tight valley of towering 11,000-13,000 foot mountains and is reminiscent of views you would get in the Swiss Alps.
But well before it was a tourist destination, the area was inhabited by the Ute native americans. For centuries, the tribe traveled here during the summer months to fish, hunt, and to soak in what they called their “sacred miracle waters.” In fact, the town’s original name was “Uncompahgre,” which is the Ute word for “hot water springs.”
In 1873, Chief Ouray, who was the leader of both the Tabeguache and Uncompahgre bands of Southern Ute, reluctantly signed a government treaty releasing their San Juan territory to encroaching settlers and in 1876 the town was incorporated and named in Chief Ouray’s honor.
During our one full day exploring Ouray we decided to focus solely on a hike that seemed super intriguing and scenic, the Ouray Perimeter Trail. This trail takes you around the entire town, with gorgeous views, waterfalls, and other sights along the way.
It was such a fun, challenging, and beautiful day experiencing Ouray on foot and in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking this trail, including trail information, where you can start the hike, the top things to see along the way, and our experience.
LOOKING FOR MORE THINGS TO DO IN SOUTHWEST COLORADO?
- A Complete Guide to Visiting Mesa Verde National Park
- The Ultimate Guide to driving the Million Dollar Highway
- Things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Hiking to Blue Lakes in SW Colorado (coming soon!)
- Things to do in Telluride, Colorado in the summer (coming soon!)
- 12 Day Southwest Colorado Road Trip Guide (coming soon!)
Please Leave No Trace
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Ouray Perimeter Trail
As the name implies, the Ouray Perimeter trail is a 6 mile trail that traverses the mountain sides along the perimeter of Ouray, with 4 waterfalls, 5 bridges, and views of town and the mountains along the way. It’s a fun mix of “urban” and nature and makes for a unique way to see the town of Ouray!
And what makes this trail really neat is that there are multiple entry and exit points and you are never more than 500 feet vertically or a half mile horizontally from the town’s city limits. This makes it very easy to either just do a portion of the trail or take a break in town for a meal and then get back on the trail to resume the hike. There are tons of possibilities for all time limits and fitness levels!
Ouray Perimeter Trail Stats
According to AllTrails, the trail is roughly 6 miles, but if you take any detours into town it’ll add a little bit of extra mileage. Our AllTrails recording, without any detours, says we went 6.72 miles and it took us about 4 hours to complete, including a few stops.
There is 1,512 feet of elevation gain on the hike and to be honest, the trail was more strenuous than we anticipated, with lots of ups and downs. The base elevation of Ouray is 7,792 feet and despite being in Colorado for almost a month by the time we hiked this, the warm weather we had and some steeper sections caused us to huff and puff quite a bit. But one good thing is you have views almost 100% of the time, so it helped distract us from the pain.
Overall, this hike is absolutely doable for most ages, with the ability to reduce the mileage if needed, including a shortcut along the Ice Park Shortcut (see the map here). The trail itself is typically pretty wide and safe, but going from the Visitor Center to Cascade Falls there are some slick, steep, and narrow sections with drop offs on one side.
Where do you start the Ouray Perimeter Trail?
The official trailhead for the Perimeter Trail is located across the street from the Ouray Visitor Center on the east side of US 550. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead, but your best bet is to park in the very large parking lot behind the Visitor Center. This parking lot is shared with the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, but we didn’t have any issue parking here, even on a warm summer day.
There are other access points to the trail if you would like to start elsewhere, which you can see on the map above!
When to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail
In our opinion, the best time to hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail is in the late spring to fall, when the trail is mostly clear of snow, the waterfalls are visible, and you can see the many green trees (or yellow in the fall!) along the way.
We hiked this trail in early June and the trail was in perfect condition, the waterfalls were flowing rapidly from snow melt, and the crowds weren’t too horrible yet (we hear July and August are extremely busy).
While you could hike the trail in the winter, the trail will be covered in snow and could be more difficult to navigate. One perk to hiking during the winter months is that you can see ice climbers at Ice Park, which would be wild to see!
What to Bring on the Ouray Perimeter Trail
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
Although this hike has views of the town almost the entire time, it’s still a rugged hike, with some slick gravel sections, dirt, and mud, so proper shoes are a must.
We almost always wear our Lowa Renegades (Kathryn) and Altra Superiors (Adam), but also love our Chacos, which are great hiking sandals for the warmer months and for this trail.
If you start early or later in the day, you will want to bring layers, as sunrise and sunset bring chillier temperatures, especially in the spring and fall months.
It is very sunny in Southwest Colorado and this trail has a mix of exposed and tree covered areas, so sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are a must! We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen.
Because of the higher altitude and the warmer summer days, make sure to bring and drink plenty of water. The air is super dry and our throats and noses were not fans!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving.
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While the trail is easy to follow, we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
You likely won’t need bug spray for most of the trail, but once you hit the southernmost part of the trail and cross over the Uncompahgre River, the trail gets very wooded and if you’re there in June like we were, you may get attacked by a cloud of mosquitoes.
We didn’t bring bug spray and had to speed walk through this section and vigorously swat the pesky buggers away…so don’t be like us!
Things to know before hiking the Ouray Perimeter Trail
Before hitting the trail, here are a few more things to know to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable hike.
Dogs are allowed
The Perimeter Trail is dog friendly, but dogs must be kept on a leash. The only part that is not dog friendly is if you want to visit Box Canyon, specifically the Falls Trail.
The only restrooms along the trail are at the Visitor Center and at Box Canyon, so make sure to go before you start the hike, as your options will be very limited once on the trail.
There are no fees to park or access the Ouray Perimeter Trail…woo!
Our experience hiking the Ouray Perimeter Trail
Want to see our full experience? Watch our video from hiking the Ouray Perimeter Trail
As we mentioned earlier, we started our hike along the Ouray Perimeter Trail at the Visitor Center, which offers ample parking (including for a large van like ours!) and is just across the street from the trailhead.
While you may think a trail going around a town would be pretty easy, the Perimeter Trail doesn’t play around! From the second we entered the trail, it was uphill, which got us sweating, but also gave us views of town almost immediately.
The trail itself is mostly dirt and since it’s uphill, it can be a bit slick, so we had to be careful, especially as we started to walk along the mountainside, where we had the rock of the mountain on our left and more of a dropoff on our right.
About 0.75 miles into the trail we reached the first major stop, Cascade Falls. The trail first takes you closer to the top of the falls, where if you feel up to it, you can walk a side path and get pretty close to it!
Continuing down on the Perimeter Trail, we then got to the bottom of Cascade Falls and while so far the trail hadn’t been that busy (we went on a weekday in June), this area was pretty packed, as people can walk from town to this area or park right by the base of the falls.
We snapped a few photos and then continued on the trail, where the crowds immediately disappeared again. The next part of the trail was more wooded and you will have to go onto a road (Amphitheater Campground Road) for a tiny bit before reaching the Baby Bathtubs Trailhead.
Right at this trailhead there is a bridge where you can overlook a river and mini gorge below. We continued onto the trail at Baby Bathtubs, which is a cool, rocky area with “bathtubs” in the river. This would be a fun spot to cool off on a hot summer day!
After walking along the river for a bit, we walked over a bridge and soon after walked through a more open area with some aspens (this would be GORGEOUS in the fall!) and then reached the highest point on the trail at 8,500 feet, which is a rocky area with incredible views of the mountains.
This is definitely the best part of the trail to sit and enjoy some snacks or a lunch, as it offers the most places to sit down, so we took a little break and ate some delicious meat sticks and cheese from Ouray Meat & Cheese Market.
From here, the trail goes downhill and crosses over the Million Dollar Highway, before going into the most wooded section of the hike. This is when the mosquitoes started to get real bad. We booked it through here as fast as we could, while still trying to enjoy some of the scenery, like a gorgeous river that cuts through the rocks.
The mosquitoes slowly started to die down as we reached the Ouray Via Ferrata, which we of course had to stop at to watch people climbing. We did the NROCKS Via Ferrata in West Virginia and it was SO much fun (and scary), but this one looked even more challenging. For the Ouray Via Ferrata you can either go on your own for free, if you have the gear and skills, or hire a guide from town to take you.
The next major destination along the trail is Box Canyon. Box Canyon is a 285 foot waterfall that drops thousands of gallons of water per minute inside a narrow canyon. We thought it would just be a tourist trap, but we were SO impressed by this waterfall!
While you can visit Box Canyon while hiking the Perimeter Trail, we actually did this earlier in the morning before hiking the trail for a couple reasons. 1. It was WAY less busy to go to Box Canyon right when they opened and 2. Kona is not allowed on the Falls Trail of Box Canyon (the BEST part in our opinion), so we did this before the hike so she could enjoy the entire hike with us later.
If you do want to visit Box Canyon while on the Perimeter Trail (it’s amazing and definitely worth a stop), it costs $5 to access the Falls Trail, which is incredibly cool and worth every penny. There is also the High Bridge Trail, which is a bridge that overlooks the canyon, and is accessed either from inside Box Canyon Park or along the Perimeter Trail. Since it’s on the trail, dogs can go on this part and you do not have to pay.
After crossing over the bridge at Box Canyon, you go through a tunnel to continue onto the trail, which is a fun feature!
The rest of the hike is a mix of ups and downs and this is where our energy level started to plummet a bit. Along this last stretch, there are still views of town, as well as one final waterfall. Right before you cross the bridge at the falls, make sure to look under it to see a metal troll sculpture! Once you cross this bridge, it’s basically all downhill back into town.
Once reaching town, the last part of the trail goes through an RV park, which to be honest is kind of a weird ending to the very scenic hike, but it’s flat, so we were at least glad for that! After a short walk through this park, we crossed another bridge and were back at the Visitor Center.
Overall, we loved this hike! It took us about 4 hours and with it being a bit warm out, it definitely had us sweaty and exhausted afterwards, but it’s the perfect way to get to experience Ouray’s scenery, see different perspectives of town, and get a good workout!
Looking for more things to do and places to stay in Ouray? Check out our Million Dollar Highway guide!
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