The main street of Ouray illustrates the “Switzerland of America” | Colorado Main Street | Way of life
Near the southwest corner of Colorado, Ouray got its name from a man who wanted peace.
Ute Chief Ouray wouldn’t have his way with the white men who flooded these San Juan Mountains in search of silver and gold. They were more interested in the money than the hot springs which the natives considered sacred. The newcomers were more interested in what would be an engineering marvel, the Million Dollar Highway, gaining access to the rich mines. But they were mad to think those golden days would last.
Several ghost settlements are now scattered along the highway. In the midst of the economic collapse, it seemed that Ouray would join these abandoned places.
But a CL Hall predicted otherwise. “Ouray is second to none,” he remarked. “It will be famous as a hill station.”
Not a resort like Telluride nearby – no ski mountain and corresponding glamor here – but Ouray, indeed, lives on as a destination of choice.
From Main Street, it’s easy to see why the city gets its name, “the Switzerland of America.” Above the enveloping canyon, jagged mountains scrape the sky.
US 550 extends through Main Street and continues up country. It’s a tempting road, this Million Dollar Highway. But it is worth staying put.
Tourist standards make way along Main Street – T-shirt, jerky and candy shops. But you’re sure to find plenty of oddities too.
Take, for example, the Gator Emporium, filled with quirky gifts and memorabilia. Or Shaggy Coo, another curio shop. Or mine socks. Or the Silver Lynx, a boutique proud of the elusive namesake animal and also its gleaming inventory (the name is also “linked to our jewelry offering, or silver links,” reads the website). There is also, of course, the Swiss Store.
You can also stroll through Ouray Alchemist, which offers tours of a recreated border pharmacy.
Food and drink
The Outlaw is Ouray’s oldest restaurant, having been born in 1969. That was the year “True Grit” was released, which was filmed in the area. Ask about the tattered hat behind the bar, and you’ll be told it belonged to the Duke himself, John Wayne.
At The Outlaw, an old-fashioned piano serenades patrons who indulge themselves with surf and turf and cocktails. Another fine dining experience is at Brickhouse 737, which serves travel-inspired cuisine. There’s old-fashioned Italian and generous portions at Bon Ton.
Burgers are loved at Maggie’s; generations of customers have scrawled their thanks on the walls. The homemade dough and sauce make the big pizzas at the Goldbelt Bar and Grill.
There’s also food at the Ouray brasserie, with great views from the rooftop. Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing is a legendary hideaway, where you might find the owner pointing to the answers he’s written on the wall to your all-too-typical tourist questions. It’s a step back in time at the Silver Eagle Saloon.
In the morning, check out donuts and breakfast sandwiches at Timberline Deli and scones and muffins at Artisan Bakery.
Just steps from the shops and restaurants of Main Street is Ouray Hot Springs. The pool was created by local initiative in the 1920s, and residents continue to improve the soothing amenity for themselves and visitors. The adjacent open space is a great place for a picnic.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the natural splendor. Off Main Street, the Perimeter Trail travels the high circumference of the city, skirting the box canyon and visiting forests and waterfalls along the 6-mile path.
Reached from Main Street, Uncompahgre Gorge is famous for ice climbing in winter. In summer it becomes known for a via ferrata route – a path of iron hands and feet.
Built in 1888, the Wright Opera House turns heads along Main Street. Musicians and theater artists take the stage today and films are screened occasionally.
The Ouray County Courthouse is another elaborate historic structure. Enter and you might recognize another scene from “True Grit”.