DIRECTIONS: The Ouray Perimeter Trail circles the entirety of Ouray. There are many different places where you can access the trail but I recommend driving to the Ouray Hot Springs and starting there. The trailhead is across 550 from the Hot Springs entrance. Start here and take a well deserved soak at the end of the loop.
The Ouray Perimeter Trail is basically Ouray's greatest hits album. The trail is maintained by the Ouray Trail Group consisting of the U.S. Forest Service and the City of Ouray. The trail weaves and flows around the town, mostly sticking to the mountain-sides within the Uncompahgre National Forest. The trail also links all of Ouray's biggest attractions including: Cascade Falls, the Ouray Ice Park, and Box Canyon Falls and Park. Hiking the whole trail is about 6 miles and all the ups and downs adds up to about 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
From the Hot Springs the trail climbs up to the cliffs along the eastern edge of Ouray. The views (when you are not hiking through a snow-storm) to the west are stunning with high peaks, cliffs, canyons, and the town below creating a scene of alpine paradise. The trail follows the base of the cliffs all the way to Cascade Falls. At the viewing shelter, the Perimeter Trail continues up the other side of the hill through the forest until you reach the Amphitheater Campground Road. Follow the road down to the Baby Bathtubs Trailhead.
The Perimeter Trail follows the Baby Bathtubs Trail to the intersection with the Portland Trail and the footbridge beyond. This is the part of the Perimeter Trail where you get pretty far from the Ouray Townsite and can explore the National Forest. The trail then crosses County Road 16 through some alpine meadows and rock outcroppings before dropping down to cross the Million Dollar Highway.
On the other side of the Highway, you begin the Ice Park Trail and have the option of taking the Ice Park Shortcut Trail which cuts about 3/4 of a mile of beautiful aspen forest off the hike. Do NOT take the shortcut in the fall as the aspens are not to be missed. The trail heads west for a ways before returning towards town and entering the Ice Park. In the winter, being able to see the icy cliffs with climbers from all over the world coming to enjoy this resource is a real treat. Follow the water pipeline into the Uncompahgre River Canyon and past the climbers trails. Soon you'll cross 361 and approach Box Canyon.
The Box Canyon Park is one of Ouray's most stunning attractions and real highlight of this hike. You cannot visit Ouray without visiting Box Canyon Falls. The Perimeter Trail leads you to the top of the canyon where there is a narrow metal bridge providing amazing canyon views and leading to a tunnel which you need to crouch through before descending a steep section of trail carved into the cliffs. After the decent, you climb again along a wide access road to the Oak Creek Trailhead. When you see the signs for the Oak Creek Trail go straight, along the Oak Creek Trail. Do not turn left and head further up Box Canyon (I made this mistake and went an extra half mile or so before entering an area with mining claims that is closed to the public).
The Oak Creek Trail descends down and into Oak Creek Canyon to the Oak Creek Bridge. This is an amazing portion of trail especially in winter when icicles and frozen waterfalls hang along the cliff-sides. Climb up the other end of the canyon to reach Henn's Lookout. Contnue your descent along the Twin Peaks Trail as you finally reach the western ends of Ouray where you pop out at Oak Street.
Follow Oak street to the north until you see a city works facility and the bridge leading back to the Hot Springs completing your loop. I highly suggest a soak in the hot springs, your legs will thank you.
The Perimeter Trail is not an easy hike even though there is nothing difficult or technical about it. The trail is very well signed and well worn. Even in a period of heavy snows, snowshoes were not necessary (though micro-spikes would help). However, the trail is a seemingly never ending series of ups and downs. You can jump off the trail in various places for food or rest but I do recommend completing the entirety of the hike. Ouray is a beautiful place and the mountains surrounding it are magical. Each component of the trail has something exciting to offer and hiking the whole loop is a rewarding experience.
HIKES BY REGION
NATIONAL PARK HIKES
- BENT'S OLD FORT NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
- BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK
- COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
- CURECANTI NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
- DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
- FLORISSANT FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
- MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
- GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK
- HOVENWEEP NATIONAL MONUMENT
- SAND CREEK MASSACRE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
- YUCCA HOUSE NATIONAL MONUMENT
- HIKES BY CATEGORY
- $UPPORT GHC
- INTERACTIVE MAP
Ouray Perimeter Trail
Uncompahgre National Forest
Date Hiked: December 28, 2018
Distance: 6 mi (RT)
Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft
Elevation Min/Max: 7,632 to 8,492 ft
Trailhead Lat/Long: 38º 01' 45" N; 107º 40' 23" W
Managing Agency: Ouray Trails Group