This Lesser-known Colorado Town Is Called the 'Little Switzerland of America' for Its Skiing and Natural Beauty

In southwestern Colorado, this tiny town of 1,000 people transports you to the Swiss Alps.

Ouray, Colorado, is an unlikely place for a town.

Driving up on Highway 550, there are no guardrails, and as you gain elevation, the side of the road plunges into a desolate valley of tall pines and sheer rock.

"It feels really wild, like you've gone through a time portal," says Nate Disser, owner of San Juan Mountain Guides. Disser has led avalanche safety courses and backcountry ski treks in the area since 2002, though he acknowledges the town's history dates back nearly one and a half centuries.

The San Juan Mountains, known to their original inhabitants, the Utes, as the Shining Mountains, were home to some of the richest gold and silver mines in the country. In the late 1800s, thousands came to make their fortunes here along the scenic ridge. The 25-mile stretch of Highway 550 that connects Ouray and neighboring Silverton was built to transport ore between the towns. Today, the Million Dollar Highway is recognized as one of the most dangerous roads in America.

Ouray town view from the 550 highway road in Ouray, Colorado
Eric Kitayama/Getty Images

"There's a sense of grandeur up there that's almost unrepeatable in other mountain ranges," says Disser. Indeed, the tall, jagged peaks surrounding the town have led to comparisons with quaint ski villages in the Swiss Alps. But unlike Switzerland, Ouray doesn't require an eight-hour flight, or even a passport, to visit. All you need, says Disser, are skis and a willingness to connect with nature.

That, and a tight hand on the steering wheel.

Read on for our picks on how to plan the perfect getaway in Ouray, Colorado.

A Lodge Fit for a Queen

The living area inside the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge
Xander Bianchi/Courtesy of Red Mountain Alpine Lodge

Three hundred yards off of Highway 550 stands one of Ouray's most impressive hotels, the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge. Nestled back in the trees, the European-style lodge boasts amenities like memory foam mattresses and a live-in chef. "His lasagna is killer," notes co-owner Andrea Vaughan Iuppenlatz.

In addition to the three private rooms, an upstairs loft features sleeping quarters for up to 11 people. Downstairs, the living room uses massive glass windows to give guests the feel of being outdoors. Speaking of outdoors, there's also a 500-square-foot deck with a custom-built fire pit, which makes a cozy spot for an après-ski meal of fondue and charcuterie. "You can look up and see the ski tracks you made during the day," explains Iuppenlatz.

While some backcountry huts require a full day of skinning to access, this lodge is suited to those who crave a remote feel, but with a few added luxuries. Iuppenlatz emphasizes, "It's great if you want to take a day off skiing and do the hot springs, visit a brewery, or go shopping."

A Skier's Paradise

A man skiing down Silverton Mountain
Courtesy of Silverton Mountain

Silverton Mountain only boasts one chairlift and limits the number of skiers allowed up. Most days, there are less than 100 people in an area that spans nearly 2,000 acres. In other words, it's the same size as a ski resort, with only a fraction of the skiers.

One of the mountain's most popular features is the single heli-drop tour, which allow skiers to enjoy a single run of heli-skiing without committing to a full-day private tour (though, if you're willing to pay $1,190 per person for the full day, no one is going to stop you).

"We have a saying at the mountain: 'best day ever,'" explains owner Jen Brill. "We've been able to take a seasoned skier who's not easily impressed, and impress them."

Mountain Life, With Upgrades

Exterior of The Wyman
Kelly Calvill/Courtesy of The Wyman

In neighboring Silverton, which has no stop lights and only one paved road, The Wyman Hotel offers a glimpse of mountain life with a few added conveniences, like ski boot heaters and Tesla charging stations.

"We wanted to provide a place that's comfortable and approachable in a place that's really rugged and remote," says Shane Fuhrman of the boutique hotel, which opened in 2019. Housed in a former Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast that was built in 1902, the building still retains original accents like the stained-glass windows in the lobby and seven-inch trim around the doors.

The view of town around The Wyman
Bridget Burnett/Courtesy of The Wyman

The rooms, including one corner suite that Fuhrman says is ideal for honeymooners, feature velvet headboards, Aesop toiletries, and, notably, no TVs. Meanwhile, the emerald-accented bar downstairs serves a rotating selection of natural wines, as well as Fenceline cider and Colorado-brewed beer.

Though winter is idyllic in Silverton, Fuhrman also recommends a summer visit, when hikers don't have to go far to view moose, elk, big-horned sheep, beavers, and even the odd porcupine.

A Soak to Remember

Aerial view of the Ouray Hot Springs
Courtesy of City of Ouray

Ouray's mineral-rich, odorless geothermal pools have long been a calling card of the town, offering a nice way to unwind after a hard day of backcountry skiing. While there are quite a few to choose from, the obvious starting point would be Ouray Hot Springs.

The family-friendly complex in downtown Ouray features five different bathing areas, including a 25-meter lap pool with eight lanes. An adults-only pool with an infinity-edge is heated to a sweltering 106 degrees. If that's a little too toasty, there are also kid-friendly pools with waterslides and an inflatable obstacle course.

Mountain view of Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa
Courtesy of Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa

If the idea of waking up next to hot springs sounds appealing, then plan a stay at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa. The facility offers cozy, rustic rooms and a private cottage, though the main draws are the natural pools. An underground vapor cave offers a quiet place to sit and let the steamy waters work their magic (one of the pools even gets up to 108 degrees).

The Orvis Hot Springs
Courtesy of Orvis Hot Springs

Just a few miles outside of town, the six-room Orvis Hot Springs property is another option for those who want to build their trip around the healing waters. Upon arriving, you might be tricked into thinking you've landed in Europe, thanks to the 24-hour pool's clothing-optional policy. A lush garden and sauna add to the retreat's Eden-like calm, and luckily, there are no apples in sight.

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