What makes Ouray the Switzerland of America? You find out with a quick drive up Red Mountain Pass, to overlooks of the quaint town tucked in a box canyon and framed by the white-capped wonders of the San Juan Mountains. But a better way to take in the grandeur? That would be pulling off for the Perimeter Trail.
The work of volunteers and the U.S. Forest Service has spelled a fantastic and sometimes-challenging excursion for locals and tourists alike. The trail is especially useful when the high country is still packed with snow. On our visit at the end of a snowy May, we found the Perimeter to be dry. And while we worried we wouldn’t get a rugged, remote feeling on the trail never more than a half-mile from town, we were pleasantly surprised.
We started from the trailhead near the visitor center, where a useful map details the path’s various bailout points — a guide to customize your trip if short on time. Log steps ascend a hillside, meeting a series of switchbacks to the canyon walls. In no time, we had a bird’s eye view of regal peaks in the distance and the snowy range like shattered glass above the forest. We came to the first attraction in less than a mile: Cascade Falls, crashing over the cliffs.
The trail descends and rises to lush woods of wildflowers. At the road, we went right, meeting the trail again for the Baby Bathtubs, the next of the Perimeter’s many intrigues. The well-marked way also has old mining sites, bridges and the famous Ice Park. And the views never get old.
Trip log: 6 miles round trip (loop), 1,514-foot total elevation gain, 8,516 feet max
Getting there: Various starting/ending points in Ouray.
FYI: Hiking only. Dogs on leash. Icy in winter; wear traction. For more information and detailed directions, go to ouraytrails.org.