For information on Nordic trails in
Ironton Park, go to:
Links to weather, avalanche
centers, and other sites of possible interest may be found on the LINKS page.
A good guidebook to use when skiing or snowshoeing locally is: Crosscountry Skiing and Snowshoeing Ouray County, by Jorg Angehrn, which is available in local stores, or from Barnes & Noble and Wayfinder Press.
Angehrn's book provides directions to and around various popular and well-known ski areas, from Elk Meadows and Top of the Pines all the way over to Ironton and Red Mountain Pass, mostly focusing on old roads and groomed trails. Angehrn provides a clear and detailed description of each trail, as well as descriptions of some of the sights and historical markers one may encounter during these snowy outings.
The Information Below is Provided Compliments of
Ouray Chamber Resort Association
Ouray County Nordic Council
Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Opportunities for winter sports activities abound in and around the city of
Ouray. Within walking distance of town numerous trails provide cross
country skiing and snowshoeing access, or just hiking, to take in the special
charm of our valley blanketed in snow. A short drive in either
direction will open up more challenging winter backcountry terrain along with
miles of groomed Nordic track.
Although some south-facing slopes
and trails may melt off early, snow conditions for skiing and snowshoeing are
generally reliable from early December until well into April. Be aware
that the snow in the San Juans is extremely powdery, which makes for heavenly
turns downhill but hellish trail breaking and postholing on the way up.
Clear, deep blue sky days prevail, but beware that the weather can change
rapidly. Dress appropriately in layers of synthetic material (cotton
holds moisture and can cause serious hypothermia problems) and don't forget
your sunglasses and sunscreen.
The San Juan Mountains are noted
for their often unstable snow conditions which, when combined with their
steep slopes, makes for extremely hazardous avalanche areas. Avalanches
may occur on any slope steeper than about 25 degrees if loaded with snow, so
no terrain can be considered completely risk free. Even small hillocks
or roadside grades can pose as much of a hazard to the hiker or skier as the
larger, more easily recognized avalanche chutes. Therefore, if
venturing off the relatively safe groomed trails, you should learn to
recognize and avoid potential avalanche slopes and terrain traps, carry and
know how to use avalanche beacons, probes and a shovel, and of course never
ski or snowshoe alone. Before setting off on any outing, check out the
Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) in Durango for current mountain
weather, snow and avalanche conditions in this area - available via the
internet at www.geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche/
or by phone at (970) 247-8187.
A local slide area along the Portland Mine road, in the Amphitheater, is depicted on the map below. Click on map for a larger view.
This web page merely points out a few of the more popular skiing and
snowshoeing trails in this area. The Ouray Trail Group publishes a
detailed topographical map, "Hiking Trails of Ouray County," which
is readily available locally at a reasonable cost and should be used for
navigating. The map can also be used to locate the roads and trailheads
described below. Two issues must be considered when using this summer
based map for winter backcountry activities. First, not all the roads
to the trail heads are maintained in the winter. Although this requires
a longer trek into the trailhead, it can be a benefit to winter enthusiasts,
since many of the unplowed dirt roads make for excellent skiing and
snowshoeing. Because of route finding difficulties and avalanche
hazards, most winter travelers never venture farther than these access
roads. Inquire locally about road conditions and parking. Secondly,
very few of the hiking trails are adequately marked for winter travel and
route finding can be a significant challenge and hazard when the trail is
buried under 5 to 20 feet of snow. Use map and compass or look for
clues such as blazes and saw cuts.
If you don't have the proper equipment, both cross-country skis and showshoes
can be purchased or rented in Ouray at Ouray Mountain Sports on Main
Street.&nbsop If you wish to call ahead of time, you can contact them at
(970) 325-4284. Snowshoes only can be rented at Hawks Drift
Guides. They also offer quided snowshoe tours in the San Juan and
Cimarron Mountains. Call them for information during the daytime at
(970) 325-7252 or evenings at (970) 626-5059.
Remember that venturing into the winter backcountry is inherently hazardous
and you are traveling at your own risk, even on groomed trails. Prepare
yourself accordingly and don't exceed the capability of the least experienced
in your party. Purchase a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue
Card, available from local merchants for $3 per year, which helps reimburse
the local Search And Rescue for rescue costs. Respect private property
and historic structures and, above all, enjoy yourself and our beautiful San
People who enjoy snowshoeing are welcome in these groomed areas provided
they do not trample the set or skied-in tracks.
- The Ouray County Nordic Council, a branch of the Ouray Trail Group,
maintains three to four miles of groomed trail with set Nordic track in a
fairly level valley south of Ouray on Hwy 550. The trail glides past
the historic ghost town of Ironton. There are also many more
challenging miles of ungroomed "blue" trails, which are clearly
marked, to historic mine sites and scenic overlooks. Trail maps are
available at the trailhead. Donations are welcome to help fund trail
Top of the Pines
- Over four miles of wide trail, groomed primarily for skate skiing, meander
around a fairly level high mesa meadow with spectacular vistas in all
Driving west out of Ridgway, turn south on County Road 5, following signs to
Elk Meadows. Drive five miles to a turn on the right marked
"Highland Drive." Trail maps are available on site.
Donations are appreciated for continued maintenance of this spectacular site.
The following trails are within walking distance of Ouray.
Lee's Ski Hill
- Ouray's own downhill "ski resort" is located on Third Avenue on
the east side of town. A free rope tow operates on weekends and most
afternoons when school lets out, providing a great area for learning new
skills. Shredders usually maintain a few gnarly jumps. Sledding
is not allowed because of the limited space. Fifth Street, however, is
closed to traffic for a one-block distance north of Fifth Aveenue for
youngsters to enjoy sledding.
Uncompahgre River Trailk
- This two-mile circular walk along both sides of the river north of Ouray
provides an enjoyable level stroll or, snow permitting, ski or snowshoe.
Ice Park Trail
- South of Ouray, circumventing the Ice Climbing Park, a two-mile circular
trail provides a surprisingly interesting snowshoe or walk over varied
terrain with great views of the climbers in the Uncompahgre River Gorge.
- This is a very popular winter recreation area for skiers (and boarders) on
the Portland Road and with snowshoers on the Portland and Cascade
trails. It is often packed in sufficiently to permit hiking with
minimal postholing. Although popular and close to town, this area
should be considered backcountry with potential avalanche hazards and some
route finding difficulties. It is not a beginner ski area.
Oak Creek / Silvershield
- These popular summer hiking trails, accessible from town, are also
frequented in the winter by snowshoers and hikers for the first mile of their
length. Route finding challenges and objective hazards increase farther
up. The loop from Oak Creek to Silvershield can be a very challenging
and rewarding expert snowshoeing experience. Although you are within
sight of the valley most of the way, route finding is critical, with the risk
of becoming "cliffed out" along the precipices west of town.
BOWLS / BASINS / BEDS
At the southern and western extremes of Ouray County, around one-half hour by
road in either direction (weather permitting), two classic ski hut systems
provide rustic accommodation and sublime backcountry experience for the
adventuresome. Detailed descriptions and contact information are
available in the book "Colorado Hut to Hut - Southern Region" by Brian Litz.
The following areas also afford rewarding day trips into the backcountry.
Red Mountain Pass
- There is an extremely popular cross-country ski area located east of Hwy
550 immediately beyond Red Mountain Pass. The fairly steep ski or hike
in is rewarding enough, but then the vast US and McMillan Basins open up a
full day's play in the high altitude back country. This is definitely
not a beginner's area without a guide. Some encounters with snowmobiles
might be expected.
San Juan Hut System
- Joe Ryan operates a series of five remote back country huts on a nearly
40-mile route from Ouray to Telluride. The full tour is a classic long
distance hut-to-hut adventure.
however numerous, access points in the immediate area that provide exciting
day trips not requiring the hut to hut overnight experience. The most
popular are the following two trails.
Miller Mesa Road
- From Ridgway, take Hwy 62 west. Turn south onto County Road 5
approximately 5.5 miles south of Ridgway, park off the road at the plowed end
and ski, snowshoe or hike along the continuation of the road. The
trail, through scenic meadows and aspen forests, offers awesome panoramas of
the north side of the Sneffels range. This is a very popular trail and
should not require breaking new tracks. In fact, you may find the
entire route to the Burn Hut groomed by a local landowner. The first
three or four miles are fairly gentle grade and appropriate for beginner to
intermediate skiers. The final one to two miles to the Burn Hut or
three miles to the Ridgway Hut are more challenging and provide a full-day outing.
East Dallas Road
- From Ridgway, take Hwy 62 west. Turn south off Colorado Hwy 62 onto
County Road 7 and drive about four miles to the end of the plowed road.
Inquire in Ouray or Ridgway to confirm that the road has been plowed after a
heavy snowfall. The trail continues along the road over modest terrain
for around five miles to the Blue Lakes Trailhead and Hut. This trail
is appropriate for beginner to intermediate and affords spectacular views of
the north face of Mt. Sneffels.
Dexter Creek Road
- Approximately one mile north of Ouray, follow County Road 14 and park at
the plowed end near the Batchelor-Syracuse Mine. Follow the road up to
the Dexter Creek Trailhead (1.25 miles) and then on to the Horsethief
Trailhead (another 1.25 miles). The steep return descent, particularly
past Dexter Creek, is difficult for beginners.
Cutler Creek Road
- Turning east onto County Road 14 about one mile north of Ouray, watch for a
left turn onto County Road 14A. County Road 14A is plowed to the forest
boundary. From here, a fairly level one-mile ski continues along the
road to the Cutler Creek Trailhead in Thistle Park with open vistas of the
Uncomphagre Valley. The grade is not too difficult for beginners, but
the steep slope off the side of the road may be disconcerting.
Camp Bird Road
- County Road 361, veering off southwest of Ouray, is plowed about 3.3 miles
to Senator Gulch where the ice climbers park their cars to access numerous
routes off the side of the road. The continuation of Camp Bird Road
past the mine and into Yankee Boy Basin is a tempting route for the intrepid
- but beware, this area has extreme avalanche hazards with slides running
almost every year.
- County Road 361 veers off southwest of Ouray. This trail can be found
by following county Road 361 2.7 miles from the Hwy 550 turn-off. The
Weehawken Trail is very popular with expert glade skiers, tree bashers and
shredders. The trail is steep and narrow but often well packed.
This is definitely not beginner terrain.
Owl Creek Pass Road
- About two miles north of Ridgway, County Road 10 turns off to the
east. County Road 10 is plowed to Vista Point (is often a slick,
muddy). Inquire in Ouray or Ridgway about road conditions. From
here, a Montrose snowmobile club maintains the trail over seven miles to Owl
Creek Pass and beyond. This creates an enjoyable long-distance, packed
trail with great views of the Cimarron Ridge, Chimney Peak and Courthouse
Mountain, provided you don't mind the occasional snowmobile interrupting your
OURAY COUNTY NORDIC
The Ouray County Nordic Council is a division of the Ouray Trail Group, a
local community-based, non-profit organization composed of skiing and hiking
enthusiasts. : The organization is dedicated to encouraging safe,
enjoyable hiking and other low-impact outdoor recreational activities in the
San Juan Mountains and helping to protect the beauty and other resource
values or this area. For further information, please contact the Nordic Council President, Lyn Meinert by Phone: 970-325-0480 or e-mail: