Head out any direction from Ridgway or stick around, this outdoor haven fits the bill
Boasting the only traffic light in Ouray County, Ridgway is a low-key little town situated in the Uncompahgre Valley at the northern gateway to the San Juan Mountains. It’s a true multisport mecca, and residents take full advantage of the backyard opportunities.
Take a peek in most anyone’s garage and you’ll find a mashup of skis, bikes, rafts, kayaks, paddleboards, climbing ropes, backpacks and sleeping bags. Vehicles are often relegated to street parking.
The hiking opportunities are the most obvious attraction in the area. Spread out any map and you’ll find dozens of trails. Destinations such as Blue Lakes beneath the north face of Mount Sneffels (14,150’) are justifiably popular but often feel “busy” – you may encounter a number of vehicles parked at the trailhead on any given weekend.
For a quieter experience, look east to the Cimarron Range. This range of peaks, reminiscent of the Italian Dolomites, is an often overlooked treasure. All three forks of the Cimarron River descend spectacular valleys, but the West Fork provides the easiest access from town. Hikers, trail runners, peak baggers and technical climbers can all find a suitable adventure here.
Access to the West Fork is via County Road 8 or 10; signs point the way to Owl Creek Pass. From the pass, take your first right on Forest Service 860. Two-wheel-drive vehicles will want to park at the Courthouse trailhead; high clearance vehicles can continue another mile to the West Fork trailhead just shy of the Uncompahgre Wilderness boundary. From the end of the road, the trail follows West Fork creek before climbing steeply at the head of the valley to West Fork pass overlooking Wetterhorn Basin. This is a roughly 6-mile round trip suitable for hiking and trail running.
For those who like to end their hikes on top of something, Courthouse Mountain is by far the most popular summit; a two-mile, 2,000-foot climb on a good trail that requires just a bit of scrambling near the top. Other peaks in the valley include Coxcomb (13,656’), Redcliff (13,642’) and Precipice (13,144”). While Coxcomb requires a short stretch of mid-5th class climbing, the latter two peaks are satisfying off-trail hikes. Early season one can expect extensive snowfields and exhilarating glissades on descent. By mid-summer, expect to be overwhelmed by wildflowers. In all seasons, you’re likely to have these summits to yourself.
The West Fork’s obvious objective for technical climbers is Chimney Rock’s South Face Crack. It is a proud-looking summit, but don’t be lulled into complacency by the 5.6 rating. The rock quality and lack of protection make for heads-up climbing.
If you’re of the mind to mix it up a bit after a day spent hiking or climbing, don’t overlook Ridgway’s mountain biking opportunities. Many years in the making, the Ridgway Area Trails (RAT) group has, in the past five years, developed an extensive network of superb single track in the pinyon-juniper hills northeast of town. The trails are seasonally closed until the first of May, but the 7000-feet elevation keeps riding comfortable long after the heat of summer makes destinations like Moab or Fruita unthinkable.
There are several options for accessing the trails but the main trailhead is located a couple miles north of town on County Road 10 roughly a half a mile off Highway 550.
The trails are simply referred to as the “RAT trails” and the naming convention plays to the theme: Rat Trap, Exterminator, Speedy Gonzales, etc. They range from flowing, how-fast-do-you-dare to double-black descents featuring steep drops and tight turns.
Your goal, generally, is to hit the summit at 4 Corners (via The Big Cheese or Rattus Maximus) and then pick your adventure. One recommendation would include Ratical to the Plagueground and north to the Karni Mati loop. The Ridgway Area Trails website suggests a few options that will suit a variety of skill/experience levels.
Paddling and Floating
If you’ve still got game after a long morning in the saddle, the Uncompahgre River and the Ridgway Reservoir are a nice change of pace. You can launch a kayak from Rollins Park in town. There are a couple of manmade play features right at the put-in and a two-hour float/paddle will deposit you in the Ridgway Reservoir. For flat water aficionados, stand-up paddle boarding on the reservoir makes for a relaxing afternoon. RIGS Fly Shop can hook you up with inflatable kayak and SUP rentals.
Eats and Drinks
Given the small size of Ridgway, there are a remarkable variety of dining options. Colorado Boy Pub has been a community gathering place since it opened in 2008. They feature artisan pizzas, salads and a variety of beers to match any palate. Or try Taco del Gnar. Gnar’s fusion tacos seriously raise the bar on the fast-casual concept in a very hip, welcoming atmosphere.
Where to Stay
There is plenty of public land surrounding Ridgway. A quick study of the map will suggest any number of undeveloped camping opportunities on Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service land.
For those desiring a few amenities, Ridgway State Park offers developed camping – tent or RV – just 10 minutes north of town. Reservations are recommended (if not required) during the summer months.
*For updates regarding the Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s response to COVID-19, including reservations or steps to recreate responsibly outdoors, please visit CPW’s COVID-19 page.
If you’re looking for an affordable indulgence, the clothing optional Orvis Hot Springs immediately south of town offers tent and RV camping for $49/adult or lodging for two at $169. Both options include soaking passes for two days. *Orvis Hot Springs is scheduled to reopen May 27. Call ahead (970-626-5324 ) or check the website for updates.
Chipeta Solar Springs Resort is ideal for a romantic getaway. It has a unique, peaceful vibe and offers a range of spa services. A late afternoon cocktail at the rooftop Sky Bar is an entirely satisfying way to wind down the day. The view is stunning. *Chipeta Solar Springs reopened on May 22. Call ahead (970-626-3737) or check the website for updates.
JAY CORBIN has been exploring the northern San Juan mountains since the mid-1990s. For the past 10 years he has called Colorado’s western slope home.