Date Hiked: 10-01-16
Mileage: 6.4 mi
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw):3 groups
If you’re after the most bang for your buck hiking in Ouray, the Perimeter Trail is it.
In six and a half miles round trip, the Perimeter Trail circles Ouray, hitting all of the city’s most famed landmarks, never once shying away from the ethereal views of Ouray’s small-town charm. And with a number of access points, you can make the hike as long or short as you want to.
While most choose to start at the Ouray Visitor Center, I decided to park instead at Lower Cascade Falls and headed counterclockwise from there.
For 3/10ths of a mile, the Lower Cascade Falls Trail and the Perimeter Trail share a path, but as the former climbs higher towards the Amphitheater Campground, the Perimeter Trail stays on a lower route parallel to Ouray. Edging away from the birds-eye views of Ouray, the mountain vistas open up behind dying stands of oak brush with views of Potosi Peak, Whitehouse Mountain, and Twin Peaks.
Half a mile in, continue straight at the 5th Avenue neighborhood connector, and a quarter mile beyond, the trail hits the Amphitheater Campground Road. Take the pavement downhill for .1 mile, then turn left onto the Baby Bathtubs Trail.
As Portland Creek flows into Ouray, the weaker igneous rock is eroded away into potholes which bear resemblance to small bathtubs – hence the name. Over the next half mile, the Perimeter Trail follows these gorged chasms, the rock worn smooth by a continual flow of water, gaining up close and personal views of the Amphitheater.
Crossing over Portland Creek once, the trail shakes free of the Amphitheater and heads towards CR-16 (Portland Mine Road). When the trail and road meet, an old miners shed ushers you into the “Potato Patch”, the highest point of the trail where miners really did grow potatoes back in the day. Fringed by a low stand of aspen trees, the higher altitude gives you a commanding view towards the Sutton Mine trail, and the route it takes along a high shelf below Hayden Mountain.
Heading southwest into the first real stretch of downhill, rocky outcrops above Highway 550 clear the way to views of Mount Abrams, and at mile 1.7, the trail crosses the pavement. Really use your eyes and ears at the crossing, because you’re in a blind spot between curves.
The next section of the trail along the hydroelectric dam access road tours Ouray’s famed Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge. During the winter months, a complex system of pipes and showerheads blast the gorge walls with water to build up an icy playground. As the largest ice climbing venue, with visitors coming from the world over, the park spans 17,000 vertical feet of terrain, with 200 different climbing routes to choose from. They’ve got something for every skill level here, from the novice to the professional.
Then, crossing Yankee Boy Road, the Perimiter Trail continues onto my favorite section of the journey: Box Canyon Falls and Park.
The Box Canyon High Bridge has its roots in the early 1900s, when a tunnel was blasted into the cliff for a water piping project that was never fully realized. Truly living up to it’s name, the bridge stands 300 feet above Canyon Creek.
For a short side trip (which will cost you $4) head down into Box Canyon park.
Where Canyon Creek plunges 285 feet into a narrow quartzite slot, a steel bridge funnels along the cliffside, giving you an insider’s view at the falls. It’s a historic tourist site in Ouray, and still generates its fair share of traffic to this day, especially during the summer months when sightings of the roosting Black Swift becoming more and more common. The mountain goat of birds, the Black Swift is a peculiar variety that doesn’t perch on tree branches, but instead prefers clinging to vertical surfaces.
Back up to the high bridge, a steep series of steps chiseled into the rock dumps you right onto Pinecrest Drive. You have two options here: Follow Pinecrest to Queen Street, then to Oak Street back into Ouray; or, the longer, more exhilarating option takes the newest portion of the trail west up Pinecrest to the Oak Creek-Twin Peaks trailhead. This wide loop makes a detour deep into the forest, crosses Oak Creek, then eventually winds its way back down to the Old Twin Peaks Trailhead on Queen Street.
A final, proposed, segment will continue into the woods on the western edge of Ouray, but as of now, the remainder of the trail follows Oak Street through Ouray to the Visitor Center. From there, the route crosses the highway one final time near the condominiums, where it hugs a tight shelf cut into Cascade Mountain before up back at Lower Cascade Falls.
(From Ouray): There are multiple spots to start the Perimeter Trail, but I started at the Lower Cascade Falls Trailhead at the end of 8th Avenue.