Archive » July 9, 2009
AMERICA'S VERSION OF THE SWISS ALPS
By Leah Etling, Journal Correspondent
Has the dollar versus euro exchange rate got you down lately? Would you love to visit the Swiss Alps but only have a week of vacation time to spare?
Perhaps Colorado’s San Juan Mountains are your answer. The picturesque mountain towns of Telluride, Ouray and Ridgway are delightful vacation destinations with myriad attractions for a summertime visitor.
Believe it or not, summer is the off-season in this region. That’s because skiing in the area brings most visitors here in the winter.
So hotel rates are cheaper in the summer, which is a brief period from the end of May to the beginning of September.
Here’s a travel tip: There are gorgeous fall colors here before the seasons turn, so considered a trip in the late summer/early fall when the aspens are showing their gorgeous yellow glory.
One of the most beautiful high-altitude villages in the American West, Telluride is a truly special spot.
It has managed to keep its visitor and local appeal without succumbing to cheap commercialism.
There are still inexpensive spots to camp in the mountains nearby, beautiful natural beauty to enjoy and lots of outdoor sports, from downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter to hiking and bicycling in the summer.
Telluride is also home to immensely popular summertime music festivals. The recent Bluegrass Festival, held June 18-21, featured the likes of Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello.
A highlight in Telluride is the free gondola, which provides public and tourist transportation over the mountain from the village center, to a midway point at the mountain crest, to the town of Mountain Village, where about 1,000 people live.
Telluride’s total year-round population is about 2,000 people.
If you wish to camp nearby, check out the Sunshine Campground in the Uncompaghre National Forest. Sites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so you don’t have to have a reservation to snag a great space. Camping is $16 per night with some discounts for senior access passes.
Further on up the mountain on Highway 145 is the town of Ophir, population 55, a remote but populated village accessible by dirt road.
Beyond Ophir is the Ophir Pass, which eventually connects with Highway 550, putting you south of Telluride. If you have an off-road vehicle, this is a don’t-miss.
For more information about Telluride, visit www.telluride.com for info about festivals, lodgings, and more.
Both Ouray and Silverton are historic mining towns, which embrace that history while simultaneously celebrating modern tourism. Ouray’s historic Beaumont Hotel, once a hangout for the silver mine owners, was shut down in the 1960s and reopened in the 1990s.
The town is less expensive than Telluride when it comes to food and lodging, but it has a whole different kind of natural beauty.
Summertime hotel rooms can be found for around $75 per night. If you’ve ever been to Switzerland or Austria, you will likely detect some real similarities between the alpine regions.
The mountains are high, the best hiking routes are on high altitude peaks, and there is distinctive chalet-style architecture in both locales.
Be sure to visit Ouray’s Cascade Falls, located just a short walk from the trailhead at the end of Eighth Avenue. The beautiful waterfall is the last of a sequence of seven falls that bring water cascading down the mountain.
Another fantastic hike is the Ouray Perimeter Trail, a half-day jaunt that will take you all around the town’s mountain borders for a good look at geology, rushing rivers and local views.
A starting point for the trail is located at the Visitors Center and Hot Springs Pool at the north end of town.
(The public pool is open for a small admission fee, making for a great spot to soak after your hike.)
The city’s Box Canyon on the southwest end of town contains another magnificent rushing waterfall, just a short walk into a narrow canyon. This canyon is also the source of the water for the community hot springs pool.
For more information about Ouray, visit www.ouraycolorado.com.
If you visit Telluride and Ouray, you really can’t miss Ridgway. It’s sandwiched between the two at the V-junction of Highway 62 (which takes you to Telluride) and Highway 550 (which takes you to Ouray and Silverton).
Though it is really just a stop to walk around and stretch your legs, Ridgway also offers great bicycling opportunities and historic buildings for your perusal and photography.
It also features a free historic railroad museum with multiple train cars, which is fun for the kids.
Ridgway markets itself as the “Gateway to the San Juans” and is pushing its natural beauty as a place to make movies.
According to the town’s website: “This ‘gateway’ position was recognized over 100 years ago when the Rio Grande Southern established Ridgway as a railhead center, servicing the nearby mining towns of Ouray and Telluride. The town was named for railroad superintendent Robert M. Ridgway, who established the town in 1891.”
As you head out of town toward Telluride, you’ll have great views of Mt. Sneffels, a 13,937-feet peak located south of Ridgway.
For more information, visit www.ridgwaycolorado.com.
Leah Etling is on an extended trip through the American West. Email her at email@example.com.