Places for Autumn Color around Ouray

Article and Photographs by William Horton

A white aspen bole stands out among its siblings in a Colorado aspen grove in autumn.

A white aspen bole stands out among its siblings in an aspen grove along Last Dollar Road.

Your Ouray-Area Fall-Color Cheat Sheet is ready for download here. It is in PDF format and will print out nicely so that you can take it along with you on your leaf-color tours. For each location, you will find specific directions and notes, plus CAUTIONS you should keep in mind on your journeys, such as road and trail conditions, where to park, and navigation landmarks.

Okay, with all that out of the way, here is a preview of the locations covered in the cheat sheet.

Around Ouray

It is not for naught that Ouray bills itself as Switzerland of America. Rugged peaks surround a gem of a town. And, autumn brings pilgrims seeking the best leaf color in colorful Colorado. Around Ouray are some scenic locations great with and without fall color. Plan on visiting Box Canyon Falls, Baby Bathtubs Trail, Amphitheater Campground, and Cascade Falls.

Highway 550 – The Million Dollar Highway

A view of the remnants of Chattanooga ghost town near the foot of Red Mountain on US 550 near Silverton, Colorado

Chattanooga ghost town on US 550.

Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton routinely makes the worldwide top-ten list of scenic roads—and the list of the most dangerous and scary in Colorado.

To the photographer, the highway offers layer-cake cliffs, U-shaped glacial valleys, cirques, red mountain slopes, gaudy boulders, ancient calderas, sweeping curves, panoramic vistas, avalanche chutes and shelters, ghost towns and mining ruins, aspen groves, mountain lakes, and some of the cleanest air in the United States.

Some of the stops along the way to Silverton include: Lookout Point, Bear Creek Falls, the Double S-curve, Crystal Lake, Ironton ghost town, Idarado Mine complex, Red Mountain Pass, FS 825, and Chattanooga ghost town.

Once in Silverton, visit Christ of the Mines Shrine and Hillside Cemetery.

Past Silverton, but still on 550, stop at Little Molas Lake, Molas Overlook near Molas Pass, and Andrews Lake. Finally, cap off the drive with a trip down Old Lime Creek Road, if you dare!

Cutler Creek Road – CR 14

County Road 14 provides a scenic, if bumpy, ride through autumn color. Along the route enjoy the mountain views, a racing creek, and breathtaking aspens.

Highway 62

Highway 62 runs west from Ridgway. Along the way, the snowcapped Sneffels Range backstops authentic Western ranches. Off this highway you will find four of the most productive fall-color routes anywhere, plus a spectacular viewpoint. They are: CR 5 (Girl Scout Camp Road), CR 7 (East Dallas Creek Road), CR 9 (West Dallas Creek Road), Dallas Divide (pull off), and the Last Dollar Road.

Ridgway State Park

Ridgway State Park is a triple blessing for photographers: a convenient base of operations, a scenic and wildlife-rich area, and a viewpoint for distant mountain ridges. Wildlife includes 140 species of resident and migratory birds, deer, elk, big horn sheep, moose, marmots, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. At sunset, views from Elk Ridge Campground and the Visitor Center Overlook are sublime.

Owl Creek Pass Road

Morning light and golden aspens highlight the view of Courthouse Rock as seen from the Owl Creek Pass Road between Ridgway and Cimarron, Colorado.

Along Owl Creek Pass Road toward Courthouse Rock.

The Owl Creek Pass road has what the fall photographer needs: every leaf color possible; picturesque ranches and stunning vistas; jagged, serrated, and fluted ridges; volcanic towers, spires, and chimneys; the setting for a classic John Wayne movie; wildlife; and the occasional cattle drive.

Specific areas and points-of-interest include the ranch zone, oak forest, Vista Point, views of Mt. Sneffels and the Cimarron Ridge, aspen groves, Katie’s Meadow (from True Grit), Owl Creek Pass, three forks of the Cimarron River, Silver Jack Reservoir, and Beaver Lake.

A Reminder

One more time … download the PDF Cheat Sheet before you head out to these locations. In it you will find directions, GPS coordinates, photography notes, and cautions. Notice the revision date at the bottom of the Cheat Sheet. As I find errors and omissions and make additions, I will upload a new version of the document.

Additional Resources

In addition to the PDF Cheat Sheet, here are links to two Google maps: One for the Ouray area and another for the Ridgway area. All the points listed in the Cheat Sheet are on these maps, plus many more. It is my planning map for when I go to Ouray. Enjoy!

Ridgway area:
https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zxytoCjVKsz0.kJcTn2u-C5-0&usp=sharing

Ouray and Silverton area: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zxytoCjVKsz0.kyP7NFKPBlQ4&usp=sharing