Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

When people think of Colorado ski country, they usually think Aspen, Vail, Telluride… all the rich folks’ places. And if you have deep pockets, those places can be great. But here are a couple of gems close to Telluride where you can stay and eat a whole lot cheaper, and mix with a bunch of laid-back everyday folks. I’m talking the small towns of Ouray (Your-ay) and Ridgway.

About 10 miles separate these two places, and they both offer a taste of how the locals in Colorado live. In general, I’ve found locals in both towns friendly, they love the great outdoors all year round, good, local beer, and good food in varieties you don’t normally see in such small towns. I mean, sushi and Thai food — very good Thai food — in a town of less than 1,000?

Get outta here!

Let’s start with that. Ridgway has a wonderful Thai and sushi restaurant that would easily hold its own in any major metro area. I’m sorry to say I have no photos of Thai Paradise’s food, because I was having one of my weird shy moments about taking photos when I dined in, and got takeout the other times I was there during my stay. (Most of the time I’m oblivious to what people think, but I have my moments.)

The restaurant is very small and quiet, and there was no way not to overhear a couple of women discussing their massage therapy classes. There is a sort of New-Agey, holistic vibe, but not in an obnoxious way like some cities I’ve been to (*COUGH*Sedona*COUGH*). They also have their own art district, which must be pretty much the whole town, and moonwalk art events during the full moon. I’m telling you, this is a very livable small town if you want to get away from it all yet keep some culture and cool things.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 015 Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

You’ve also got the True Grit Cafe amongst other pubs, as much of the John Wayne classic was filmed here. Other notable celebrity ties include Dennis Weaver, who made his home here and has a park named after him with hiking trails. With Telluride 39 miles away, you’re still close enough to hit the slopes there.

I didn’t much time there, with the lure of Ouray close by, but it’s definitely on my list of places to return to. And I’ll get some photos of that yummy Thai food next time, promise.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 050 Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

Tucked into the mountains is Ouray, dubbed the “Switzerland of America.” Ouray has less than 1,000 locals as well, but they pack a lot of fun and variety into that small number. I’ve already sung the praises of O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, and you can find plenty of local microbrews on the rooftop patio at the Ouray Brewing Company in warmer weather, or grab a swing at the bar. (Yes, the bar has swings instead of barstools.) The big claim to fame in Ouray is the sulfur-free hot springs, and you can partake in huge hot springs pool in town. (See the top photo.)

The whole area is filled with off-road 4-WD tours, hiking, mine tours, historic architecture, pubs and great restaurants, but Ouray is also known for its Ice Park, where winter visitors can scale a huge frozen waterfall of ice.

The whole Ouray/Ridgway area is so awesomely livable, it would be a serious contender for a permanent home if I could ever settle down in one place.  I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see it then, and finish touring the sights.