Length: 4 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate
Why we love it: A great workout with amazing views, plus aspen, wildflower-filled meadows, and blossoming cacti all in one hike
When to go: Late spring through early fall, when there’s no ice on the trail
Pre-hike buzz: Stop by Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for a pre-hike coffee and breakfast burrito, or a post-hike mocha milkshake with espresso whipped cream.
Restrooms: None
Dogs: Allowed per U.S. Forest Service regulations

The town of Ouray is located in a stunning setting at the bottom of a glacial valley so steep that it’s locally called a “box canyon.” For those looking to hike the canyon, the initial legwork is challenging and tiring, but the views you’ll discover at the top are simply incredible.

One of the area’s best hiking routes is the Sutton Mine Trail, which (despite its name) does not go all the way to the old Sutton Mine. It’s located on the south side of town where U.S. 550 begins its steep climb out of the valley at the start of the slow, winding road to Silverton.

From the road, head up the path just to the left of the trailhead sign (not the wider 4WD road a few steps farther downhill). The first part is very steep, gaining 900 vertical feet in about half a mile up a jagged series of switchbacks. The steepest, rockiest section comes just before the first overlook; it’s definitely worth persevering to stand at this lofty perch high above Ouray, where you have bird’s-eye views of the historic Victorian buildings laid along a square, mining-era grid, as well as the red-walled canyon in which the town is nestled and the impressive Cascade Falls gushing in the background.

Once you’ve caught your breath and enjoyed the views, follow the trail as it bends sharply to the left from the overlook sign and begins to traverse a rocky bench with nice views of some of the surrounding, snow-capped peaks. Along the way, you’ll pass a number of ecosystems, including beautiful groves of quaking aspen, dense stands of spruce-pine forest, wildflower-filled meadows, and open areas where blossoming cacti are thriving on dark slate.

About 1.25 miles from the Ouray Overlook, you arrive at the Bear Creek Overlook, from which there are great views down into the deep canyon carved by the Uncompahgre River and the spectacular “Million Dollar Highway” winding toward Silverton. From here, you can either turn around and retrace your steps, or continue the trail’s final half mile to the Neosho Mine. If you choose the latter, you can check out the mine’s nearby quaint buildings, including the old bunkhouse and blacksmith shop. Along this stretch you can also take in even more views of the Uncompahgre canyon and glimpses of Bear Creek Falls. Take a breath and stay awhile—your quads have earned a moment of rest.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.