Hiking Mount Ouray in Colorado

Hiking Mount Ouray: Ultimate 13er Route Guide

Mount Ouray is Colorado’s 58th tallest summit, which makes it one of the 100 centennial summits (the tallest 100 peaks in the states). Located at the southern end of the Sawatch Range near the San Luis Valley, it is accessed from Marshall Pass in a remote and quiet area. If you are looking for a fun class 2 ridge climb with few other people around you, this is the 13er for you. In our route guide below we cover everything you need to reach the summit of this dominating mountains. Let’s get started.

Hiking Mount Ouray | Fast Facts

CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!

You are responsible for your personal safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.

Mount Ouray Photos

Hiking Mount Ouray via the West Ridge Route

Starting from the Marshall Pass trailhead, take a right down the road about 200 feet and turn left onto Forest Road 200C. Walk another 200 feet past the cabins and look for an unmarked trail that leaves the road to the right and into the forest.

Mount Ouray Hike 1

Mount Ouray Hike 2

The trail is generally easy to follow but does require dipping under and through some fallen logs. Continue for about a mile until you reach the tree line.

Mount Ouray Hike 4

As you emerge from the forest, look carefully to your left for a cairn or social trail marking the fastest way up to the ridge line above you. If you follow the main social trail, it takes you further right than is necessary before following a gentler slope to the point on the ridge, but it adds more mileage to the route.

Mount Ouray Hike 5

Work your way up, following social trail segments and cairns, marking the easiest path until you come up to the ridge proper. From the top, you are treated to a stunning view of Mount Ouray and most of the remaining route.

Mount Ouray Hike 6

Mount Ouray Hike 8

Turn left and continue following a light trail just to the left of the ridge crest. The trail may disappear and reappear here several times as you weave around and through rocks.

Mount Ouray Hike 9

A significant point will be your first major obstacle along the route. Look for cairns marking a small trail that skirts around the right side of the rocky point. Alternatively, if you enjoy scrambling, you can go directly up and over the ridge point, adding an extra hundred feet or so of gain.

Mount Ouray Hike 10

After you are past this point, things ease up a bit. Continue hiking along the alpine ridge, staying close to the middle and following it as it gently gains and loses some elevation. It is possible to avoid some elevation gain and loss by skirting around to the left of some of the larger points and dips.

Mount Ouray Hike 11

Reach the low point along the saddle below Mount Ouray. From here, you still have nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain to climb over the last half-mile.

Mount Ouray Hike 12

Start up the final ridge ascent, staying on the ridge when you can and dipping to the left or right when needed to get around gaps or more exposed terrain. It is easy to stay in non-exposed class two terrain if you go slowly and carefully pick your route. About halfway up the ridge, you will face your last major obstacle. A large white rock outcropping blocks easy passage to the summit beyond.

Mount Ouray Hike 13

Follow a social trail that goes around the left side of the rock, staying close to it to avoid unnecessary elevation gain. Turn right to re-ascend to the ridge once past the white rock.

From here, continue scrambling and following social trails along the last several hundred feet until you top out.

The summit of Mount Ouray has several large cairns and rock structures, which is helpful for the high winds common on this peak. Enjoy the spectacular views of the Arkansas and San Luis Valleys to the east and south, the Sawatch Range to the north, and the Gunnison Valley to the east. Descend with plenty of time to reach the treeline before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard.

Mount Ouray Summit

Never rely on your phone or a GPS unit 100%. Batteries die, screens shatter, and electronics short out. Invest in a high-quality, water-proof topographic map to bring with you for navigation and route-finding. The map below can be printed out or saved on your phone – but I highly recommend getting a map made specifically for backcountry hiking and climbing.

Mount Ouray Hiking Map

Elevation Profile for Hiking Mount Ouray

The route starts at the Marshall Pass Trailhead, which provides access to numerous trails and recreation areas, including the Colorado Trail. The trailhead is small but has room for 8-10 vehicles, and does not typically fill up completely, even during summer weekends. The road is dirt but can be driven by most 2WD vehicles once the snow is completely melted in mid-summer.

DIRECTIONS TO MARSHALL PASS TRAILHEAD:

From Salida, travel south on Highway 285 for 5 miles to County Road 200. Turn right onto CR 200 and travel 2.2 miles to the O’Haver Lake turnoff. Turn right and travel 1 miles on CR 202 to the intersection of CR 200. Turn right onto CR 200 (Marshall Pass) and travel for approximately 10 miles to the trailhead located on the left.
 
TRAILHEAD AMENITIES:
There is a pit toilet located at the trailhead, a sign with information about local trails and routes, and dispersed camping is located along the road both before and after the trailhead. No camping is allowed at the trailhead itself. The Colorado Trail is also reached from this trailhead (don’t take it on accident).
 

Always check recent reports on trail conditions before hiking Mount Ouray. Below are several dependable sources where you can find current condition information. Remember, we do not vet individual reports – so take them all with a grain of salt when planning your adventure.

It is critically important to check the weather forecast so you can plan ahead and prepare for the expected conditions. Consider the expected high and low temperature, chance of precipitation, wind speeds, and whether any storms are expected to move into the area.

Keep in mind that the weather in the mountains is extremely variable and hard to predict, even with modern technology. Always assume there is a 33% chance that the forecast is inaccurate and plan accordingly. In summer, afternoon thunderstorms are the norm, even when the forecast does not specifically predict it. Below are several good resources for getting your weather forecast information.

I recommend bringing the following gear with you while hiking Mount Ouray. Click each item to see my specific suggestions.

  • Hiking Boots
  • Day Backpack (20-30 Liters)
  • Sweat-wicking Clothing
  • Sunglasses and Sunscreen
  • Hiking Socks
  • Hiking Sock Liners
  • 2.5 Liters of Water
  • 1,000 Calories of Food
  • Emergency Blanket
  • GPS Navigator/Satellite Communicator
  • Trek Poles
  • Fire-starting Kit
  • Knife or Multi-Tool
  • Headlamp and Spare Batteries
  • Rain Jacket
  • Nano-puff Jacket (Extra Layers)
  • First Aid Kit

Camping near Mount Sniktau:

There are great dispersed campsites along the Marshall Pass road leading up to the trailhead, ranging from small pull-outs to extensive campsites large enough for several trailers. Get there a bit early if you want to snag one of the best spots. 

Lodging near Mount Ouray:

Consider finding an Airbnb in Salida, Poncha Springs, or Buena Vista. There are usually a lot of different options available, especially if you book several months out in advance.

As this area gets more traffic, the impact of recreational visitors continues to grow. Help us keep the area pristine for future generations by following these essential Leave No Trace practices while hiking Mount Ouray.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Research your route before you go, check the weather forecast, bring the ten essentials, and plan accordingly.
  2. Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces: Stay on the trail, don’t cut switchbacks, and only stay in pre-existing campsites at least 100 feet from water.
  3. Manage Waste Properly: Pack out all litter and garbage – never burn it. Bury human waste in catholes or pack it out in a wag bag. Clean up after your pets.
  4. Leave What You Find: Enjoy wildflowers, rock specimens, and other natural items or historical artifacts where they are, and take only photos.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Consider skipping a fire when possible. If you have one, keep it small, watch it always, obey local fire restrictions, and put it out cold to the touch.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Give animals 100 feet of space. Keep food secured and never purposefully feed animals. Keep dogs leashed and away from wildlife.
  7. Be Courteous to Others Outdoors: Use headphones instead of a speaker. Yield to those going uphill and be kind to each other.

Learn more in our Leave No Trace Guide for the mountains.

Like all thirteeners, there are significant hazards associated with this climb. Follow these safety tips to give yourself the best chance possible of a successful and safe summit from start-to-finish.

  1. Preparation and Planning: Conduct thorough research about the route, weather forecast, and any recent trip reports. Pack a detailed map and compass, and know how to use them.
  2. Physical Conditioning: Make sure you are physically fit to handle the strenuous activities involved in climbing 13ers. Train in a variety of conditions to build strength and endurance.
  3. Proper Gear: Always carry essential gear such as helmets, harnesses, ropes, and carabiners. Make sure the gear is in good condition and suitable for the type of climb you’re attempting.
  4. Navigation Skills: Be skilled in map-reading and compass use. GPS can be a helpful supplement but shouldn’t replace traditional navigation skills, especially in areas with limited or no signal.
  5. Emergency Supplies: Always carry a well-stocked first aid kit, emergency shelter, and enough food and water for unexpected delays or overnight stays.
  6. Communication and Check-ins: Leave your planned route and expected return time with a trusted contact. Carry a fully-charged phone and consider a satellite communicator for remote areas.
  7. Adaptability: Be prepared to turn back if conditions become unsafe due to weather, fatigue, or equipment failure. The mountain will always be there for another day.

Mount Ouray is one of Colorado’s tallest summits, which makes it one of the 100 Centennial summits in the state. Named after Chief Ouray, a Ute Tribe Chief in the late 19th century, it is one of the southernmost 13ers in the Sawatch Range, marking the transition to the San Juan Mountains further south. The peak is rarely climbed compared to many of the taller 14ers nearby, providing solitude for those who seek it.

There are no permits or reservations required to hike Mount Ouray at this time.

To help us keep access open and unregulated, please follow these National Forest guidelines and regulations during your visit to the area:

Fire Restrictions: Rules can vary by location and time of year. Always check the current status and follow all rules regarding campfires, stoves, and smoking.

Pets: Rules for bringing pets can differ by national forest. Typically, pets must be kept on a leash and are not allowed in certain sensitive habitats.

Leave No Trace: Follow all LNT best practices, like managing human waste, packing out litter, putting fires out cold to the touch, and respecting wildlife and others outdoors.

Mount Ouray FAQs

If you do not see your question below, leave a comment with it at the bottom of the guide. Our team will get back to you with an answer as soon as we can.

Q: How long does it take to hike Mount Ouray?

A: The time it takes to hike Mount Ouray varies depending on your experience level, the route taken, and the weather conditions. However, most hikers can expect to spend anywhere from 5 to 7 hours for the round trip. The standard route is approximately 6.5 miles with about 3,300 feet of elevation gain, so plan accordingly.

A: The closest town to Mount Ouray is Salida, Colorado. Salida is approximately 20 miles from the trailhead and offers a variety of amenities including lodging, dining, and outdoor supply shops.

A: The standard route for hiking Mount Ouray starts at the Marshall Pass Trailhead. From there, the route follows the Continental Divide Trail for the first 2.5 miles. After that, it follows the west ridge of Mount Ouray to its summit, just below 14,000 feet. The route involves class 2 scrambling with occasional steeper sections but is generally considered to be non-technical.

A: Mount Ouray is a challenging but doable peak for beginners who are in good physical shape and have some basic hiking experience. The standard route does not require technical climbing skills, but it is strenuous due to its length and elevation gain. It’s recommended that beginners prepare by training in similar conditions and perhaps by tackling less challenging peaks first.

A: The essential gear for hiking Mount Ouray includes:

  • A topographical map and compass, and/or a reliable GPS device
  • A sturdy pair of hiking boots with good ankle support
  • A daypack with hydration system or water bottles
  • Weather-appropriate clothing, including moisture-wicking base layers and a windproof and waterproof outer layer
  • Food and snacks rich in energy
  • A well-stocked first aid kit
  • Sun protection including sunglasses, sunblock, and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Optional but recommended items include trekking poles, an emergency shelter, and a headlamp in case the hike takes longer than anticipated.

A: Mount Ouray is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It is situated in the San Isabel National Forest, approximately 20 miles southwest of the town of Salida.

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Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

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Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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