Epicenter: Ouray, Colorado Ice Climbing Destination Guide

Ice and mixed cragging galore in America’s ice capital
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Ice and mixed cragging galore in America’s ice capital
Ouray Ice Park Climbing Colorado

Gretchen Simms on the 150-foot Organic Chemistry (WI4), Ouray Ice Park. Photo: Seth Langbauer

Whether you’re looking for your next M10 or don’t know a pick from an adze, there’s something for every type of ice climber in the tiny old mining town of Ouray. Tucked away in the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, it boasts some of the highest concentrations of ice and mixed climbing in the country. The town also runs one of the world’s only artificial ice parks located at the base of the deep, cold, and shady Uncompahgre Gorge. Owned and operated by the nonprofit Ouray Ice Park, Inc., and built entirely by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, the park pumps more than 150,000 gallons of water every night during ice season (mid-December to mid-March) to cultivate and maintain its signature blue ice. With free access and more than 200 ice and mixed routes, it’s easy to see why Jim Donini (former president of the American Alpine Club) described the Ouray Ice Park as “the best venue in the world to develop ice climbing skills.” Top that with world-class ice and mixed multi-pitch climbs just a hop, skip, and a jump up Camp Bird Roadk a kickass ice fest, and pro-level ice and mixed climbing comps, and you’ve got a winter climbing spot that can’t be beat.

Ouray Colorado Ice Climbing Map

Where to Eat

Don’t be fooled by the rough, miner persona; Ouray is a town of outdoor enthusiasts who like great food just as much as they like crushing steep ice. For a slightly upscale family dining experience with an Italian flair, visit the Bon Ton. Located downstairs in the St. Elmo Hotel, a quaint, turn-of-the-century Victorian inn in the heart of Ouray, the Bon Ton offers daily specials that range from bottomless pasta bowls on Thursdays (fill up an extra plate and take it back with you for the next day’s lunch) to pizza night. If you’re in the mood for something a little hotter, check out Buen Tiempo, located right on the strip, for some of the best southwestern Mexican food you’ve ever tasted. Try their signature dishes, Blue Corn Spinach Enchiladas or Carne Adovada, and pair it with one of 10 different margaritas or a microbrew on tap. For breakfast there are several options: If you’re looking for a quick grab and go, then the Artisan Bakery is your place, offering fresh coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, and chocolate croissants. The Artisan is the perfect spot to stop and fill up before any climbing outing. And if you’re the type who’s looking for more of a sit-down, traditional breakfast, look no further than Backstreet Bistro. Open 365 days a year, Backstreet always delivers with killer breakfast potatoes and everything else you need to start your day off right.

Where to Drink

Hit Ourayle House Brewery, aka The Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company. Located right on Main Street, the House Brewery offers seasonal craft beers and a warm place to put your feet up. Hutch (the owner) encourages people to bring their own food (he is just a brewer) and relax. Another good option is the Ouray Brewery, which serves up delicious local brews and some say the best burger-fries combo in town. Whatever you do, don’t leave without getting a drink at The Silver Eagle Saloon. This blast from the past has been smokin’ since 1976 (seriously, there is still smoking allowed inside), and it’s rumored that they’ll kick you out if you don’t pronounce Ouray right (correct pronunciation: ur-ray, as in, “I’m Ray; yer Ray.”). It’s a gem.

Where to Buy Gear

Need some last-minute gear? Ouray Mountain Sports is the place to go. Owned and operated by the former president of the Ouray Ice Park, Bill Leo, this is your destination for all things alpine. Whether you need to gear up, get screws sharpened, or just talk to locals about current route conditions, this place is a must-visit before any endeavor. For guided climbs in both the Ice Park and the San Juan backcountry, San Juan Mountain Guides and Peak Mountain Guides are your two premier outfits. Both offer full- and half-day excursions with AMGA-certified guides, and both will teach you everything you need to know to get on the ice and send! Another guiding service, tailored exclusively to women, is Chicks Climbing and Skiing. Owned by local guide Dawn Glanc and four other badass ladies, Kitty Calhoun, Angela Hawse, Elaina Arenz, and Karen Bockel, this pentagon of power hosts women-specific ice climbing clinics and events, and it is the longest-standing women’s-only ice climbing program.

Where to Stay     

Winter in Ouray? Yeah, you need four walls and some heat. Try The Ouray Riverside Inn & Cabins. You get inexpensive (as low as $48/night) riverside cabins with just the essentials and no frills (i.e., just heat and electricity), though there are more decked-out options as well, still less than $100. With a fatter wallet, a more luxurious alternative is The Ouray Chalet Inn, which has rooms that fit up to four people and offers a 20% discount to current Ice Park members.

How to Spend a Rest Day 

After a long day of scaring yourself and fighting frostbite, what better way to wind down than soaking in a warm, crystal-clear hot spring? With two public hot springs located right in town, no trip to Ouray is complete without it. Forgot your suit? No worries, you can rent one! (Yikes.)

Ouray Ice Park Climbing Colorado

A climber gets into the business on Men’s Room (WI4/5) in the Ouray Ice Park. Photo: Seth Langbauer

The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users 

The Ribbon (WI4)
Camp Bird Road
“One glance and you won’t be able to get her out of your mind. You may court some of her friends across the valley, but deep down inside you’ll feel guilty because she’s the one you want.”

Pick o’ the Vic (WI4)
Ouray Ice Park
  “It’s named after the Ouray Victorian Inn, and this route is allegedly the first artificial climb in the Park, which automatically makes it a must-do classic.”

Skylight (WI4+ M4/5)
Camp Bird Road
“A very nice, moderate three-pitch route, though the first pitch changes drastically from year to year.”

Jesus Christ Built My Finger Crack (WI4 M6/7)
Ouray Ice Park
“A pleasure and a pump! Delicate rock and thin ice moves keep your attention. A key right hand jam in overhanging rock connects two very positive left hooks. Moderate ice above. Great fun.”

La Ventana (WI5)
Ouray Ice Park
“Awesome vertical ice! Pillars with strong, cauliflower formations to hook. A short section at the bottom before a long, sustained section up top.”

Gravity’s Rainbow (WI5 M3+)
U.S. Highway 550
“Super-fat and super-fun, Colorado Ice describes this as one of the top five ice climbs in the Ouray area.”

Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5 M6)
Camp Bird Road
“The route has gotten cleaned up. No more tat or any signs of anchors. Keep that in mind when getting on it. It has definitely been restored to a first ascent–type route now. More committing as I see it. And super-classic!”

The Talisman (WI6 M6)
Camp Bird Road
“No bolts, all balls. One of the finer pure trad mixed lines. An absolute San Juan multi-pitch classic! Just as good if not better than Ames Ice Hose.”

Seamstress (M8)
Ouray Ice Park
“Fun! The most technical part is the first few moves on the rock, and then the holds become a little more apparent.”

Mighty Aphrodite (M8/9)
Ouray Ice Park
“Beautiful, direct overhanging line up the Dizzy Buttress. Small, reachy holds that are mostly positive.”

*Stats are for the immediate Ouray area. Get route beta, photos, and topos at Mountain Project.