Updated: Jul 14
Wow! What a spectacular golden fall foliage experience! Katie and I are from West Virginia and Maryland and are accustomed to ogling a vast array of colors from Ash, Beech, and Oak trees. Traveling along Route 550 in Colorado’s southwest region, we were inundated with vast swaths of singularly golden yellow American Aspens. We enjoyed this weekend trip in late September, leaving Grand Junction and making the two-hour drive south to Ouray (locally pronounced hooray but with a leading Y), proudly revered as “The Switzerland of America”.
Caution! If you’re not comfortable driving on switchback roads with no guardrails, perhaps consider traveling with someone who is comfortable driving in these conditions or reconsider taking this trip. Traveling from Ouray to Silverton is a jaw-dropping 30-minute meandering drive along route 550, colloquially referred to as “the Million Dollar highway”. Along the way we were fortunate enough to have spotted a mother moose with her calf. There are several parking places along the route to pull over and snap scenic photographs. For your own enjoyment, try downshifting one’s standard vehicle operating speed to a slower pace. Chances are someone in front of you already has. This is a two-lane road. I recommend settling into a nice, slow tempo so everyone traveling this route can enjoy the views safely.
Once arrived in Silverton, we grabbed lunch at Thee Pitts Again. This pink barbeque establishment had fork tender pork ribs I tucked right in. And with outdoor seating available to take in the stunning Kendall, Storm and Little Giant Peaks, supporting this lunch spot was a no-brainer.
Before we headed for Molas Lake to set up camp we swung by Coal Bank Café and Deli. We quaffed mocha and white chocolate lattes like professional caffeine devotees. There aren’t many online reviews of this place but if you enjoy coffee, we can attest that this is the right place for you. With one more stop at the Silverton Grocery to load up on hotdogs, bagged salad, and marshmallows we were off to the lake.
Molas Lake Park and Campground books up six months or more in advance, and for good reason. This clear, shallow lake lends itself perfectly for the family-oriented travelers. The campground rents stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and more! With hiking trails encircling the lake, and open-air bathrooms, you’ll find comfort around every bend. The kind folks running the campground truly want you to have an enjoyable experience and go out of their way to exceed visitor expectations. Oh! And did I mention the mountain views? Well, they’re grandeur exceeds any Appalachian range back east.
Our night’s rest was comfortable yet cool. If one is traveling here in the fall, be prepared for temperatures dipping into the low 30’s. Are you a star gazer? The remote location of Molas Lake makes for unblemished night skies, as you listen to the howl of coyotes.
Waking up early the next morning, we made our way back to Ouray for breakfast at the popular Outlaw Restaurant. I really enjoyed their quinoa bowl’s bold flavors of roasted poblano peppers and sundried tomatoes. Add a couple of scrambled eggs and you’re ready to take on Perimeter Trail.
Perimeter Trail is a unique 5-mile loop that encircles the town of Ouray. This trail is rated as moderate but has all the makings of a difficult hike. If you’re afraid of steep drop-offs via narrow trails, maybe consider doing a quick sightseeing amble up 8th Ave to Cascade Falls Park instead. The short, albeit steep, hike to the falls is something pulled from an elven kingdom fairytale. Be on the lookout for wildlife, as we unbeknownst encountered a ten-point stag grazing mildly on a residential front lawn.
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