The town of Ouray on the San Juan Skyway is notable for a number of things. It’s incredible beauty is on the top of the list followed by great shops and restaurants and bars, the restored 1880’s Beaumont Hotel, ice skating and ice climbing in the winter months and music festivals at certain times of the year. Nothing however surpasses the notoriety Ouray has received over the years due to the amazing natural wonder which is called the ‘Box Canyon Falls’.
From the steep mountain cliffs that cradle the town of Ouray on the opposite side of the valley from ‘Box Canyon’ you can see the outline of the tributary valley that feeds the ‘Box Canyon’ from above. From a closer vantage point you can see the canyon with its ‘Hollywood’ type sign that was erected above it by the town residents in 1909. The sign seems somewhat out of place in modern day Ouray, and oddly the spelling of CANYON has been completed without the ‘Y’ for reasons unknown.
Millions of years ago a small crack on the earth’s surface became the epicenter of relentless erosion which eventually led to the creation of the ‘Canyon Creek’ which continues to chisel its way through the base of a steep canyon with vertical walls ascending perhaps 100′ on each side. The creek ultimately feeds into a thundering waterfall that can be viewed below the rock that it plunges into. The rocks of the walls at the bottom of the canyon are very dense and extremely hard and heavy and to the touch they feel as hard as iron. The water falls so forcefully that with seasonal variation, literally thousands of gallons of water rush through the falls each minute.
As you move past the entrance to the canyon beyond the visitor center you will have a couple of choices as to which direction to take. You can travel down to the bottom of the falls where it has penetrated through the enormous cracks in the rock face from the river above or you can choose to take the upward trail which provides a hardy scramble to the bridge which spans the valley and has epic views of the town of Ouray.
On the bottom section you can walk a short distance from the visitor center along a sturdy iron walkway and series of staircases that allow you to walk all the way to the base of the falls. The eeriness, beauty and power of this spectacle provide a sense of awe for all who make their way there. The sound can be thunderous, the speed of the rushing water exhilarating and the sheerness of the steep walls of the canyon with the constant water spray will provide a cool mist that permeates the air. The falls will run all year long but the most robust flow will be in the months of June and July as the Spring and Summer ice melt provide the exceptional volume.
Yet another delight awaits you above as you can navigate another sturdy iron staircase and some steep rock trails which ascend another vertical 200′ to a bridge which arches across the narrow valley. From the bridge you will be able to witness the entirety of the canyon, the water as it descends to the falls and the most amazing views of the picturesque town of Ouray. On the other side of the bridge you will find a tunnel drilled through the mountain for about 100′ or so that will take you to a portion of the ‘Perimeter Trail’ which will wind its way down about 45 minutes to the town.
As you leave the park you will pass the trail to an adjacent portion of the Box Canyon which is Ouray’s famous ‘Ice Park’. In the winter months these sheer cliffs are covered with ice and are an ideal area for ice climbers to enjoy their winter sport of choice. This amazing spectacle in itself is worth the trip to the canyon during the winter time.