The Best Southwestern Adventures: Canyoneer

Ouray, Colorado

Canyoneering in Ouray.     Photo: Dan Ransom

For years, canyoneers have been too distracted by the national parks of southern Utah to look much farther afield. That’s starting to change. Recently, a group of them in Ouray unearthed some long-hidden routes. The results are impressive: within a mile of town, there are at least half a dozen canyons with colorful caves, gigantic waterfalls, 300-foot rappels, and high-alpine scenery. San Juan Mountain Guides offers a number of full-day trips. If you’re a beginner, the outfitter will hike with you to the top of Portland Canyon, the start of an easy route ($338 for two). From there you’ll scramble into bathtub-like potholes, rappel off a giant waterfall, and wade through pools in a narrow quartzite chasm topped with ponderosas. If you’re a natural, the guides can point you to a slew of more technical routes, like nearby Oak Creek, an intermediate canyon with numerous rappels and climbs that require tricky moves. After rolling back into town, stop at Buen Tiempo, Ouray’s Mexican restaurant and watering hole, for blue-corn spinach enchiladas and a Patrón margarita. Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings (doubles from $132), with its secluded outdoor hot-springs pool, makes a good home for the night.

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