Montrose Near Ridgway Colorado

Black Canyon

When planning a trip to the wonderful town of Ridgway along the San Juan Skyway, tucked into the Uncompahgre Valley, people planning outdoor adventure in Colorado’s mountains, in any season, also should consider a short trip to Montrose. Only 17 miles north of Ridgway, 36 miles from Ouray, and 60 miles south of Grand Junction, for those who want to walk, hike, bike, kayak, climb or drive through spectacular landscapes, Montrose definitely should be added to itineraries. Likewise people with Ridgway and the San Juan Skyway in their vacation plans need to know about Montrose. The second-largest town in western Colorado, Montrose is surrounded by the photogenic mountain ranges of the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west and snow-capped San Juan mountains to the south.

For people who have visited Montrose, the many wonderful memories and experiences almost always include seeing Black Canyon National Park, its staggering cliffs and incredible deep canyon. The compelling beauty of the Uncompahgre Wilderness is heightened by its namesake peak rising 4,361 meters, the highest summit in all of the San Juan Mountains. The Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (NCA) north of Montrose vastly enhances the area’s incredibly diverse landscape. The Gunnison Gorge Wilderness Area at its heart encompasses a spectacular sandstone canyon formed by the Gunnison River. The river provides superb trout fishing, rafting and whitewater canoeing.

Black Canyon Overlook

The ancestral home of the Ute nation, in the late 1870s the Uncompahgre Valley lured miners of gold and silver deposits in the area and attracted a large population of settlers. Like in the San Juans, conflict and warfare between Utes and settlers eventually, with Federal government intervention, led to forcible relocation of the Utes to Utah and the southwest corner of Colorado. Just two months after the Utes were evicted, in December 1881, Montrose was founded and had a series of names until it was named after Sir Walter Scott’s historic novel, “A Legend of Montrose.” The area reminded Joseph Selig, the town’s founder, of Scotland’s lake country.

Serving as a supply depot for mining towns in the San Juans, in1882 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Co built a narrow gauge railroad from Montrose to Silverton. Besides mining, ranching and orchards became part of the area’s economy and, when mines went into decline, agriculture became the center of Montrose’s economy. Fertile valley soil producing fruits, grains and vegetables led, in the late 20th century, to grape growers discovering the area’s potential for raising white wine varietals. Gradually Colorado’s wine industry migrated south from Grand Junction to the Montrose area. Montrose’s West Elks vineyards became the highest in North America.

Encompassing 62,844 acres of BLM-managed lands, the NCA provides an ideal playground for outdoor adventurers. Visitors to Montrose have a vast variety of choices for walks and hikes, from short jaunts on the city’s riverside trail system to ventures into remote mountain and wilderness areas for hikes and backpacking trips in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest lands. Some trails lead to waterfalls and even abandoned mines. The Grand Mesa’s Crag Crest Trail opens great views of surrounding valleys. And the most adventurous and experienced hikers can plan to scale one of the San Juan’s “fourteeners

Ute Indian Museum

From deep canyon pools to magnificent high country lakes and reservoirs, Montrose offers opportunities to people of all ability levels to fish for rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout, as well as Kokanee salmon. Excellent fishing opportunities exist on the Uncompahgre River right in the city of Montrose. In addition, the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk and Dallas Creek areas within Ridgway State Park are easily accessible from Montrose. The Cimarron River offers more terrific angling opportunities for cutthroat, rainbow, and brook trout as well as excellent dry-fly fishing throughout the year. Unforgettable fishing experiences also are found in The Forks of the Cimarron River in the Uncompahgre Wilderness.

In summer, in addition to its breathtaking scenic treasures, Black Canyon’s dark canyon walls plunging 2,700 feet to the Gunnison River also offer world-class fishing along with rafting and kayaking for experienced water sport enthusiasts. Winter brings a whole new set of activities to Black Canyon including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and back-country camping. As for rock climbing in Black Canyon, it is only meant for expert climbers. The breathtakingly deep sections of the canyon, Warner Point (2,722 feet) and the Painted Wall (2,250 feet), are the tallest vertical walls in Colorado. Peak climbing season is mid-April to mid-June and late August to early November. The majority of climbs take place at the North and South Chasm Walls where the depth of the Canyon measures 1,820 feet.

The Black Canyon and nearby Curecanti Recreation Area make Montrose a remarkable ice climbing destination. Ice climbs are rated on a scale of Water Ice 1 (WI1) to Water Ice 6 (WI6), with WI6 climbs being the most difficult to ascend. Most of the ice climbs within Black Canyon and Curecanti Recreation Area’s Blue Mesa area are rated W13 to WI5. In addition, most of the climbs in the Canyon require knowing how to rappel, lead, manage multiple pitches, and descend climbs safely.

Huge Storm Spins

With those caveats, the South Rim of the Black Canyon offers two great ice climbs, including the legendary Gandalf’s Beard. (Directions and assistance from guides are needed for ice climbs within the Black Canyon and Curecanti Recreation Area’s Blue Mesa Area.) Gandalf’s Beard, one of Black Canyon’s most popular – and difficult – ice climbing routes, requires a 3.5-mile approach on skis, but rewards capable climbers with breathtaking winter views. The journey is well worth it just to see the awesome North Chasm View Wall. The North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail leads hikers down a short trail to an overlook of cliffs that tower over the Black Canyon. In winter, skis or snowshoes are needed for about 4 miles of travel on the South Chasm View Road.

When not experiencing nature around Montrose in any season, the area offers an ideal destination for learning about the history and culture of the entire San Juan region. The Ute Indian Museum & Ouray Memorial Park, two miles south of Montrose on Hwy. 550, is located on a farm once belonging to the Ute leader, Ouray, and his wife, Chipeta. The grounds include the Ouray Memorial and the grave of Chipeta. The site also is home to the Visitor’s Welcome Center. Museum of the Mountain West, located off US 50, covers the history of the region from 1840 to 1940 in an open air museum with a series of “Wild West” buildings arranged like a town. Authentic restored 1880s locomotives and trestles from the Denver & Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad can be seen at the Cimarron Railroad Exhibits located within the Curecanti National Recreation Area, 20 mi east of Montrose, just off US 50. Located in the former Denver & Rio Grande Train Depot, this fascinating exhibit includes a restored locomotive #278, its coal tender, a boxcar, and caboose that stand atop the last remaining railroad trestle along the Black Canyon of the Gunnison route.