Ready for a hiking challenge that rewards you with a waterfall, two overlooks and a mine? Then let’s hike the Sutton Mine Trail. While the trail has a reputation for a tough climb at the beginning, the rewards make it worth it.
The trailhead is on the south side of Ouray, near the Ice Park (directions below). At the trailhead, there are signs on the dirt road for the Ice Park Trail, but look just slightly uphill for a small dirt trail with a sign that says Sutton Mine Trail. Interestingly, this trail does not go to the Sutton Mine, it goes to the Neosho Mine. Just a few steps up the trail you’ll come to a second sign that says Sutton Mine Trail: Ouray Overlook 0.5, Bear Creek Overlook 1.7, Neosho Mine 2.2. A few more steps and you’ll see a trail register. Take the time to sign in, letting the Forest Service know how many people are using this trail.
Now take a deep breath and start hiking up. Lots of articles talk about the elevation gain at the beginning of this hike and that’s because there’s a lot. While it’s not 900 feet in a half mile, the trail does start with a moderate incline and gets steeper. The trail “switchbacks” up the mountain, going back and forth, gaining elevation. At some of the turns, you may notice what looks like other trails. Some of the paths are blocked with rocks or sticks, some are not. Just do your best to stay on the main trail and not take some of these “social/game trails.”
So how steep is the trail? In the first 0.25 miles, I gained about 150 feet of elevation. In the next 0.3 miles, I gained about 325 feet. So it gets steeper, as you get higher. Then you arrive at the Ouray Overlook.
The Ouray Overlook is the place where many of the postcard shots of the town of Ouray and the Ouray valley are taken. This is a beautiful spot to photograph the town and the surrounding mountains.
After taking a break, catching your breath and enjoying the views, the trail turns east and mellows out. While there’s still about 325 feet of elevation gain to get to the next overlook, the trail gets much easier.
Continue climbing up the next section of trail and soon you’re on a plateau crossing over from the Ouray valley to the Bear Creek valley south of Ouray. There are some beautiful meadows up here with views of the surrounding mountains. There are also some nice forest sections up here.
About 1.7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a rocky outcropping with a sign that says Bear Creek Overlook and Neosho Mine 0.6. While I did some exploring here looking for a waterfall across the valley, I didn’t see it. Personally I think there’s a better Bear Creek Overlook coming, so I wouldn’t waste your time exploring here. Instead, continue on the trail as it drops back down into the forest, through one ravine, through an overgrown section of willows and brush, then another ravine. I was a bit worried about tackling these “ravines,” but they’re just a few feet deep. During spring runoff, the crossing may be a bit more difficult.
About 0.4 miles from the official “overlook,” I came to the overlook I liked better. It wasn’t signed, but I felt this was a great spot to see the waterfall under Highway 550 on the other side of the valley. I also spotted a cabin just south of the falls. And I thought this was a nice view of the valley.
After a few pictures, I hiked on. It was less than a tenth of a mile from here that I started seeing remnants of the Neosho Mine. First there were cables over the trail and a collapsed structure. Then a little further away, in the trees, were two outbuildings. Then I arrived at the mine. There’s a standing building at the mine entrance, a collapsed building, there’s some railing and an old ore cart sitting on the edge of hill. The mine shaft is open with a small sign that says Neosho. While you can easily walk inside, it’s not a good idea due to fumes, old explosives left behind and the risk of wall collapse.
If you want to go inside something, the large building here is open. This building is a bit famous, because it can be seen from Highway 550 and has writing on the side that says Antiques 9-5:30. It’s also famous for its colorful laundry line attached to the building. Over the years, visitors have left a variety of colorful clothing here. Walk inside and see the old stove pipe, other remnants and sign the guest register.
After exploring a bit here, continue on the trail to the boardinghouse. Inside, there are still bunkbeds and even some shelving. Be very careful entering this building because the floor could collapse at any time. There are holes in the floor and a staircase down to the basement that I decided to avoid.
I hiked a little further past the bunkhouse and while there was some nice scenery, I didn’t see any other mining buildings. So sit outside the bunkhouse or the “Antiques Shop” and enjoy lunch and imagine living up here – how hard was it get back and forth to town for supplies? How much snow fell up here? How loud was it with the mine blasting? Where was the nearest mill? It had to be a tough life.
When you’re done exploring, return the way you came. Note, there’s about 300 feet of elevation gain on the way back.
Details: The hike to the Neosho Mine and all of the buildings and back is about 4.6 miles with 1,375 feet of elevation gain.
In Ouray, don’t miss Blue Lakes near Ridgway and the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail. Find more hiking suggestions in Southwestern Colorado below and find more than 200 great hikes across Colorado in this list of 200+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: Go through Ouray and head south on Highway 550. Turn right after the first switchback onto the Camp Bird Road (CR 361). Drive up the road, about 0.3 miles, looking for the trailhead sign on your left.