What is a Via Ferrata?
The term “via ferrata” translates to “iron path” in Italian. A via ferrata is a type of climbing route that uses a system of metal rungs, cables, and ladders to provide climbers with a protected path up a steep or vertical rock face.
These routes were originally developed in the Italian Alps during World War I to help soldiers navigate the mountains. Today, via ferratas are popular recreational activities for climbers and hikers looking for an adrenaline rush and a challenging outdoor adventure.
Climbers wear a harness with two safety lanyards that are attached to the cable, allowing them to clip in and out at various anchor points along the route.
Via Ferrata Ouray Colorado
Ouray is known as the Switzerland of America and has many things to do all year round, including hiking and camping from Spring-Fall, ice climbing in the winter, and it now even has a few via ferrata climbs.
Is the Ouray Via Ferrata Free?
Yes, access to the via ferrata in Ouray, Colorado is free and guides are not required; however, proper via ferrata equipment is required (see below).
The Ouray Via Ferrata is owned and run by the Ouray Ice Park which runs off of donations, so consider making a contribution if you plan to visit.
How Difficult is Via Ferrata? Can I go without a guide?
This would depend on your fitness and skill level. The difficulty is rated at 4B but any first-timers can climb via ferrata routes. If you are inexperienced though, I’d highly recommend going with a local guide.
Upper body strength will make the experience easier to enjoy, but honestly, as long as you’re somewhat fit and ready for an adventure, you should be fine. Even though your lanyard is attached the whole time to the cables and will catch you if you slip, you want to minimize the chances of that and make sure you have the endurance to climb for a couple of hours. There are plenty of spots in between the wired sections for a break. If there is ever any point where you do not have a carabiner attached from you to the cable, you’re doing it wrong.
Route Options in Ouray: Uncompahgre Gorge
There are three via ferrata climbing routes in Ouray and two of them are based in Uncompahgre Gorge which is located just north of town. It is the same canyon as the famous Ouray Ice Park, which features farmed ice for winter ice climbing.
The route is open for climbing from 8 am – 4 pm daily and is one way only.
The Downstream Route:
This is the original route and the most common via ferrata route in Ouray, CO. It goes from South to North in the Uncompahgre Gorge and is also recommended for beginners and those who lack time. In early September when we went, it got hot down in the canyon when the sun hits you… which is often.
We had our own climbing harnesses and helmets and just rented our lanyards from a local guiding service that also explained to us how it worked and the rules of the Ouray Via Ferrata.
Now, we were ready to start.
The trailhead starts just down the road at the entrance of the Ouray Ice Park. The hiking trail to access the via ferrata route starts past the upper bridge where you will get a view of the gorge and the via ferrata route from above; this is a very short hike (less than 10 mins). You will head into the New Funteer section to access the start of the Ouray Via Ferrata.
There was someone stationed there to make sure we had all of our proper via ferrata equipment and remind us again of the rules before allowing us access.
The route starts off right away with an exciting 35 ft bridge that has a single wire for the feet and two for your hands to balance. Once you reach the other side of the Uncompahgre River, you traverse and climb along the gorge until you eventually reach the upper bridge again.
There are plenty of spots along the route that are on flat “hiking” ground so you can get some active recovery and rest your arms – you will not always be standing on iron with nothing but air beneath your feet. However, be mindful of other climbers behind you.
There is an area that allows you to bail if you are not up for continuing, and you can simply walk to back to the parking lot.
Sky Climb vs. Sky Ladder
There is also an optional Sky Climb that is vertical and sure to pump your arms – we chose not to take this route and enjoyed the original route that ascends the Sky Ladder instead. This was a very neat experience and I’d definitely recommend the Sky Ladder if you are looking for a cool photo op! It is about 75 ft at 35 degrees and a bit faster than the Sky Climb. You end up at the same place.
From there, all the excitement has passed and you are almost at the end.
The Upstream Route
The upstream route is a newer via ferrata route in Ouray Ice Park built just last year for 2022. It requires more time and is more challenging.
Gold Mountain Via Ferrata Route
This is a newer via ferrata route in Ouray but it is not free – I believe you must go with a guide.
How High is the Via Ferrata in Ouray?
The classic downstream route starts and ends around 8,000 ft and is about 0.75 miles long. The via ferrata route climbs up and down roughly 200 ft accumulated according to my GPS tracker, but I’m honestly not sure. It’s not much though if you’re a climber, and if you’re new to climbing, it may feel like more.
Via Ferrata Gear
Via Ferrata Lanyards
Other Colorado Via Ferrata Tours
- Royal gorge
- Colorado springs
- Arapaho basin
- Estes park
- Buena Vista
- Idaho Springs / Chicago Creek