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Go Canyoneering in the Amazing ‘Switzerland of America’

Many people have hiked up mountains for a view. Far fewer have been canyoning. Canyoning—also referred to as canyoneering—uses a rope system to rappel down a canyon gorge, typically with flowing water. It involves a combination of hiking, sliding, and maneuvering through the rushing water down the rock walls of the canyon.

Canyoning is an exciting activity that will definitely give you an adrenaline rush.  If it sounds tempting, yet a little daunting, know that canyoning experiences come in all forms. It is up to you to choose the location level that is right for your skill. Different locations and routes vary in level of difficulty and skill. It is an activity that can continue to evolve and becoming more challenging as your experience grows.

One canyoning experience that is good for beginners is through Portland Creek in Ouray, Colorado. Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America”, Ouray, Colorado is located in southwest Colorado. While it is known as one of the most stunning places in Colorado because of its spot on the “Million Dollar Highway”, it is also home to hidden gems like Portland Creek.

Nestled in the trees, Portland Creek is a stunning location to try out canyoning.

There are guide companies in the area that will take you to this spot, so that you can learn the basics of canyoning on a beginner-level route, yet highly exhilarating environment. Due to the cold waters of the creek and shadows of the canyon walls, canyoners need to prepare accordingly. Full length wet suits, proper footwear to provide traction, and a climbing helmet are all advised for this kind of adventure. Leave all your belongings in your vehicle as you’ll need your hands free to navigate rappelling through the canyon—and at this particular spot, you’re likely going to get pretty wet.

As you hike along with the flowing water or the creek, you’ll begin to scramble down rocks and make your way into the canyon to start rappelling. The small drops in this area are ideal for learning to rappel and the height of the drops gradually increase as you make your way down the creek and canyon. Beginners who go through a guide company will learn how to hook and unhook their gear on their ropes and learn footwork techniques to best transition their way through the canyon.

The taller the drops get, the more intense the rushing water becomes until you find yourself rappelling down waterfalls within the canyon. The most exhilarating of these waterfalls being 60 feet tall, requiring canyoners to rappel directly down the face of the waterfall. Rappelling down the rock face while looking up at the thundering water cascading around will provide an adrenaline kick that will leave beginners feeling accomplished and invigorated.

Learning the sport of canyoning is an incredible experience.

Depending on your speed and the length of your trip, canyoning through this area of Portland Creek can take a couple hours to a half day, leaving time to explore the area after.

There are wonderful hiking trails that go past multiple waterfalls right by this area of Portland Creek, if you want to add some hiking in before or after your canyoning. Cascade Falls Park is close by and encompasses seven waterfalls to check out. Other nearby hiking includes Baby Bathtubs Trail and Box Canyon Falls Park, which are both beautiful spots in the area. With all of these scenic areas so close together, it is easy to get in a lot of scenic hiking in a day or two.

Ouray can be the start or end point of Colorado’s famous “Million Dollar Highway”, one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Colorado. The approximately 25-mile drive of winding highway curves past idyllic snowcapped mountains before reaching the other end in the town of Silverton. This portion of U.S. Highway 550 is part of the San Juan Skyway Colorado Scenic Byway. The highway’s name is said to be attributed to the fact that it was a costly project to carry out. The stunning views—and lack of guardrails on the winding road—make this a breathtaking drive that is not to be missed. Allow time to go slow, stop for photos, and truly take in this stunning area.

At the end of the “Million Dollar Highway” lies the town of Silverton.

A wonderful spot in the winter for skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing, it also offers a host of activities in the warmer months, including fishing, mountain biking, hiking and more.

If you’re looking to give canyoning a try, Ouray’s Portland Creek is the perfect spot for beginners to cut their teeth on this adventurous activity.

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