History & Heritage

Weathered by snowy winters and sunny summers, but preserved by local storytellers and curators, a collection of cultural and economic artifacts and sites awaits your exploration around Ridgway, Colorado.

Ranching Heritage

Ridgway, home of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad, had its beginning as a railroad town in 1890. Otto Mears, known as the Pathfinder of the San Juans for his network of toll roads, and his fellow investors founded the town to be the headquarters of their Rio Grande Southern Railroad (R.G.S.). The R.G.S was to connect the new town with Durango, passing through the rich mining camps of Telluride and Rico along the way. The R.G.S. was 162 miles long,crossed more than 140 bridges and trestles and connected to the Ouray branch of the Denver & Rio Grande at Ridgway.

The R.G.S. became known as the “Silver San Juan” line and was a tourist favorite for its spectacular scenery and its breathtaking Ophir Loop. The railroad was completed in December, 1891. It was wildly successful at first – Mears issued silver and gold complimentary passes and planned to extend the line to the west coast. However, the crash of silver prices in 1893 and the subsequent closing of most of Colorado’s mines dramatically affected the state’s railroads, and the R.G.S. slid into receivership. However, the line managed to survive for the next 60 years despite heavy snowstorms, mud and rock slides and economic disasters.

During the Great Depression the R.G.S. depended on a mail delivery contract for steady cash flow. Delivering mail by steam train was expensive, so management decided to build automobile-based rail buses to carry mail, passengers and light freight. Seven of these hybrid vehicles, which became known as “Galloping Geese,” were built in the Ridgway roundhouse. They were so successful that the railroad stayed in business until late 1951, when it finally ceased operations. Dozens of books and articles have been written about the line, and today the R.G.S. and its Galloping Geese are world famous. It is one of the most modeled railroads in the world, and the Ridgway Railroad Museum attracts visitors from throughout the world.

Ridgway’s ranching heritage dates back to the late 1880s and the arrival of the railroad, which opened up the land for legal homesteading. Silver mines above Ouray and Telluride were booming. Ore needed to be shipped out and the miners needed food. Rough mining camps grew into ‘civilized’ towns. The market for beef grew, and the fertile valley at the foot of the San Juan Mountains supplied it.

More people came, arriving by foot, on horseback, and by covered wagon. Ranching was a hard life—but possible with determination and perseverance. Ranch families helped each other out during fall roundup and branding and spring calving. Small schools educated ranch children, and families gathered for social events when time and work permitted. A favorite activity was the ranch rodeo, which recognized cowboy skills such as roping and riding. Early rodeo was truly a spectator sport, with little or no barrier between the performers and the audience!

~ Kathryn R. Burke

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Local Secret

The Ute Indians were well-acquainted with a fascinating weather phenomenon which the locals today refer to as, “The Colona Line”. If one is driving along Highway 550 (about 16 miles north of Ridgway at Colona ) and it begins snowing, one may likely see the snowfall form a near perfect line running across the highway – almost as if the ground had been masked off, allowing the snow to land on only one side – usually the south side. Is it just a coincidence that “The Colona Line” is approximately in the same location as the Ouray / Montrose County border?

More things to do in Ridgway

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Visitors Center & Ridgway Area Chamber

The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce promotes business and community development in the Town of Ridgway and the surrounding area. The chamber operates the Visitors Center, which is open from May 1 through October 1 and is located at 150 Racecourse Road, Ridgway, Colorado 81432 (across from Citizens Bank off of HWY 62).

Mailing address: P.O. Box 544, Ridgway, Colorado 81432


2019 Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce. View sitemap
Managed by Peak Media Company LLC

Visitors Center and Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce

The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce is organized to achieve the objectives of promoting business and community growth and development in the Town of Ridgway and the surrounding area. The Visitors Center is located at 150 Racecourse Road, Ridgway, Colorado 81432 (across from Citizens Bank off of Sherman Street/Highway 62).

Mailing address: P.O. Box 544, Ridgway, Colorado 81432


Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce. Managed by Peak Media Company LLC

Welcome to Ridgway

Extra Info

Ridgway is ideally situated between six major trout streams and Western Colorado’s best fly fishing, rafting, kayaking and standup paddle boarding for novices to experts.

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  • Elevation: 6.985'
  • Population: 932 (2013)
  • Sunshine: 300 days / year
  • Summer Temps: 82º / 55º F
  • Winter Temps: 45º / 6º F

Background image graciously supplied by Nature's Finest Images

See you in Ridgway

Adventure, night life and all around easy living await you in Ridgway Colorado, gateway to the San Juan Mountains.