Best Road Trip Drives: Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
If you’re looking for a scenic drive that’s not only beautiful, but also a bit of a challenge and might just get your heart rate up a time or two, we highly recommend checking out the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. Stretching between the towns of Silverton and Ouray, this 25 mile stretch of U.S. 550 is a two-lane highway travelling through the San Juan Mountains. We think it’s one the best Colorado road trips out there.
What You’ll See
While the entire 25 mile stretch is referred to as the “Million Dollar Highway”, it’s really the 12 miles south of Ouray through the Uncompahgre Gorge up to the summit of Red Mountain Pass that has earned the highway its name. The stretch through the gorge yields incredible views, but you’ll have to earn them; this is a challenging drive.
You’ll see narrow lanes, steep cliffs, lack of guardrails, and tight bends around blind curves. Add to this the excitement of full-size RVs driving up and down the pass, and you’ve got yourself some real adventure. If that’s not enough, this road is open year-round (excluding the occasional closure due to snow) so you can take this drive in the dead of winter, if you dare.
Where to Stop
You’ll also travel through the San Juan National Forest and see both the Havilland and Elektra Lakes. Next you’ll see Moal Pass, which offers panoramic views of Molas Lake, the Animas River Gorge, and Snowdon Peak. Near Ouray you’ll even go over a waterfall – be sure to stop along the way and take in the fresh mountain air and incredible views.
North of Durango, you’ll find Trimble Springs, a hot springs that has been open to the public since the late 19th century. Bring your swim suit if you care to go for a dip!
If swimming isn’t your thing, there are plenty of quaint mountain towns along the route to stop, eat, stretch your legs, and maybe even browse a few shops.
The original portion of the Million Dollar Highway was a toll road built in 1883 to connect Ouray and Ironton. In the late 1880s, the Silverton Railroad was built from Silverton over Red Mountain Pass in order to reach the mining districts around Red Mountain. The road now parallels the old railroad and plenty of old mines can be seen along the route.
The Million Dollar Highway is not for the squeamish, and is listed among the best Colorado road trips for good reason. We recommend checking your tires before heading out – you certainly don’t want to blow a tire on this road!