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September 20, 2023

The Guide to the Million Dollar Highway

If you haven’t visited Southwest, Colorado, you are truly missing out! This Weekend Guide to the Million Dollar Highway and San Juan Skyway offers the most amazing views

The Million Dollar Highway and San Juan Skyway takes you through most of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains which are a rugged and remote section of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. This range is completely different then anything you would see in northern, Colorado. The San Juan Skyway Loop takes you through many mining towns (including Durango, SIlverton, Ouray, and Telluride) providing endless views of mountains, rivers, and streams.

What is the Million Dollar Highway?

Imagine views that boast fourteen thousand foot peaks rise from the mountain ranges on the sides of the highway. The Million Dollar Highway winds around hairpin turns on the side of a cliff between the mountain towns of Ouray, Colorado and Silverton, Colorado. So where did the name “Million Dollar Highway” come from? Some people believe its name came from the abundance of gold and silver mining in the area. Others think it was because the road cost one million dollars to build.

Best Time To Drive the San Juan Skyway

Fall is my favorite time to do the The Million Dollar Highway & San Juan Skyway road trip because the colors and views are mindblowing! The aspen leaves in the San Juans typically start to turn yellow mid-late September and last for about three weeks. If you can escape away for a fall visit, you will not be disappointed by the beauty of Southwest, Colorado.

From Durango to Silverton

Driving from Durango to Silverton, you will head over Coal Bank Pass and then Molas Pass. This drive features mountain views and lots of places to hop out, hike, and explore.

Where to stay in Silverton:

Little Molas Lake Campground is a great place to camp about a mile off the road right before you reach Molas Pass. This is a stunning place to camp with the most beautiful peaks surrounding Molas Pass.

Silverton has a variety of hotels, inns, and lodges available to stay in throughout the year. We are HUGE fans of the Wyman Hotel – the ultimate mountain escape!

Things to do between Durango and Silverton:

  • Hiking There are many spots to stop and stretch your legs while you are driving. From Spud Lake, Andrews lake and beyond, enjoy endless mountain views throughout your journey!
  • Purgatory Mountain Resort. Check out our lovely ski resort by winter or enjoy downhill mountain biking for all levels during the summer months. Experience summer offerings such as a scenic chairlift ride and roller coaster!
  • Photography When you get to Molas Pass you will see 360 degree mountain views and lakes. Enjoy the stunning scenic Needles mountain ranges and all the beauty surrounding to photograph!

Heading from Silverton to Ouray

Favorite hikes along the journey!

  • Hike Ice Lakes, Columbine Lake, or Highland Mary Lakes. These a few of the most stunning alpine hikes. They are not for beginners and will take some time. Perfect for the mountain adventurer!
  • Red Mountain Pass Photo Op. This is the spot for photography! The stunning red mountains are something to capture!

This is the true iconic section of the Million Dollar Highway. Go slow and take in the views! As you head towards Ouray, you will wind up Red Mountain Pass. The views never stop, but in just a short time you will be in what is called “the Switzerland of America!”

Stays and things to do in Ouray:

Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodging is a great place to relax and enjoy the hot springs vapor cave 109 degree soaking pool, outdoor swimming pool of 102-104 degrees or private outdoor soaking pool and waterfall.

Ouray Hot Springs has a variety of pools and is the perfect spot for families. With waterslides, obstacle courses and more, you will not be disappointed.

Take a stroll down the quaint main street, enjoy restaurants shops and more.

Ouray to Telluride

The views just keep blowing your mind away! The road takes you through Ridgeway, where you will head over Dallas Divide. Here you can get a glimpse of Mount Sneffels (14,000 Ft) as you head over the pass! Follow to Placerville and onto Telluride where you will want to spend a night or two!

Camping to Stays:

  • Alta Lakes Campground is a free campground, but a high clearance 4wd vehicle is much needed.
  • Sunshine Campground is a paid campground 8 miles south of Telluride with beautiful views of Mt. Wilson and aspens.
  • Telluride also has an abundance of many hotels, inns, and BnBs to stay. My absolute favorite is in mountain village at The Peaks Resort & Spa, in town The Sheridan Hotel offers a cozy, old west appeal, and The Dunton House offers a quaint BnB feel.


  • Hike Bear Creek Falls or Bridalveil Falls. Are just a couple quick hikes that are accessible right from the town of Telluride. They are perfect to get a little exercise, while still experiencing the town.

Food options are endless. I suggest walking around and checking out all the restaurants depending on what you are looking for. There is literally every option you could imagine.

Telluride to Dolores

Don’t miss beautiful Lizard Head Pass as you head to the small town of Rico on the way to Dolores! There is endless hiking and exploring in this part of San Juan National Forest which is truly incredible!

Dolores to Durango

You almost made the entire loop! The San Juan Highway between Dolores and Durango heads to the small town of Mancos. If you need to grab a bite, check out the delicious Absolute Bakery and Cafe or the cute little health food store. From Mancos, you will drive over the La Plata mountains back to Durango, Colorado to finish the amazing San Juan Skyway road trip!


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