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Everything You Need to Know: The Dollar Highway Road From Durango to Ouray

San Juan Mountains - Million Dollar Highway
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Discover the Splendors of Southwest Colorado: A Journey on the Million Dollar Highway

Venture into the heart of Southwest Colorado on a thrilling 25-mile journey through history on the most exhilarating and potentially dangerous road in America - the Million Dollar Highway. Nestled within the majestic San Juan Mountains, this highway offers a unique blend of breathtaking landscapes and historical intrigue. Brace yourself for the trip of a lifetime, here's everything you need to know before embarking on this road trip.

Origin of the Million Dollar Highway: A Costly Masterpiece

Deceptively, the name 'Million Dollar Highway' doesn't refer to the scenic vistas, but the steep price tag of its construction in the early 20th century. This engineering marvel was initially built as a toll road to bridge the bustling mining towns of Silverton and Ouray, reflecting the prosperous era of Colorado's mining industry.
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Otto Mears: The Pioneer Behind the Highway

Otto Mears, a visionary entrepreneur, and Hungarian immigrant, laid the cornerstone for the road. Recognizing the need for an improved transportation network in Colorado's mountainous regions, Mears, through the Otto Mears Toll Road Company, initiated the construction in the late 1880s.

To cater to the growing mining industry's demands, Mears undertook the herculean task of carving a route through solid rock. With substantial federal support, the project was completed in its current form in the 1920s. Today, this highway stands testament to Mears' ambition, serving as a vital link between these former mining towns and the rest of the country.

Otto Mear Million Dollar Highway
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Experiencing the Million Dollar Highway

We recommend starting in Durango and heading to Ouray. This 70-mile route escorts you through the heart of the San Juan Mountains, revealing Colorado's awe-inspiring beauty. As you head east toward Durango, the mountains reach greater heights, unveiling the grandeur of the Purgatory Ski Resort and the serenity of the Hermosa suburbs. From mountain biking on the Jones/Dutch Creek Trail to camping by Haviland Lake, Durango offers a plethora of exhilarating outdoor activities.

Navigating the Million Dollar Highway: Safety First

Be prepared for hairpin turns and narrow lanes etched directly into the mountain sides as you traverse this daunting route. Despite its natural beauty, the Million Dollar Highway is equally challenging, especially in winter months. Always check weather and road conditions on the Colorado Department of Transportation's website before setting out on your journey.

Historical Landmarks: Mines and Ghost Towns
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The Million Dollar Highway also offers a peek into the past. The Longfellow Mine and the abandoned mining towns of Animas Forks, Red Mountain Town, and Ironton reveal the region's prosperous mining history. Do remember to respect private property and follow all posted rules when exploring these historic landmarks.

Witness Colorado's past in the abandoned mining operations and deserted towns scattered along the Million Dollar Highway.

Your journey would be incomplete without a stop at Longfellow Mine, a significant relic of the region's extensive mining operations. As you ascend Red Mountain Pass, keep an eye out for the numerous deserted mining sites, each offering a unique snapshot into the area's past. Remember to take a pause, capture some photos, and absorb the historical resonance of these landmarks.

Regarding ghost towns, these are some of the most visited and accessible locales:

  1. Animas Forks: Once a hub of mining activity perched over 11,000 feet above sea level, this ghost town offers an uncanny yet captivating window into the region's mining legacy.

  2. Red Mountain Town: This desolate town, mostly abandoned since the early 20th century, still houses a handful of well-preserved buildings and structures, silently bearing witness to a bygone era of prosperity.

  3. Ironton: Nestled just south of Ouray, this former silver mining hotspot has transformed into a tranquil, picturesque spot, highly favored by photographers and sightseers.

These mining remnants and spectral towns provide an intriguing look into the region's rich historical tapestry and are must-see spots on your Million Dollar Highway itinerary. While visiting, please respect private property and abide by any posted guidelines.

ironton mining town
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Red Mountain Pass

The Red Mountain Pass forms the climax of your journey on the Million Dollar Highway. This section, characterized by steep climbs and sudden drops, offers captivating views of abandoned mine buildings and the striking red rock that adorns the road.

Lizard Head Pass, Colorado

Lizard Head Pass was named after the rocks spires in the wilderness Lizard Head. The Pass is at its lowest point, separating the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. Forest Service Routes have plenty of hiking and camping possibilities close by. The dispersed campsites exist on several mountain lakes in the area. Three peak ranges above 14,000 feet and includes Wilson's height. Mount Wilson requires climbing gear, ropes, and ascent experience to reach the peak safely.

Towns along the million-dollar highway

Silverton Colorado

Silverton has long been recognized as a National Historic Site, home to The Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop. Silverton offers an ideal winter holiday destination for skiing, snowmobiling, sleighing, skiing, and snowmobiling. In Summer, visitors enjoy fishing in the backcountry, kayak and hiking trips, Jeeping, and ATV and OHV riding in the backcountry in the summer time.

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Ouray Colorado

Some call the town of Ouray the "Swiss of America" because of its location near an 8,800 feet of elevation and river valley within the snow-capped San Juan mountains. Often called the outdoor recreation capitol of Colorado, this area provides an ideal base camp for exploration around southwest Colorado.

Ridgway, Colorado

Ridgway is an essential stop along the Rio Grande Southern Railway, which also connected Ouray and Telluride during the boom. The town reduced light pollution to obtain certification as a community with dark skies. Popular attractions include lake-front campsites in Ridgway State Park and Orvis Hot Springs. Orvis Hot Springs offers several clothing-optional pools with various temperature options and excellent views of the stars.

Accommodation on the Million Dollar Highway

The Million Dollar Highway has a very long distance that can be experienced in a single trip, but the San Juan Islands are much more than just the streets alone. You will need time to explore the various adventures at different locations. I recommend visiting two or three cities along the Million Dollar Highway including Durango, Silverton, or Ouray. If time permits, take part in San Juan Skyway or stay for some nights in Telluride.

Durango Accommodation

Some folks return to Durango for the day or take the Million Dollar Highway. While I'm not suggesting you go to Durango, you have more choices than Silverton or Ouray, depending on where you stay. Adventure Inn is an affordable, clean hotel located in Durango. It offers clean bedrooms, upscale amenities, and a small restaurant upstairs. Sleeps up to four people. Hilton Doubletree – The Doubletree is ideal for a classic hotel that suits all. It is a short walk from downtown and the Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Silverton Accommodation

Silverton makes you feel like you were traveling back in the 1800s, and that was particularly true at Teller House - the most popular Silverton hotel. Staying in Silverton may be crowded in peak season; however, staying in the downtown area is convenient if your plan involves driving for entire days. Teller House Inn – Teller House is an old, historic boutique hotel that is well-equipped and ideally located on Silverton's tiny Main Street. See more accommodations at Air BnB.

Ouray Accommodation

Ouray is a beautiful village in which you should spend your time relaxing. Timber Ridge Lodge – Timber Ridge Lodge offers a fantastic lodging experience at no cost. Whether for families or as a couple. This property has an outdoor terrace and an inside lounge. The room consists of 5 people with two beds. Weay Main Street Inn: The Main Street Inn offers affordable and charming accommodations with a quaint atmosphere. The historic hotel offers a great location in the center. It has ten beds with two single beds.

Key activities to do while traveling the million dollar highway

There are many activities to do while traveling along the Million Dollar Highway. Here are some ideas:

  1. Take in the stunning views: The Million Dollar Highway is renowned for its breathtaking scenery, with panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains, lush forests, and winding rivers. Be sure to pull over at one of the many scenic viewpoints along the way to soak it all in.

  2. Explore mining history: The road passes through many historic mining towns and sites, including Silverton, Ouray, and Red Mountain Pass. Take a walking tour, visit a museum, or go on a mining tour to learn about the region's rich mining history.

  3. Go hiking or biking: The San Juan Mountains offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking and biking trails for all skill levels. Some popular trails include the Perimeter Trail in Ouray and the Ice Lakes Trail near Silverton.

  4. Go on a scenic drive: The Million Dollar Highway itself is a scenic drive, but there are also other scenic routes in the area, including the San Juan Skyway and the Alpine Loop.

  5. Soak in hot springs: There are several hot springs in the area, including the Orvis Hot Springs near Ridgway and the Ouray Hot Springs Pool in Ouray.

  6. Go skiing or snowboarding: The San Juan Mountains are home to several ski resorts, including Purgatory Resort near Durango and Silverton Mountain in Silverton.

  7. Visit ghost towns: The area has several well-preserved ghost towns, including Animas Forks and St. Elmo, which offer a glimpse into the region's mining history.

Overall, the Million Dollar Highway and the surrounding area offer various activities and attractions for visitors.

Real Estate Opportunities

The Million Dollar Highway area is known for its stunning scenery, but it's also a great place to buy a home. Whether you're looking for a rustic cabin in the woods, a mountain-top retreat with panoramic views, or a home in a charming mountain town, there are plenty of real estate opportunities in the area.

Contact our Blue Sky Home and Lands agents to learn more about homes for sale along the Million Dollar Highway.

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