The winding US highway 550 is also known as The Million Dollar Highway, running all the way from New Mexico to Colorado. Part of the San Juan Skyway, this highway was built in the late 1880’s, and it is one of the most spectacular drives in the USA. The Million Dollar Highway section connects Ouray and Silverton and is lined with many small adventure towns and ghost mining villages.
This journey takes you winding and weaving through the mountains, clinging to tight curves with breath-taking views. It climbs up three very steep high mountain passes – Red Mountain Pass (at a stunning elevation of over 11,000 feet), Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass. Higher altitudes will cause your ears to pop.
The ascent is marked with several hairpin turns and narrow lanes that are cut directly into the sides of the mountains. Take your time and go slow; these roads are tricky and it’s a long way down. Make sure that you check the weather forecast before you go and that you drive very carefully. Beware that the roads can sometimes close down at the last minute due to treacherous weather or rock slides, so make sure that your trip plans are flexible.
The design of the road offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Colorado landscape and the San Juan Mountains. The surrounding wilderness is home to many creatures including black bears, deer, elk and mountain goats – so keep your eyes peeled for animal sightings along the way.
Why is It Called the Million Dollar Highway?
The road was originally created by Otto Mears as a toll way in 1883 and operated as such until the 1920s when it was rebuilt.
Historians aren’t certain of why this highway has its name. One explanation is that an early traveler was so overcome by vertigo on the steep and winding stretch of road that he insisted he would never travel it again, even if he was paid a million dollars.
"The scenic drive on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway, from Silverton to Ouray, just might be the most eye-popping, awe-inspiring drive we have ever taken."
- David Porter, The Roaming Boomers
Another explanation is that the construction of the road in the 1930’s cost one million dollars per mile, or that the land cost a total of a million. Also, some people think that the name has to do with the fact that builders used gravel from the nearby silver and gold mines and that the dirt was so rich in ore, it was worth a million.
Things to Do Along the Million Dollar Highway
- Check out the ghost town of Animas Forks, an abandoned town filled with rickety old wooden buildings that was once a thriving mining outpost.
- Relax in the ancient hot springs of Trimble Spa, which dates back to the 19th century.
- Go camping, hiking or fishing in the wilderness of the San Juan National Forest.
- Stop at Molas Pass, where you can enjoy a stunning view of Molas Lake and the Animas River Gorge.
- Visit the town of Silverton, with its colorful old buildings lining the streets and its beautiful mountain surroundings.
Stop as often as you like to get out and enjoy the stunning mountain panorama views along this incredibly scenic journey.