The Million Dollar Highway in Colorado

The Million Dollar Journey: Colorado’s Highway to the Heavens

In the rugged heart of the Colorado Rockies, the Million Dollar Highway stretches its asphalt limbs, offering a journey that is as rich in history as it is in breathtaking vistas. Officially part of U.S. Route 550, this road runs from Silverton to Ouray through the San Juan Mountains. It’s a path that I, as a travel writer and car enthusiast, have longed to explore, drawn by tales of its unparalleled beauty and the challenge it presents to those who navigate its turns. Here, the journey along the Million Dollar Highway unfolds, a testament to the allure of the open road and the call of the wild.

Why is it called The Million Dollar Highway?

The origins of the Million Dollar Highway’s name are shrouded in mystery and legend. Some say it comes from the cost of its construction, while others claim it refers to the riches buried beneath its path. Constructed in the late 19th century during the Colorado mining boom, this section of U.S. Route 550 was part of a route that transported ore through the mountains. Today, it serves as a conduit not for gold but for those seeking the wealth of nature’s beauty.

The Drive of a Lifetime

Spanning approximately 25 miles between Silverton and Ouray, the Million Dollar Highway offers a driving experience that is both exhilarating and daunting. The road ascends to the Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of 11,018 feet, providing drivers with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains’ snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and verdant forests. With no guardrails and sheer drops in many places, the drive requires skill and concentration, offering an unmatched sense of adventure.

Best Times to Visit

The Million Dollar Highway is accessible year-round, though the best times to experience its full glory are from late spring to early fall. Summer brings wildflowers that carpet the mountainsides, while autumn sets the aspen trees ablaze with golden hues. Travelers should be prepared for sudden weather changes, especially at higher elevations, and check road conditions during winter months when snow and ice can present additional challenges.

Photographic Stops Along the Way

  • Red Mountain Pass: The highest point along the highway, offering panoramic views that are a photographer’s dream.
  • Bear Creek Falls: A stunning waterfall visible from a pull-off near Ouray, where water cascades beneath the roadway.
  • Molas Pass: Just north of Silverton, this location offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Silverton itself.

So you’re on the Million Dollar Highway? Where’s the best place to rest and recharge?

Both Silverton and Ouray provide charming accommodations and dining options for travelers. In Silverton, the Grand Imperial Hotel ( offers historic rooms that transport guests back to the mining era. Ouray is home to the Beaumont Hotel & Spa (, a restored 1886 building offering luxury accommodations. For those looking to connect with nature, numerous campgrounds and RV parks are available, offering a more rustic stay under the Colorado stars.

Navigating with Respect

Traveling the Million Dollar Highway is a journey through some of Colorado’s most delicate and stunning ecosystems. Drivers are encouraged to respect speed limits, stay alert for wildlife, and practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve the natural beauty of the area. The road is shared with cyclists and motorcyclists, requiring vigilance and courtesy from all who traverse its path.

Should you go? Absolutely.

The Million Dollar Highway offers more than just a drive; it provides an adventure that engages the senses, challenges the spirit, and rewards the traveler with sights and experiences found nowhere else on earth. For auto enthusiasts, it’s a bucket-list journey that tests driving skills while offering a connection to the majesty of the American West. As the road winds through the San Juan Mountains, it invites us to explore the beauty of the natural world and discover the riches of the journey itself—a journey that, indeed, feels like a million dollars.

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