The Million Dollar Highway Road Trip Guide
The open road is calling, and it’s time to answer with the Million Dollar Highway. So, pack up your family, pack up the camper, and hit the road.
The million-dollar question is where to go, and we’ve got the million-dollar answer. This is the Million Dollar Highway road trip guide.
Let’s jump in!
Where Is the Million Dollar Highway?
The Million Dollar Highway is Part of the San Juan Skyway Colorado Scenic Byway located in Southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Otherwise known as U.S. Highway 550, the portion referred to as the Million Dollar Highway connects Ouray to Silverton. And it provides spectacular mountain views along the way.
With both popular towns being home to numerous outdoor activities, heading to the Million Dollar Highway is a highly popular road trip.
About the Million Dollar Highway
Originally built in 1883 for use as a toll road, it was rebuilt in the 1920s as a two-lane road. Traveling over three mountain passes, Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain, the views along this stretch are extraordinary.
The hardest feat while driving will be keeping your eyes on the road. You’ll surely want to do that because those mountain passes are 25 miles of tight turns, sheer cliffs, and narrow lanes.
What’s more, the hairpin curves have a distinct lack of guardrails. The driving becomes a bit less heart-pounding once you’ve reached the summit at Red Mountain Pass and start your descent into Silverton. But the views remain.
Why Do They Call it the Million Dollar Highway?
You might think it’s called the Million Dollar Highway because of the million-dollar views. However, there’s a real reason for the name. Or several reasons.
Reportedly, this section of U.S. Highway 550 cost one million dollars per mile to build. Or maybe it was a million dollars total. Other rumors say it was because the dirt they used was from the nearby gold and silver mines. Some think it was so treacherous in its early days that travelers refused to go over it again, even if they were paid a million dollars to do so.
We may never know for certain the real reason it’s called the Million Dollar Highway. We do know that this drive is one of the most impressive routes built on Earth. And it offers one of the most spectacular views in the world.
Is The Million Dollar Highway Dangerous?
Just as in driving along any road, it could be dangerous. It all depends on your driving skills and the ability of the drivers around you. On that note, however, the Million Dollar Highway could pose a bit more danger to drivers because of its steep drop-offs, especially since some of those have no guard rails.
Keeping that in mind, though, the road is wide enough with two paved lanes and room for two vehicles side by side. It’s that steep drop-off when you’re heading from Ouray to Silverton that can be a bit intimidating, even for the most seasoned drivers. And that’s just in the summer. While closed at times due to adverse driving conditions, this road is also open all winter long.
Can it be more dangerous in the winter? Of course, it can. You have to pay attention to where you’re driving on the road. You’ll also have to be wary of possible ice and snow that can come into play on a Colorado winter day.
Combine that with the 70 avalanche paths that cross the Million Dollar Highway, and you’re sure to guess the best time of year to travel this mountain road is not winter.
Best Time of Year for a Million Dollar Highway Road Trip
The summers in Colorado’s high country are phenomenal. The weather is almost perfect in this area. With temps in the high 80’s at their peak and lows in the high 40’s, you won’t be sweltering from the summer heat known to most of the U.S. And, while afternoon thunderstorms are common in the high country, they generally don’t last longer than an hour, making drive time in the summer quite pleasant.
On the other hand, the weather is much more unpredictable in the winter, spring, and late fall. Spring snowstorms are not uncommon, leaving behind wet, heavy snow. The snow can begin in late fall and stick around all through winter. Winter in the high country, while quite the wonderland of beauty, makes for unknown road conditions.
The weather has control over us no matter how much we wish that weren’t true. If you only have one chance to drive the Million Dollar Highway, do it, regardless of the season.
But if you can plan it, plan for July or August, where you’ll get your best chances of warm weather and lush green pines. September into early October are also great times to visit this area, as the leaves are changing and the fall colors are spectacular.
Can You Drive an RV on the Million Dollar Highway?
Traveling north from Silverton to Ouray may be your best bet if you’re nervous about the steep edges. This direction allows you to hug the curves and stay away from the edges. Traveling south from Ouray to Silverton will leave you feeling like you’re on the edge of the earth on this drive. And for short moments, you certainly are on the edge of the road, with steep drop-offs as your neighbor.
Keeping that in mind, millions of tourists, including those in large RV’s, such as Class A’s for example, travel this two-lane mountainous highway every year.
So, yes. You can drive an RV on the Million Dollar Highway. It’s well maintained, and while a bit daunting for any experienced RV driver, you’ll feel like an expert after cruising along this highway. Just be aware. You’ll be one of the larger vehicles on the road, so it’s up to you to take notice of others.
Best Hikes Near the Million Dollar Highway
Hiking near the Million Dollar Highway is second to none. With the San Juan Mountain Range in your backyard, the beauty surrounding you will take your breath away, not to mention the elevation. These two hikes will get you started.
Lower Cascade Falls Trail near Ouray
This easy trail is close to downtown Ouray and accessible to all skill levels. It’s an out-and-back trail for a total of just under a half-mile. From U.S. Highway 550 in Ouray, turn east on 8th street and follow that road until it ends.
You’ll then follow the stream to the falls. Keep in mind the waterfall is seasonal and best to view during spring and early summer.
Upper Box Canyon Falls Near Ouray
Upper Box Canyon Falls is a popular out-and-back trail that is 0.3 miles one way. It’s accessible to all skill levels and offers stunning views of Ouray’s Box Canyon with possible waterfalls, depending on the season. The trailhead starts at Ouray’s Nature Center and requires a $5 fee to enter.
Best Campgrounds Near the Million Dollar Highway
Road trips aren’t quite road trips if you can’t stay and explore the area more. And combining camping with a road trip makes your Million Dollar Highway adventures worth, say, a million dollars. We’ve got a couple of options for camping to get your adventure started.
Anvil Camping Area
Located on Forest Road 585, just a few miles outside of Silverton, this dispersed mountain campsite is high country camping at its finest. Avil Camping Area is best accessed with smaller rigs and tents. Although taking time to scout ahead of time, larger rigs can be quite possible.
With spots alongside the creek and the San Juan Mountains surrounding you, you’ll feel as though you’re a million miles from society. While cell service is spotty at best, you’ll connect with the beauty here instead. Hiking and off-road vehicle trails are nearby, along with wildflowers and miles upon miles of pine trees. Situated at over 9,000 feet, it’s quite easy to escape the summer heat and enjoy the cool Colorado mountains while camping at Anvil.
Ouray RV Park and Cabins
Located on Main Street in beautiful Ouray, Colorado, the Ouray RV Park and Cabins has everything you need for your Million Dollar Highway road trip.
You’ll find all the amenities you expect from an RV park, such as full hookups, showers, restrooms, and laundry. You’ll also get a general store, gas station, car wash, and restaurant. With nightly rates starting around $50, exploring Ouray and the surrounding area has never been easier.
Is a Million Dollar Highway Road Trip Worth It?
The stunning scenic drive, the quaint Colorado mountain towns, and the abundance of outdoor activities make this road trip a bucket-list item. While its remote location may be a turn-off for some, it’s part of what makes the Million Dollar Highway a sought-after gem of a drive. No matter the miles you’ve driven to get here, this road trip is with every penny.
Million Dollar Memories on the Million Dollar Highway
There are many worthwhile road trips, but none quite as monumental as the Million Dollar Highway. Knowing the hardships that people had to overcome to get to this mountainous region, even to create such a road, makes it a wonder in itself.
It is as though the road has its own personality, and she’ll wrap you in her embrace, leaving you with million-dollar memories.
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