If you were to close your eyes and dream up the best driving road you possibly could, what features would you include?
For starters, it would have to have amazing views. It should have fun curves that keep the drive interesting without making your knuckles turn white or your stomach turn over. It should also be well maintained so that no damage is inflicted on your vehicle. The road should be RV-friendly, of course. And finally, it should be in a region that enjoys good weather for a good stretch of the year (if not all of the year).
Now…open your eyes and check out the US Route 550 portion of the San Juan Scenic Byway between the towns of Silverton and Ouray, Colorado. Often referred to as the Million Dollar Highway, this absolute dream of a road has everything you’re looking for in a scenic route — stunning mountain vistas, gorgeous weather, and enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. As the name implies, the Million Dollar Highway is pure Colorado driving joy.
What You’ll See
The Million Dollar Highway is just under 24 miles long, so the term “highway” is definitely used loosely here. However, as far as what you’ll see when you’re driving these two dozen clicks is more than worthy of the “million dollar” designation. The views of the San Juan Mountains are simply awe-inspiring, and these alone make the trip worth it. But of course, there’s more.
Many species of wildlife roam the areas around the roadway, including elk, mule deer, and all sorts of large, majestic birds. Delicate wildflowers and other flora line many parts of the roadway, and the bright blue sky goes on for miles and miles. And while the road is indeed paved and maintained, it doesn’t feel like a man-made intrusion. Instead, it feels like part of the natural order of things, as if it had been there all along.
There’s just one lane in each direction on the Million Dollar Highway, and the curves and switchbacks are quite dramatic. This all makes for slow going, but that’s OK. You definitely won’t want to speed through this road.
What you won’t see on the Million Dollar Highway, however, is a lot of development, off-ramps at regular intervals, or fast food joints hawking burgers and fries. This is unadulterated country: a beautiful stretch of road without much of anything to obstruct the natural glory of it all. In fact, on many stretches of the Million Dollar Highway, you won’t even see guard rails; be sure to keep your own guard up in these sections.
The Towns it Connects
While the Million Dollar Highway is a Colorado driving destination unto itself, and not just a connection between two destinations, you’ll want to give yourself some time to check out Silverton on the southern end and Ouray on the northern end.
Silverton is an old mining town, and that heritage is hard to miss as you walk through its downtown. With a real Main Street USA feel, Silverton’s main drag is a quirky lineup of independently owned businesses: shops, saloons, and more. The old west charm is abundant, and the San Juan Mountains provide a dream-like backdrop.
As for Ouray, the main attraction here is the Ouray Hot Springs. Sulfur free and steaming even in the winter, these hot springs attract visitors from all over who are looking for refreshment and rejuvenation. Once you’ve warmed up, the town boasts some great small-town shopping and dining, all against the mountainous scenery that visitors never get tired of seeing.
Who Goes There?
The popularity of the Million Dollar Highway extends to all classes of travelers. While you won’t see much commercial traffic, you can expect to be sharing the road with leisure drivers and road trippers, motorcycle riders, cyclists, and of course, RVs of all sizes. Your fellow drivers will be pretty much anyone on a Colorado driving excursion who’s looking for a scenic route — indeed, the Million Dollar Highway is the quintessential scenic route.
If you do plan to make the drive in your mobile home, it’s important to remember that you will probably be helming one of the larger and more high-profile vehicles on the road. Therefore, it will be on you to watch out for others, especially those on two wheels. And while the Million Dollar Highway is certainly RV safe, some of the tighter turns and narrower passes present a definite driving challenge for bigger vehicles. It’s not the interstate, that’s for sure! Still, if you take your time maneuvering through the tricky parts, you’ll make it to the other side without a hitch.
Go For a Cruise
If you’re considering an RV trip out west, either this season or in the near future, you’ll definitely want to include a jaunt on the Million Dollar Highway on your itinerary. This road is pure Colorado driving awesomeness — the scenic route that puts all other scenic routes to shame, with fun destinations at both ends to boot.
Roads like the Million Dollar Highway are few and far between. Without a doubt, driving it will be a treasured experience that you’ll remember and talk about for years to come. Be sure to pull over, take photos, and give yourself some time to really take it all in.
Have you traveled the Million Dollar Highway? What did you think? Tell us about it in the comments!