Colorado’s Scenic Million Dollar Highway: Silverton to Ouray

The scenic drive on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Route 550), from Silverton to Ouray, just might be the most eye-popping, awe-inspiring drive we have ever taken.

From the historic mining town of Silverton, Colorado, the two-lane highway meanders through Mineral Creek Valley and then proceeds through a series of sharp grades and hairpin turns that will ultimately take you over three mountain passes before you reach Lookout Point, which looks down on the beautiful town of Ouray, considered by many to be the Switzerland of the US.

Monument to fallen snowplow drivers.

When you reach the summit of Red Mountain Pass, you will be standing at an elevation of 11,018 ft.

Legend has it that the name Million Dollar Highway comes from the 1920s cost to build the highway at over $1 million a mile.  Others claim that the fill dirt used to make the road contains $1 million in gold ore; while still others claim the name stems from the panoramic million-dollar views.

Running north on the highway, the scariest part of the drive is encountered on the stretch of highway from the Red Mountain Pass through the Uncompahgre Gorge.

Here, you’ll encounter very narrow lanes, steep cliffs, and no guardrails.  In fact, one misstep and you’re certain to find death in the yellowish waters of the Red Mountain Creek many, many, many feet below.

In fact, sadly, we found a granite marker (right) along the side of the highway as a monument to the snowplow drivers who catapulted to their deaths along this very stretch of highway.

Yellowish waters of the Red Mountain Creek

In spite of a few butterfies in our stomachs from time to time when we peered over the cliffs, the road is very safe if you’re paying attention and maintaining a safe speed.

If you find yourself in the southwest corner of Colorado, we very highly recommend a drive on Colorado’s scenic Million Dollar Drive from Silverton to Ouray.

By the way, there’s a lot of fun places for lunch in Ouray.  We opted for juicy home-cooked burgers at Maggies Kitchen. YUM!

Map to Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway ~ Silverton to Ouray

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Comments
18 Responses to “Colorado’s Scenic Million Dollar Highway: Silverton to Ouray”
  1. Bill Clackum says:

    How ironic that I saw this post. My wife and I are going here the first few days of Oct. Staying in Durango. Doing the Mesa Verde and other area sight seeing stuff. Thanks for the great pictures. Now I am even more excited to see it all.

    • David Porter says:

      Bill, We spent a day in Mesa Verde National Park during our Colorado visit as well. Click here: http://bit.ly/QsRlmW

    • lanie says:

      my husband and I just came back Colorado we drove on highway 550 I was petrified it was so beautiful but the roads were too scary for me not enough guard rails I will NEVER go on that highway again my husband loved it go figure

      • David Porter says:

        It is a very beautiful stretch of highway. Sorry it was so scary for you. Thanks for sharing your story with us! Smile

    • lanie says:

      Durango is awesome that was my favorite part of our trip loved the river and the trains but I hated the drive on 550

  2. Kemo Sabe says:

    In Oct 2012 my wife and I traveled over that highway. It was a beautiful sunny day as we left Ouray that morning. But it soon turned stormy – rain then hail coming down. Soon, we were driving on loose snow and then in a while it was hard frozen ice. I was getting very tense hoping we would soon get back into the beautiful sunshine. As I looked down the road ahead of me (we were driving on frozen road surface with hail coming down) I see this car coming at us at about 75 yards down the road. No rails, no pull-off areas, no sunshine, two lanes, steep canyons over the edge of the road. I was tense and my wife was looking over the side of the road down into the canyons. Suddenly, the car coming towards us fish-tailed …. back and forth … he completely lost control and did a 360 to where he was once again coming directly at me and then he goes over the side. Three good things happened. First: As I passed the guy he had not gone over into a canyon – he was upright, sitting at the wheel of his car which was on a ledge about 10 feet down which had caught him and he looked ok to me. Second – my wife did not see the guy go over the edge – if she had and had screamed I think I would have lost control and did a flying Walenda over into the canyon. Third: I learned that my driving days in the mountain passes and mountain roads of Colorado are over. Cool

    • David Porter says:

      Holy cow! What a harrowing experience! I suppose we might feel that same way after that experience. Holy cow! Shock

      • Kemo Sabe says:

        David – Yep, with no guard rails and no place to pull over to wait out the storm and then not being able to park and go back to the scene – it was Holy Cow and white knuckles time for me. I should add that we have been to Colorado many times over the years and love the beauty of Colorado – we will be back. We have traveled many times to Estes Park and enjoyed Rocky Mtn National Park, Big Thompson Canyon and the surrounding area. Also, Pikes Peak and many other areas of Colorado. Colorado is a beautiful state.

  3. Melonie says:

    I’m doing research for a novel and cannot get out to the location until next April. Can anyone tell me if there is any possible chance for an out-of-towner to leave the Purgatory Lodge (Durango Ski resort) and take the wrong exit off 550 hwy and end up on Red Mountain Pass during blizzard like conditions?

    My MC, (main character) has to leave the lodge and plummet down a mountain in her car…….. (she needs to survive the crash, therefore become lost in a blizzard.) any help or suggestions would be great!

    • David Porter says:

      Hi Melonie,

      Boy, I don’t know the answer to that one. You might try the Durango Chamber of Commerce. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Teresa Marcinkowski says:

    I took the Million Dollar Highway from Durango, Co heading to Silverton and then Ouray, a solo trip a few years back. Started in Key West, FL to head back to SF after an 8 year break. This stretch of my ride across the country was absolutely breath taking and while I pulled over very often to catch my breath, it will forever hold a moment in time when I actually felt a pure sense of being grateful to being able to witness this sight of beauty. I thank God for being there with me and my beloved brother, Jean Marcel, for staying closely in touch with me via phone and emails to share in the glory. And to caution me to pull over as many times as need be because one needs to. It is a heavy road to take! And a sacred one at that!!

    Wouldn’t miss the drive again if it comes my way again

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