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.
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.
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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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.
Bill, We spent a day in Mesa Verde National Park during our Colorado visit as well. Click here: https://bit.ly/QsRlmW
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
It is a very beautiful stretch of highway. Sorry it was so scary for you. Thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂
My husband and I are planning a trip next month… I am a little nervous about that stretch of highway, what is the speed limit? is it extremely scary?
Hi T.J. The speed limit will vary depending on where you are. Don’t be afraid, just be careful and enjoy the immense beauty. 🙂
Durango is awesome that was my favorite part of our trip loved the river and the trains but I hated the drive on 550
Beautiful, stunning drive and really NOT so scary. 🙂 Of course we like to go off roading and did Ophir Pass the same weekend we were here so we might not be the ones to ask. In all seriousness, pay attention to the very appropriate speed limits and respect the road and there is no reason to be afraid of the drive. Beautiful country. Make the trip, its worth it. Just check road conditions and road closures before you do.
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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. 😎
Holy cow! What a harrowing experience! I suppose we might feel that same way after that experience. Holy cow! 😯
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.
Well, we’re in agreement, Colorado is indeed a beautiful state!
Colorado is, indeed, the Switzerland of America.
Your story is convincing. I was hoping to go to Ouray for Christmas, but now I’m thinking, we need to go somewhere safe. By the way, while not funny at the time for you, that story was hilarious.
They have been rebuilding parts of the road that has washed away down the mountain and when it is open, it is only one lane through places. If you want to spend Christmas in Ouray, you do not have to take 550 through the Million Dollar Highway portion of the roadway. If you are coming from the north, Ouray will be before the most hair raising section of road. If you are coming from the south you can take 145 and loop around. It will take longer but it won’t take you through the Million Dollar Highway which is the portion of this road that is so famous or infamous depending on you look at it.
I grew up in Ouray. In the mid-80s, I was working in the one of the gift shops over the summer, and this guy came in saying, “Boy, I hope that road to the south isn’t as bad as the one coming in from the north! (the road from Montrose is relatively flat for most of the way, is a bit narrow in spots near the river, but it’s not bad at all).”
I looked at him, I signaled for him to join me outside, whereupon I pointed up toward “The Gap” (the overlook south of town) and the road leading up to it. I said, “Do you see that?” He nodded that he did. I said, “That’s the easy part.”
He was stunned. He asked how he was supposed to get to Albuquerque…I told him that he could go up over the Dallas Divide and way over to Lizard Head, which was out of the way and, at that time, not much better; he could go over Monarch, which was a bit better but was steep, and out of the way; he could try some of the desert roads south in Utah, but I couldn’t vouch for them, or he could drive north to Grand Junction, take I-70 to Denver, then take I-25 south into New Mexico.
He was pretty mad when I told him that, and was fuming when I said, “Welcome to the mountains, and welcome to Colorado.” There are definitely some unique challenges to living in the mountains which flat-landers just don’t understand.
So insanely beautiful but not for not for the faint of heart. Tough road. Needs guardrails. The ride is really more psychological more than anything. If you aren’t afraid of heights and adventurous, you’ll be fine.
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!
Boy, I don’t know the answer to that one. You might try the Durango Chamber of Commerce. Thanks for stopping by!
Only if you take a left out the ski area instead of a right (towards Durango). You’d be in a world of hurt LONG before you hit Red Mountain, though. First, you’d have to cross the Coal Bank and Molas Passes before you ever got to Silverton, and those present their own special hell in a blizzard.
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
So glad you enjoyed the Million Dollar Highway. As you said, it truly is breathtaking. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts with us! 🙂
Which is the safest way to do the highway, north to south or south to north? Headed that way in September.
Hi Susan, I think both directions are equally safe.
I live in Ouray, and personally I find that heading southbound 2-3 miles south of Ouray is the most terrifying part. There is literally no shoulder – white line and 1000 ft down! That said, I’m not sure you need to plan your trip around that. There’s plenty of white knuckle coming from the other direction too 🙂
Hi April, thanks for stopping by and sharing your local point of view! 🙂
I grew up there, and agree that the first 2 or three miles southbound is probably the worst. Northbound…probably the area above the Idarado Mine (where my father worked in the ’70s…the Camp Bird in the early ’80s) from the pass until just past the mine. It’s definitely a road on which to keep your wits about you; it’s not one on which you want to lose focus. I would love to move back there, Red Mountain, 550, avalanches, and all. 😀
Is there spots to stop along the way to take pictures? Or a good spot to look at the highway for pictures?
Hi Megan, there are spots everywhere to pull over and snap a shot of the mountains, the towns below, and the highways winding their way through the mountains. 🙂
I live in aztec so my son and I go thru red mountainpass a couple times a year.. have seen bears..mountain goats..waterfalls and so much wildlife. Such a wonderful peaceful place. Also went to the old mines and hiking is a treat..
Lori, thanks for stopping by and sharing your love of this beautiful area! 🙂
Spent 4 nights camping near Ouray last week. 550 has a couple of short stretches of one lane where CDOT is rebuilding the roadway after rock slides and we heard blasting late each night, I presume to remove loose rock above the road. I descended from Red Mountain Pass to Ouray on a bicycle (in the rain) in the summer of 1993 before it was widened, that was scary. I will always come back to drive this road.
Thanks for sharing your comments about this lovely drive. I’m certain that we’ll be back again as well. 🙂
I am traveling in a group of 4 in late September and October of this year from Upstate New York to near Durango. We are staying at the Purgatory Lodge and have plans to possible go to Ouray. After hearing that Highway 550 was being repaired and opening at 5 PM daily, I decided to search the Internet to see why the immediate repairs were necessary-now I see. Nobody in the group wants to travel that route now that they have seen images of the highway. I supposed I don’t mind that much, but the construction and the late opening may make it hard to convince them to take the route.
Just got back from a trip that included the highway. The road is blocked from early morning until noon when it opens for one hour. It is closed again from one until five. We timed our trip to arrive at the block just before noon and had no problems.
Ernest, Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments. Very helpful! 🙂
We just drove the Million Dollar Highway this past week 9/13/15 and it was beautiful!! The highway is open all day on the weekends. We rode our motorcycle and the weather was perfect. The leaves had not changed to their autumn colors yet. Hope this helps.
Linda, thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments. 🙂
I drove the road from Grand Junction,through Quray then Silverton to Farmington NM 7 May 2016. It was open with no rock slides. It was snowing and raining.There was no ice on the road. It was 28 degrees in Silverton. I am familiar with driving roads of this nature. If you take it slow and use good driving practices, in my opinion, it can be navigated safely. Just be very careful. The elevation at the top is over 11,000 feet.
James, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience! 😀
Hi all, I was in the area over the last couple of days (06/10/16) and thought I’d take the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray down to Durango. It was a gorgeous, sunny day! However, I think I’d only gone roughly a mile when I became petrified at the no-guard-rail, no-shoulder, just a white line and a million foot drop straight down. I mean, I was thinking whether I wanted to die on that road today. After about a mile or so, I decided that this was NOT for me, and I found a place to turn around to go back down. Reading some of the comments here…the ones saying that the first 2-3 miles out of Ouray are the scariest…makes me think that I might have been in the worst of it. But I don’t regret my decision. I was seriously worried up there that today might be my last day alive!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. The Million Dollar Highway is certainly not for those who are faint of heart. However, it’s too bad that you didn’t continue on a bit. The worst would have been over and you would have been rewarded with remarkable vistas. Perhaps another time! 🙂
My husband and I drove the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Silverton on Monday of this week. I was terrified after reading so much about how scary and dangerous it is. I didn’t sleep at all on Sunday night because of the anxiety and dread of having to be on this highway. The first few miles of the drive were scary with no guard rail and very narrow or no shoulders. After that, the drive was just beautiful and not bad at all. We were on the inside lane while descending which helped me be more relaxed. I wouldn’t recommend it during rain or snow. My son rode his bicycle over the highway the same day, and had no trouble. I’m not sure I could do it again because of those first few miles, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to see such beautiful scenery.
I just learned of the million dollar hwy. I am planning a trip to Colorado in aug. 2016. Silverton to Ouary is one my list. By the comments I will see if I have the nerve to drive the road, I just want to see the Rocky Mountains.
Have fun! 🙂
I just came over the 550 all the comments I just read are true very scary for me but my husband loved it
But very beautiful but very scary.
Now the husband. We didn’t have any idea what we were heading into. Just point A to point B on the map. Towing our 30 foot 5th wheel across the divide was quite a challenge. Either road close rocks or narrow road with a real drop! Fortunately the traffic was light. NOT recommend. Crazy beauty though.
We’re glad you made it safely. Stunning beauty, right? 😀
We’re about to drive from Ridgeway to Silverton via 550. How easy is it pulling a 40′ fifth wheel? We are from Northern CA and used to driving our rig over mountains. We’ve also been all over SW Colorado the past several months over many passes. Thanks.
Debbie, I’m afraid we’re completely unable to answer your question. We’ve never pulled such a rig. Perhaps there are boards of 5th-wheel pullers that could better address your question. Sorry.
I was raised in Colorado. This is the most beautiful drive ever. But you have to pay attention. It is well worth the drive
Hi Audrey, thanks for stopping by and sharing your viewpoint. We agree. Most beautiful drive, ever! 🙂
which is the least scariest from Quary to Silverton, CO or from Silverton to Ouary? I’ve been on it when I was younger, but can’t remember it. I want to travel in mid-October, so I need an answer. Thanks.
If you drive from Ouray to Silverton, you’ll be on the inside lane during the scariest part. However, we wouldn’t let that be your deciding factor. Just take is slow and enjoy the drive from either direction. 😀
Im visiting Colorado from Holland next month, and had this trip in mind https://www.distancebetween.us/distance/Silverton-CO-United_States/Ouray-CO-United_States But after reading this post im considering driving your route. I’m used to driving hills (Austria-Switzerland) but there roads are fenced, so your route looks quite a scary one, yet challenging and beautiful. Are there any particular things i should consider when taking this trip?
Thank you for posting this!
You might just check in with the Chamber of Commerce at your departure city to make certain that the roads are open and free from snow. Have fun! 🙂
Like everyone else, I’m driving 550 from Ouray to Hermosa at the end of May. I hail from Texas, and I am not used to driving in snowy/icy conditions. Can anyone tell me what kind of weather conditions are towards the end of May? I am away that I will be at an elevation of 11,000 ft, so any weather is bound to happen.
Hi Lorine, I would be in contact with the local travel bureaus (Durango and Ouray) to get your questions answered. They are best equipped to help point you to the right folks regarding your weather concerns.
I will be traveling from golden Co. to Grand junction for a nights stay and then wanted to head down to Ouray. And then camp there a night there. My concern is how to get down to Silverton and than down to Durango. I’m pulling a 23 ft, travel it has brakes on it. I’m definitely afraid of pulling a 23 ft tt thur the million dollar hwy. Any advice on this. who has pulled a tt over this pass?!? Should we go round it. Will be headed that way in three week.
. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
Pulling a travel trailer is above my pay grade. Hopefully, someone in our audience can offer you the help you need. 😀
We will be traveling on our motorcycle all throughout Colorado in just 2 weeks. I really want to drive 550 but I am also very nervous!!! I have heard the weather can change in an instant and being on a bike that is a huge concern of ours. Any real weather worries for the first week in August?? I know no one can predict but I wondered about the average weather.
We saw a great many motorcycles on the drive. Keep an eye on the weather and go for it.
Hi David great post and love that your replies. I’m hoping to pass through this part of the highway later next month, though I have a question. In the narrow sections with no guardrails, since it’s a two lane highway can one drift across the divider temporarily to be safe if there’s no oncoming traffic?
Sure. You could drive right down the middle of the road if you’re so inclined and there’s no oncoming traffic. Just don’t do it around the curves. 🙂 Have fun, it’s beautiful!
My wife and I are planning to drive from Oursy to Durango on hey 550 this coming Monday, February 19th. Snowing the day before. Will it be safe? Will be driving an Outback.
Well, I imagine it depends on how much snow they get. The plows are pretty regular. Check out this link from the Colorado Department of Transportation: https://www.codot.gov/travel Have fun! 😀
Thank you for the tip and the good news about the plows, David. We’ll wave at you on Monday !
Boggie, you’ll have to waive REALLY high. We live in Scottsdale, AZ. 😛
We love Scottsdale, been there a few times for business and pleasure. Thank you again,!and best regards.
We are taking a family road trip on this specific road. Are there points to pull over and enjoy some of the scenery between Ouray and Silverton? And without a 4 wheeler, family car. Cheers.
There are a great many spots to pull over and enjoy. Have fun!
I drove down from Salt Lake City taking the long way to Farmington NM in 1996. I started up the road to the south, but going through the tunnel (at that time) and seeing the road ahead, terrified me. I just wanted to turn around and go back down. I was forced to continue but found a trail head where it was possible to safely turn around which I did. I took another route that led to Cortez instead. I’ve never been back. Thinking of that cliff road still terrifies me.
I am planning ondriving from Durango to Silverton in mid Sept. Is there a possibility of snow or frozen precipitation that early ? I believe the stretch from Silverton to Ouray is a bit scary for me. I appreciate
everyone’s remarks about the road there. How scary is the drive from Durango to Silverton ?
If you haven’t already, check out this link from the Colorado Department of Transportation: https://www.codot.gov/travel Have fun! ?
how does this road compare to Pikes Peak ????- I looked for a medic when we got to the top of it – between the scary roads and lack of oxyen it was bad- going down wasnt near as bad-I survived but will never to it again- we plan to head that way next week from Iowa-
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