Cruising Colorado's Million Dollar Highway

by Kirsten Dobroth | July 22, 2016

Summer roadtrips are a must, and Colorado has some spectacular roadways to add to the itinerary. Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway, in particular, stretches 25 miles between Silverton and Ouray and makes up part of the San Juan Scenic Byway that winds through the dramatic San Juan mountains in the state’s southwestern corner.
Consistently found atop lists of some of the most breathtaking mountain passes in the world, the road between Silverton and Ouray isn’t for the faint of heart, and along with a series of hairpin turns, the lack of guardrails can be a bit dizzying to some. But, for most, a drive down this iconic stretch of view proves to be more jaw dropping than panic inducing, as the road offers some pretty fantastic scenery and a chance to sample some early engineering at its finest. Built in 1883 as a toll road from Ouray to the now abandoned mining town of Ironton, the Million Dollar Highway offers a glimpse into the lives of countless miners who used to inhabit the area, as the hills around the pass show indications of heavy mining, long forgotten homes of former miners, and plenty of pullouts to read about the area’s history.
Stay the Night
While the town of Ironton has long been abandoned, Silverton and Ouray are great stopovers if driving through the area, and offer a bit more insight into Colorado’s mining history. The area around Silverton is rife with old mining roads that now are frequented by four wheel drive vehicles connecting old mines and ghost towns, and some spectacular car-camping sites. Stop by Avalanche Brewing Company for some street tacos and a beer- they also have delicious coffee- and stroll down the town’s signature “paved road.” Take in the mountain scenery from the Alpine Loop, which connects Silverton to nearby towns via some spectacular, unpaved mountain passes.
Ouray’s a great spot to take in the local scenery as well, frequently dubbed “The Little Switzerland of America,” this small town has some big views, mountains, and waterfalls to make even one night unforgettable. Bien Tiempo is a local favorite for margaritas on the outdoor patio, and The Roast & Toast Cafe is another top spot for a cup of coffee and breakfast. Check out Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs for overnight accommodations, as the hotel’s backyard happens to double as one of the few points in town where the hot, mineral springs come naturally out of the ground and feed the several soaking tubs available for guest use.

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