No trip to the Durango area is complete without a breathtaking ride on the San Juan Skyway! This 235 mile loop takes you through old mining towns, spectacular scenery, and exhilarating twists & turns. This loop of state-maintained highways through the San Juan Mountains can be done in your own car and at your own leisure, but be aware that various parts of this beautiful, scenic drive do feature steep drop-offs without guardrails. Always check current road conditions before you go. To do the full loop, prepare to spend approximately seven hours driving, and be sure to leave extra time to stop and explore each of the beautiful towns the San Juan Skyway takes you through!
Durango to Silverton
From Durango, take US 550 North to Silverton. You'll climb over Coal Bank Pass, which has a summit of 10,660 feet, and Molas Pass. Be sure to stop at the summit of Molas Pass (at 10,899 feet) for beautiful views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. Once over Molas Pass, you'll begin your descent into Silverton. Silverton's mining heritage is easy to feel and experience, from its historic buildings to a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine.
Silverton to Ouray
From Silverton, continue on US 550 North to Ouray. This stretch of the Skyway is called the "Million Dollar Highway," and while the official origin of the name isn't known for sure, local lore suggests it came from the cost it took to build the highway, the "million dollar" views you'll experience while driving it, or the amount of gold ore that remains in the roadway's fill. The Million Dollar Highway climbs up and over Red Mountain Pass, with a summit of 11,075 feet (be sure to check out Red Mountain itself, which gets its red color from oxidized minerals within its rocky surface), before clinging to the stunning, steep canyon walls of Uncompahgre Gorge as it makes its descent into Ouray. Ouray, known as the "Little Switzerland of America," offers up picturesque mountain views, a box canyon waterfall, and a large natural hot springs to enjoy.
Ouray to Telluride
From Ouray, take US 550 North to Ridgway, then take a left on CO Hwy 62 West. You'll wind through ranches, fields, over the Dallas Divide, and by one of Colorado's 14ers, Mt Sneffels. The road becomes CO Hwy 145 S, which will take you into the beautiful box canyon Telluride sits in. Telluride's incredible winter skiing is well-known, as are its plethora of summer festivals. Look for Bridal Veil Falls, a 365 foot waterfall overlooking Telluride, ride the free gondola for birds-eye views of the town and ski area, and walk the same streets Butch Cassidy did when he robbed his first bank here on June 24, 1889.
Telluride to Cortez
Take CO Hwy 145 out of Telluride, over Lizard Head Pass, and by two more of Colorado's 14ers: Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak. Continue to follow CO Hwy 145 through Rico, and then along the Dolores River. In the ranching community of Dolores, visit the McPhee Reservoir, one of the largest man-made lakes in Colorado. From Dolores, the San Juan Skyway continues to US Hwy 160 into Cortez, home of many archaeological sites and monuments including Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients.
Cortez to Durango
On this final stretch of the San Juan Skyway, take US Hwy 160 E from Cortez back to Durango, through the beautiful La Plata Mountains. Once back in Durango, grab a bite, relax in our hot springs, and rest up for your next adventure!
Looking for more information on the San Juan Skyway and Million Dollar Highway? Check out these ideas for the Best Half-Day Motorcycle Rides Out of Durango or our Six Reasons to Drive the Million Dollar Highway. Don't miss this unforgettable Southwest Colorado experience!