Million Dollar Highway 550

Part of the Alpine Loop, Silverton to Ouray 

Part of the San Juan Skyway. Running northward through the San Juan Mountains to Montrose, this beautiful historic drive is alive with fantastic scenery and possibilities for hiking, biking, jeeping and exploring amongst the played out gold and silver mines of the gold and silver rush of the late 1800s.

"The Million Dollar Highway"

Highway 550 


[105 miles, including the famous Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton]

Leaving Montrose, US Hwy 550 follows the Uncompahgre River. About three miles south of town is the Ute Indian Museum (intersection of Chipeta Road and US-550). There is a lovely picnic area and a self-guided native plant garden tour. The museum itself is located on the original 8.65-acre homestead once owned by the famous Southern Ute Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta. The museum houses one of the most complete collections of the Ute people and is a gathering point for visitors on the way to the Delta Powwow held in September each year.

Nineteen miles south of the Ute Indian Museum is the entrance to Ridgway State Park. It features a large reservoir with a sandy beach. Ridgway is known as one of the nation's most accessible recreation areas for people with disabilities. One lodging option is to book one of the six-person yurts, canvas-walled structures inspired by tents used by nomads of the Mongolian and Siberian steppes. Ridgway's yurts have views of the towering Sneffel's range, sometimes called the "Switzerland of America." A community pool fed by a natural hot spring is nearby. To the east of the park is a county road that was once used as a cattle-drive trail in the late 1800s. Views from the area were used in the John Wayne films of "True Grit" and "How the West Was Won."

Ouray, Colorado
A view of Ouray from the "Million Dolar Highway"

The San Juan Skyway, joins US-550 at Ridgway and begins the climb toward Ouray. Known as "the gem of the Rockies" this picturesque town is nestled in a tiny bowl surrounded by the rugged San Juan Mountains, known by the Ute Indians as the "Shining Mountains." Many of the streets are still unpaved, and the city's public swimming pool in the middle of town is a fed by a hot spring. The spring snow melt creates thunderous waterfalls on the cliffs surrounding Ouray. John Cletheroe, a resident of Norfolk, England who has traveled extensively in the Colorado mountains, provides wonderful photographs of Ouray and its environs on his site "USA and Canada Holiday Hints."

Red Mountain
The mineral-rich slopes of Red Mountain

There are a variety of explanations regarding the source of the name for the "Million Dollar Highway." One version claims it is based on the value of the ore-bearing fill that was used to construct the road, and another says it refers to the high cost of building a road over Red Mountain Pass (11,008 feet) and the Uncompahgre Gorge. One thing no one will dispute is the million dollar views around every turn. This marvel of engineering, designed by Russian immigrant Otto Mears, slices through rugged mountains as it follows old stagecoach routes and former pack trails. A journey that took weeks in pre-car days is now less than a two-hour journey if the road is dry and the driver is able to resist stopping to enjoy the awesome views. Stunning views of the Yankee Boy Basin area south of Ouray are typical of the area.

Mining Works on Red Mountain
Old mining works at the base of Red Mountain

Farther on, the Million Dollar Highway passes Red Mountain, a collapsed volcano cone whose lava flow was found to include gold in 1860. It is easy to spot remnants of the mining works on the slopes, operations that produced over $750 million of ore. Hiking and biking trails provide access to some of the more memorable mines, including Joker Tunnel, Yankee Girl, and the National Belle. Some abandoned structures are all that is left of Red Mountain, a thriving community of 3000 prior to a fire in 1891 which destroyed most of the town.

At 9,318 feet, Silverton is another famous mining town of the old west. Founded in 1874, he town still retains many of the Victorian-style buildings erected in its heyday. In a 16-block walking tour, visitors can check out over 50 historic buildings. Despite the average annual snowfall of over 200 inches a year, there are nearly 500 year-round residents. It is also the northern terminus of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The highway climbs out of the valley past Molas Lake to the spectacular overlook at Molas Pass (10,910 feet). The air on Molas Pass has earned the distinction of being the cleanest in the USA. In the spring, wildflowers abound, and elk, mountain goats, black bears, and mule deer are often visible from the road.

Shortly after passing over Coal Bank Pass (10,640 feet), there are breath-taking views of Pigeon and Turret Mountains (both 13,000 feet) and three other peaks that measure in excess of 14,000 feet: Windom, Eolus, and Sunlight. The expansion of the famous Purgatory Ski area has brought improvements to the road.

Durango was established in 1881. Unlike the other towns on Highway 550, it was never a mining town. It grew around the depot built by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad about a mile south of the bustling town of Animas, and serviced the coal and ore smelter operations required by Silverton and the other mining towns to the north. Photographs and history of the region are online.

Today, Durango's downtown features several restored Victorian-style buildings housing over 20 art galleries and nearly 60 restaurants. It is still a gateway city for exploring the San Juan Mountains. 














































Silver Creek Mine 

 Engineer combines spectacular views at its summit, interesting mining locations and some challenging sections for the driver.





Silver Creek Mine 

 Ore Carts abandoned in basin



Silver Creek Mine Gully Basin

 Gully Wash with mining equipment including boilers



Silver Creek Mine 

 Mining Artifact




Silver Creek Mine 

 Side view                                




Trip Guide



Road Item

Road Summary

40.2 25.0 Durango to Silverton Rail

Durango to Silverton Rail
Durango to Silverton narrow gauge tracks are visble along 550. Southbound travelers first see tracks near mile marker 33. Part of this Highway Travel Guide Is called 'San Juan Skyway', a National Scenic Byway.
41.7 25.9 Durango, Colorado city limits.
The north city limits are at this mileage. Elevation is 6,512 feet. Attractions in and around Durango: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Vallecito Lake, Historic Downtown Durango, The Animas River, Durango Mountain Resort, Mesa Verde, San Juan National Forest.
43.5 27.0 Glider rides.
A small airport featuring glider rides is on east side of the road.
44.3 27.5 Bueno Tempo Ranch
The Bueno Tempo Ranch and horseback riding stables are on the east side of the raod.
49.1 30.5 Trimble Hot Springs and Dalton Lake Golf Course
The turnoff to Trimble Hot Springs is to the west, and Dalton Lake Golf Course is visible to the east.
53.9 33.5 Ranch valley and red cliffs.
A beautiful valley ranch and high red cliffs are visible on east side of road.
56.3 35.0 KOA
KOA campground is on east side of road.
63.6 39.5 Tamarron Golf Course
Tamarron Golf Course lies on east side of road.
64.4 40.0 Red cliffs

Red cliffs
A wall of red cliffs rises to the west of 550 and parallels it for several miles.
66.8 41.5 Haviland Lake exit
Haviland Lake exit turns to the east.
77.2 48.0 Range cattle
Range cattle may be seen, or may cross the highway between miles 48 and 54.
78.9 49.0 Purgatory ski area
The Purgatory ski area is on the west side of the road.
79.2 49.2 Hermosa Road/campground.
Hermosa Road National Forest Access (NFA). Also there is a National Forest campground.
82.4 51.2 Old Lime Creek Road
Old Lime Creek Road NFA turnoff.
84.5 52.5 Runaway truck ramp.
There is a runaway truck ramp on the west side of the road for southbound vehicles.
90.8 56.4 Coal Creek Pass
Coal Creek Pass. Elevation 10,640.
91.7 57.0 Twilight Peak
Excellent view of Twilight Peak to the east.
93.2 57.9 Waterfall
A nice, smaller waterfall can be seen on the west side of the road.
100.4 62.4 Rest site
East Lime Creek rest site is at this point.
101.2 62.9 Andrews Lake
The turnoff to Andrews Lake is to the east. To the south can be seen Engineer Mountain a very large, exposed rocky mountain.
103.0 64.0 Molas Pass viewpoint
At this mile marker is Molas Pass scenic viewpoint on the east side of the road. Molas Pass has an elevation of 10,010 feet.
103.6 64.4 Little Molas Lake
Little Molas Lake turnoff is to the west.
104.8 65.1 Molas Trail
Molas Trail turnoff is to the east.
105.4 65.5 Molas Lake

Molas Lake
Molas Lake and campground are on east side of the road. The Grenadier Mountains lie as a background.
112.6 70.0 Silverton
From this mile marker, the historic mining town of Silverton is seen in a valley to the east of 550. Several Victorian buildings adorn the town, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. The Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray begins here. Also, many Jeep trails originate in the area.
112.6 70.0 Photo

Photo of South Mineral Creek, near Silverton
114.3 71.0 Miner's Shrine
As 550 heads east-west at this point, there is a turnoff to the north to the Miner's Shrine, less than 1/2 mile off 550.
114.3 71.0 Photo

View from highway, of The Valley of Silverton
116.7 72.5 South Mineral Campground.
Turnoff to South Mineral Campground on south side of road. South Mineral Creek flows along the highway.
121.2 75.3 Ophir Pass
The turnoff to Ophir Pass is on west side of road. The pass goes to Ophir Pass, then to the town of Ophir, and connects to route 145. This is, in most cases, a 4 wheel drive road.
123.9 77.0 Beaver ponds/mine buildings
Beaver ponds can be seen along south side of the road as 550 heads west. Old mine buildings are on north side of the road.
127.1 79.0 550 south view.

550 south view.
Excellent view of 550 as one looks southward through valley toward Silverton.
129.2 80.3 Red Mountain Pass
Red Mountain Pass is 11,000 feet. Views of the 3 Red Mountains lie to the east.
132.0 82.0 Idarado Mine Tunnel
The eastern end of the Idarado Mine tunnel is seen here, along with good examples of mine buildings and houses
135.7 84.3 10,000 foot elevation marker

136.8 85.0 Mine structures
At this point, there are several abandoned mine structures at various stages of disrepair.
139.5 86.7 Ironton Park
At this location, on the east side of the road is a sign indicating an Idarado mine reclamation project. Another sign indicates cross-country skiing. A short distance off 550 is a fork in the gravel road that shows Brown Mountain left, and Corkscrew Gulch right
140.0 87.0 Ironton
The ghost town of Ironton Park is on the east side of the road. Only a handful of houses remain.
141.6 88.0 Memorial
A memorial to road workers who died from avalanches is here, and to members of a family taken by avalanche.
142.1 88.3 Avalanche tunnel
A man-made avalanche protection tunnel was built because of frequent, heavy snowslides here.
144.0 89.5 Base of Mt. Abram
550 turns east here and goes along base of 12,801 foot Mt. Abram, Ouray's signature mountain. Good views of the Million Dollar Highway are seen to the north as it winds along sheer cliff dropoffs with no guardrails.
144.4 89.7 River/falls
A rushing river (Bear Creek) and falls are on the east side of the road. Also, turnoff to the Alpine Loop is to the east.
146.3 90.9 Bear Creek trailhead.
You access Bear Creek trailhead here, which passes over the top of a small tunnel cut through the mountain, through which 550 passes.
148.9 92.5 Amphitheater turnoff
Turnoff to the Amphitheater Campground is to the south as 550 heads east. There are great views of the Amphitheater, a huge, semicircular wall east of Ouray.
149.7 93.0 Camp Bird Road
The turnoff to Camp Bird Road is to the south. Along it is the Camp Bird Mine at about 5 miles, and Yankee Boy Basin at 8 miles, widely known for its wildflowers in July and August. Branching off Camp Bird Road is Imogene Pass, a treacherous 4-wheel drive to Telluride.
151.3 94.0 Ouray Information

Ouray Information
You approach Ouray, a Victorian mining town, the whole of which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
152.9 95.0 Hot Springs

Hot Springs
At the north end of town is the football field-sized Ouray Hot Springs, open all year, ranging in temperature from 72 to 104 degrees.
162.5 101.0 San Juan Guest Ranch
Turnoff to San Juan Guest Ranch is to the west.
162.5 101.0 Photo

View from highway
164.3 102.1 Orvis Hot Springs
Orvis Hot Springs lies along the west side of the road. It also has accommodations.
166.6 103.5 Ridgway

The small ranching town of Ridgway lies at the intersection of 550 and 62. The Ouray County Rodeo is held around Labor Day weekend. Parts of the films True Grit and How the West Was Won were filmed here.
169.6 105.4 Owl Creek Pass
Turnoff east to Owl Creek Pass and Silver Jack Reservoir. Views of beautiful Cinnamon Range to the east.
170.7 106.1 Fairway Pines
Turnoff west to Fairway Pines Golf Course.
172.2 107.0 Ridgway State Park
Entrance to Ridgway State Park, Dallas Creek area, to the west.
174.1 108.2 Ridgway State Park, Dutch Charlie entrance

179.8 111.7 Ridgway State Park, Pa-co-chu-puk area
Turnoff west to Pa-co-chu-puk area. A dam is here, at the base of which is good trout fishing.
185.9 115.5 Elk farm
An elk farm is on the west side of road.
188.3 117.0 Colona
The small townsite of Colona is at this mile marker. It was once a childhood home to Jack Dempsey.
201.6 125.3 Antiques
On the east side of the road are a series of antique shops.
202.1 125.6 Ute Museum
On west side of road is the Ute Indian Museum.
202.4 125.8 Hanging Tree
The Hanging Tree campground and RV park is on the east side of the road. What is said to be a real hanging tree from old the days still stands.
203.1 126.2 Montrose
Enter the city limits of Montrose, a full service town of nearly 10,000 people.
207.6 129.0 550 meets route 50
Route 550 ends, and joins U.S. route 50. A few miles to the east is Black Canyon National Park, and approximately 60 miles north (straight ahead), is Grand Junction, home of The Colorado National Monument. -e


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