Driving along the Million Dollar Highway is a memorable, if not white-knuckle, experience. I mean, who really needs guard rails, wide lanes and shoulders when there’s a sheer drop off on one side? Ok, most of us would prefer it, but apparently it wasn’t considered necessary.
Don’t let the absence of these safety measures deter you, though, because this stretch of road along the San Juan Scenic Byway is quite stunning, not to mention an engineering feat. Somehow the engineers managed to scale the incredibly steep mountainside and chisel away at it to create a narrow crevice that would eventually become a road for our driving pleasure (well, actually it was built for more practical purposes like providing access to mining areas).
If you’re driving the Million Dollar Highway from Silverton to Ouray (which is the less scary direction if you’d rather hug the cliffs than be on the outside lane), the roads will be windy and include hairpin turns like this one below, but overall the road is pretty easygoing at the beginning.
And here you’re pretty much at the bottom of the wide valley. But hold on tight, because just around the corner things will change.
The canyon narrows and deepens considerably and the drop offs become more and more acute.
But it’s still oh-so-lovely.
See what I mean about sheer cliffs? It doesn’t get much steeper than this. And as I mentioned above, if you’re keen to be on the inside lane, you’ll want to travel north from Silverton to Ouray and not the other way round. But hey, if a wide semi can do it on the outside lane, so can you (it’s really not that bad).
As you near Ouray, you’ve lost some elevation and the canyon begins to widen once again.
Dubbed the “Switzerland of America,” Ouray is nearly surrounded by rocky peaks.
Check out Ouray from this lookout just south of town and it’ll give you a good overview.
Most of the Victorian-era buildings are nicely restored and sit proudly along the streets of town.
To Go or No
Go. If you drive along the Million Dollar Highway, you’ll see some of the best mountain scenery Colorado has to offer – at least while you’re sitting in a vehicle (you’ll be extra rewarded if you get out of the car and go take a hike. And I mean that in a good way :).
Be prepared to actually pay attention when making this drive. Tough as it may be for some, you’ll want to put down your phone, stop drinking your coffee and refrain from messing with the radio. Not only will you want to take in the scenery, but you’ll want to make sure your car stays on the road because it’s a narrow one.
Something to keep in mind is that there basically are no pulloffs during this stretch. So if you want to take photos, be prepared to snap them through your windows as you drive because stopping on the road is a no-no.
Be sure to take some time to explore both Ouray and Silverton. They’re both super cute little towns and some of the better looking ones in Colorado. Ouray also has some hot springs if you want to soak your bones.
Here’s a map of the Million Dollar Highway, which is also part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway (I also posted some photos of the San Juan Skyway to Telluride & San Juan Skyway from Durango to Silverton).
Have fun and be safe!