Colorado's San Juan Skyway
Southwest Colorado's famed San Juan Skyway, one of America's great scenic drives, covers the best of the San Juan Range, the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, teeming with 14,000 foot peaks. The region offers great scenic driving, hiking in wilderness areas, old west Victorian-style towns, great ski resorts, four wheel driving, relics of the mining era, and even a hot springs. (Photo, left: Molas Lake offers camping at over 10,000 feet.)
The route runs 233 miles, starting and ending in historic Durango, Colorado. It reaches an elevation of 11,018 feet at Red Mountain Pass. The segment north of Durango, US-550, is often called the Million Dollar Highway due to the area's former mining glory. Remnants of the former Red Mountain Mining District are on interpretive display just north of Red Mountain Pass. The route passes through the "old west" mining town of Silverton and the Victorian-style town of Ouray with its popular hot springs open to the public. The Purgatory Ski Area is also on US-550. (Photo right: American Basin, Alpine Loop)
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is perhaps America's most famous old west train ride. Using refurbished early equipment including huge, coal-fired steam locomotives, the railroad ferries thousands of visitors every year from Durango (elevation 6,500 feet), up the spectacular gorge of the Animas River to Silverton, nestled at 9,300 feet beneath 13,000 foot peaks. Reservations are recommended during the summer.
The adventurous may leave the main road between Silverton and Ouray to tackle the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway. The Alpine Loop leaves pavement and people behind, crossing the remote, rugged, spectacular heart of the San Juan Mountains. Four-wheel-drive is required. You will be climbing two passes which are over 12,500 feet. The reward is access to solitude and a very pristine mountain wilderness.
(Photo right: 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls, near Telluride)
At the town of Ridgway, the San Juan Skyway turns onto Colorado-62 for the exciting climb up Dallas Divide. The route then turns south on Colorado-145 for the return to US-160. It passes the famous ski resort of Telluride before climbing spectacularly to Lizard Pass. From there, the return to Cortez on US-160 is a gentle decline through lush forests offering beautiful colors in the autumn. Durango is 43 miles east of Cortez. Along the way, you will pass Mesa Verde National Park with its famous cliff dwellings.
Map of Colorado's San Juan Skyway
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Best in the West Guide - Spectacular Scenic Routes