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Ultimate Colorado Road Trip: San Juan Skyway

San Juan Skyway (Mount Sneffels)

Along the 233-mile San Juan Skyway in Colorado’s rugged San Juan Mountains, you’ll encounter incredible views, intrepid history, and endless outdoor adventures, which make it the ultimate Colorado road trip. Many parts of The Million Dollar Highway, the section of road between Silverton and Ouray, have drop-offs that lack guardrails and will surely get your heart pumping! The San Juan Skyway was designated as a National Forest Scenic Byway in September 1988. It was later named a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway in 1989 and an All-American Road in September 1996.

San Juan Skyway Quick Facts

  • Distance: 233 miles
  • Travel Time: Allow 8 hours if you’re driving straight through without any major stops
  • Suggested Time: Take a full week to enjoy the splendor of the San Juan Skyway

Suggested San Juan Skyway Itinerary

Durango->Silverton->Ouray->Telluride->Mesa Verde

Durango and Silverton Railroad
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado, USA

San Juan Skyway Stop 1: Durango

Located on the southern edge of the San Juan Mountains, the City of Durango is the hub of southwest Colorado. Fort Lewis College gives Durango a bit of a college-town feel. The Animas River cuts through the middle of the town – it’s a boatload of fun to watch kayakers and rafters run the waters through town! 🙂

Activities:

  • Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a national historic landmark, for a scenic ride deep into the San Juan Mountains via steam locomotive
  • Visit a brewery – Carver Brewing Company, Ska Brewing Company, Steamworks Brewing Company, and Durango Brewing are all great options
  • Take a hike on the Colorado Trail (Durango is the beginning or the end)
  • Mountain bike through Horse Gulch Open Space
  • Visit historic downtown – including its shops and famous Strater Hotel
  • Visit Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs for a relaxing soak and massage
Animas River Near Silverton
Animas River Near Silverton

San Juan Skyway Stop 2: Silverton

The drive from Durango to Silverton is jaw dropping. You’ll catch glimpses of Durango Mountain Resort, Engineer Mountain, and the Needles as you rise over and fall down from Molas Pass. Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains between Red Mountain Pass and Molas Pass, Silverton is a small town with plenty of charm and grit. Experience its mining history or get outdoors. You can go 4x4ing, backcountry camping and hiking, fishing, skiing, and so much more.

Activities:

  • Tour the Old Hundred Gold Mine
  • Ski Silverton Mountain – this is an expert skiing area only!
  • Visit historic downtown, the Grand Imperial Hotel, and The Teller House historic hotel
  • Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a national historic landmark, for a scenic ride deep into the San Juan Mountains via steam locomotive
Ouray, Colorado
Ouray, Colorado

San Juan Skyway Stop 3: Ouray/Ridgway

The 25-mile long, nail-biting stretch of the byway between Silverton and Ouray is called “The Million Dollar Highway” because of how much money it took to build it (and the mining riches you’ll see along the way). The Town of Ouray is located in a stunning box canyon and is named for the Tabeguache Ute Indian chief who sought peace and friendship with white settlers in the 1800s.

Activities:

  • Visit one of the amazing hot springs in the area: Ouray Hot Springs Pool or Orvis Hot Springs (clothing optional)
  • Drive up to Yankee Boy Basin to enjoy the spring flowers
  • Ice Climb in the Ouray Ice Park, easily one of the best ice climbing areas in the world
  • Enjoy beers at Ouray Brewing Company or Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company
Telluride, Colorado
Telluride, Colorado

San Juan Skyway Stop 4: Telluride

Telluride is an historic mining camp that is today an unbeatable ski and summer vacation destination. Its downtown, a national historic district, is well preserved and has incredible charm. And there are countless hiking opportunities that take off right from the center of town, most notably the Jud Wiebe Trail and Bridal Veil Falls Trail.

Activities:

  • Check out the Telluride Bluegrass Festival or Telluride Blues Festival
  • Hike to Bridal Veil Falls
  • Catch a show at the Sheridan Opera House
  • Grab a Face Down Brown at the Telluride Brewing Company
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park

San Juan Skyway Stop 5: Mesa Verde National Park

The byway eventually loops to the south and visits Rico, Stoner, Dolores, and Mesa Verde National Park. Rico is home to Dunton Hot Springs, but visiting Dunton sure isn’t cheap! Mesa Verde contains the famed cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people – including the Spruce Tree House (the best-known ruin). Mesa Verde is easily accessible from Cortez and Durango.

Activities:

  • Grab a sandwich and homemade cookie at the Absolute Bakery & Café in Mancos (easily one of the best bakeries in Colorado)
  • Spend a day or two discovering Mesa Verde National Park
  • Visit Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
  • Participate in an archeological dig with Crow Canyon as a “citizen scientist”

Colorado Road Trip Information

Are you looking for some additional tips and tricks for the road?  Plan your next Colorado road trip with Nomad Colorado’s 6 easy tips.  Or download our road trip playlist.  Share some of your favorite experiences and tips by commenting below.

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