Start in Ouray, and Finish in Ouray, this drive encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery in Colorado!
Whether you are travelling in a vehicle, or on your motorcycle, a trip on the San Juan Mountain Skyway is a great way to tour Southwest Colorado.
Because it is a circular route, you can virtually start anywhere along the way. A favorite starting point for me, of course, is Ouray. Travelling south on Highway 550, the Million Dollar Highway, the trip begins with drastic views as it follows along the Uncompahgre Gorge.
The tiny town of Silverton beckons as an oasis, marking the “halfway” point between Ouray and Durango. Technically, there are still two passes to traverse prior to landing in Durango.
Home of the Silverton, Durango Train, Durango is a larger city with a small town personality. Everywhere you wander, there are welcoming smiles and friendly faces. Locals are eager to share the beauty of Southwest Colorado, and make you feel welcome. Of course, the same can be said of any town on the Western Slope. People seem to have a more relaxed, happy approach to life.
Continuing on the San Juan Skyway, the signs quickly direct you to the right onto Rte 160. Now you will head West toward Cortez. The roads are much more accommodating, as you follow along a straighter, less dramatic road into high country desert. Cortez is located just a few miles from Mesa Verde National Park. A person could spend hours, or even days, exploring this national treasure.
From Cortez, a hop onto Highway 145 takes our adventure toward the town of Telluride. Crossing over Lizard Head Pass, the scenery quickly returns to mountainous and breathtaking. Lizard Head Pass has less the dramatic drops then seen on the Million Dollar Highway, although it is no less spectacular.
At the roundabout outside of Telluride, a turn to the right will take you into town. A left will carry you on toward Placerville. Telluride is only 17 miles from Ouray as the crow flies, but it is faster to take the highway. A quick visit to the town is quite an experience though. The ski slopes are easily distinguished regardless of the time of year. Many of the ski runs are actually taken advantage of in the warmer months by mountain bikers.
Just past Placerville at the end of Highway 145, turn right on Highway 62, to Ridgway. The road takes you up and over Dallas Divide, a deceptively smooth curve that seems to go on forever. Only ten miles from Ouray, Ridgway houses the Railroad Museum and a walking Tour of all of the filming sites of the Original True grit movie. At the base of the San Juans, Ridgway boasts broad expanses of ranch-land and a variety of cattle, sheep, and even a camel and some yaks!
Our final turn on the San Juan Skyway is at THE stop light, (the only one in Ouray County), turn right again to return to Ouray. The terrain turns again to mountains, as the highway curves toward your destination, the tiny box canyon town of Ouray.
You can complete the entire trip in just one day, or, take your time and explore all of the wonders that await at every turn! All of us at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs are waiting to welcome you back to your home away from home. Once you arrive, take a long leisurely soak in one of our all natural mineral hot spring tubs as the miles fade away into a warm, relaxed place.