back to articles | August 22, 2023 | Greg Thibodeau

Categories: Useful Automotive Information

San Juan Scenic Skyway Road Trip: A Colorado Experience

Explore Colorful Colorado by embarking on a road trip that takes you through the scenic San Juan Skyway. From the dusty lowlands to the snowy speaks, see a rainbow of colors.


Experience all of the colors of Colorful Colorado while on a road trip that covers the San Juan Scenic Skyway. The 236-mile loop includes Route 550, 62, 145, 184, and 160. This scenic road trip route will take drivers from the valley lowlands to the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains. While the loop is driveable and popular throughout the year, the best time of year to take this road trip is during the spring and summer. During this time, you don't have to worry about avalanche road closures at the highest peaks. The wildflowers are also in full bloom, and the wildlife is most active. Travel + Leisure named the San Juan Skyway one of "America's Best Spring Drives" in 2012.

Million Dollar Highway

A 25-mile section of the San Juan Scenic Skyway is called the Million Dollar Highway. It stretches between the towns of Silverton and Ouray. The narrow two-lane road is not for the faint of heart. Drivers will encounter hairpin turns with no guardrails as it twists and turns over three of the highest mountain passes in the United States. Due to the extreme nature of the road, it is not advisable to drive during the winter. Road closures can happen due to avalanches with no notice.

There are several theories as to how the road got its name. Some say it's the breathtaking views. Others say it is from the cost of construction. Then there is the rumor about the large amount of gold ore that is in the road's building material. Finally, some claim it is named for the amount of gold and silver in the area.

Historic Towns

If you drove the entire skyway straight through, you could complete your road trip in 6-7 hours. However, this isn't what a road trip is all about. Plan a relaxing two to three-day road trip that will give you plenty of time for stops along the way.


The city of Durango is a perfect place to start and end your road trip. Founded in 1880, it is the largest town on the route. The downtown area is perfect for strolling, with its Victorian buildings and gas-lit street lamps lining the main thoroughfare. Town residents celebrate its heritage by carefully restoring and preserving historic buildings. Not everything is old in Durango, though. It is known as the "Hollywood of the Rockies" as the town and surrounding wilderness has served as a movie set for over 30 Hollywood movies.


Nestled into the San Juan Mountains, Silverton is a hidden gem at 9,318 feet. Rising up on either side of this valley town are steep mountain peaks. As a classic boom town, visitors can explore old silver and gold mines, vintage railroads, and elegant hotels. The mock gun fights are sure to thrill and are a welcome break from strolling the beautiful streets lined with shops and restaurants. Silverton is an elegant example of the affluence that successful mining brought to the area. This can clearly be seen with the gold-domed courthouse in the heart of downtown.


Step into a different world by including a stop in the town of Ouray. Affectionately called the "Switzerland of America," as it is full of Victorian buildings. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool on Main Street is what makes the town famous. This public pool is fed by underground hot springs that create billowing plumes of steam to rise high into the air.


The movies True Grit and How the West Was Won were filmed in the wild west town of Ridgeway. Experience the old west, soak in the Orvis Hot Springs, and wander through the Ridgway Railroad Museum.


As the most famous town along the San Juan Scenic Skyway, Telluride is a must-visit for snowsport enthusiasts. However, the town itself is worth visiting with its gingerbread architecture. Taking you back to the 1800s, Telluride was home to Butch Cassidy's first bank robbery. The town got its name from an extremely rare compound that's often found with gold and silver. Unlike the more elegant towns along the Skyway, Telluride has a more rough-and-tumble feel. The downtown buildings feature brick and colorful clapboard facades.

National Parks and Natural Wonders

In addition to restored historical towns, there are several national parks and wonders that are worth stopping at. Many feature carefully preserved ancient buildings and natural rock formations.

Chimney Rock Archaeological Area

Covering seven square miles, Chimney Rock is home to over 200 ancient homes and buildings. It is the highest of Chacoan sites at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The site includes a preserved multi-family dwelling, pit house, great house pueblo, and great kiva.

Lizard Head Pass

Keep an eye out for Lizard Head Pass. Native Americans have used the pass for thousands of years. You will know it by the 10,222-foot monolith that looks like a reptile head.

Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum

The San Juan Scenic Skyway offers to enrich historical experiences that go far beyond the 1800s. Located in the town of Dolores, the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum is a must-visit. See the ancient Pueblo settlements and visit the Anasazi Heritage Center. Stand in a full-scale replica of a pit house dwelling. Admire the Montezuma Valley from the center's bluff location.

Mesa Verde National Park

For over 700 years, the Ancient Pueblo people made their homes and communities on the cliffs of the Mesa Verde. The natural rock structures are protected from the harsh summer sun while allowing for maximum warmth of the winter sun. With villages of more than 150 rooms, these unique dwellings once housed over 200 people. Despite being built in the 12th century, they are remarkably preserved thanks to decades of careful excavation.

The San Juan Scenic Highway takes road trippers on a journey that showcases the best that America has to offer. See the low valleys full of wildflowers to some of the tallest snowy peaks in America. Admire the wild animals that call these great lands home as they roam free. Turn each pit stop into a rich cultural experience and the American West.

Plan a trip that takes you through the heart of Colorado on the San Juan Scenic Highway. Stop at the historic towns and immerse yourself in the American West. Appreciate the breathtaking views as you cruise down the Million Dollar Away and cross Lizard Head Pass. Finish your trip by exploring the ancient communities of the Pueblo people. Find out how myAutoloan can help you buy the perfect vehicle for your scenic road trip.