U.S. Highway 550 runs north from central New Mexico all the way to the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 in Montrose, Colorado. This long pathway runs through the San Juan Mountains, which was not an easy terrain to build a road through. The expenses incurred for this engineering project amounted to a tidy sum of money back in the old days, which gave credence to the Million Dollar Highway nickname. The section of Highway 550 that is referred to as the Million Dollar Highway starts in Durango and then heads north through Silverton, Ouray and Ridgway before merging with U.S. Highway 50. Taking a scenic drive on the Million Dollar Highway is a pastime during any season of the year. The panoramic views along the way are nothing less than breathtaking and this is all the inspiration that is needed for doing the trip!
There are two National Forests in the San Juan Mountains that can be accessed along the Million Dollar Highway and three more big National Forests are located just a few more miles east or west from this road. The San Juan National Forest covers the vast wilderness area between Durango and Silverton. Just north of Silverton is where Uncompahgre National Forest can be found, which extends north of Ouray. The outdoor activity venues in these two National Forests are just about the same and each offers a variety of recreation themes that range from Nordic ski trails and ice climbing to mountain bike trails and paddle boarding on a mountain lake. The Alpine Loop 4x4 trails way up in the San Juan Mountains are world famous and Silverton is the most popular starting point. There are an extensive amount of campgrounds and primitive campsites in these two National Forests, so a casual cruise on the Million Dollar Highway can easily turn into a real adventure.
The distance between Durango and Silverton is about 50 miles, so this section of Highway 550 is perfect for a day trip scenic drive or a weekend overnighter. Points of interest along this section of the Million Dollar Highway include the Hermosa Creek Wilderness, Pinkerton Hot Springs, Haviland Lake, Molas Lake Park and a few picturesque 14,000 foot tall mountains. Along the highway there are many dirt side roads that go to primitive campsites, lakeside recreation areas and hiking trailheads. This highway traverses a few historic mountain passes from the old pioneer days and there are several roadside scenic overlooks that are perfect for an afternoon picnic. The views of the San Juan Mountains are as picturesque as can be, so a scenic drive on the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Silverton is guaranteed to be a winner every time.
The photos for this article were shot on the Million Dollar Highway from Hermosa Creek to just a couple miles south of Silverton. The trip was done during the summer monsoon rain season, which is when these mountains are green and lush. If you are into viewing beautiful green mountain landscapes, this is the best time to do the drive!
Cruising the Million Dollar Highway is a pastime in the San Juan Mountains and each season of the year presents dramatic views. During summer, this old highway is the top choice for motorbike rallies, car clubs and 4×4 safaris. From December through March, this region is a picturesque winter wonderland. Spring brings plenty of roaring cascades and waterfalls and a scenic drive on Highway 550 in autumn to see the leaves change color is popular to do too. With all this going on, it is easy to see why the Million Dollar Highway is one of the most popular scenic drives in Colorado, so be sure to chalk this old historic touring route high up on the list!
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