The Million Dollar Highway is one of the best drives in Colorado in the USA, but it is also one of the most dangerous roads in the country. It is a famous spectacular place with marvelous scenic beauty, risky turns, and snow pits. It is considered an engineering feat even today, and its construction was like an engineering miracle. Also, the legend of the naming of the Million Dollar Highway remains quite mysterious!
Where is the Million Dollar Highway?
Million Dollar Highway Colorado road was originally built by Otto Mears in 1883 with the purpose to connect Ouray with Ironton and is located in the Colorado state.
Being part of San Juan Skyway, the section from Silverton to Ouray, in Colorado is called Million Dollar Highway and is actually a part of the US 550 route. From the south of Ouray, it is only 19 kilometers (12 miles). The length of the whole highway is 40 kilometers (25 miles).
Be very careful while driving on this scenic road. It will be a breathtaking and sweetening experience for you if it’s your first road adventure. You will find frequent patches of snow at small intervals and sometimes you may face an entire blockage of the Million Dollar Highway.
Don’t try to drive fast or take snaps during driving. Avalanches and landslides can be fatal for you if you are even a bit careless. Let your partner take snaps. Narrow lanes and S-shaped curves can make you feel stuck and frightened.
You can locate the Million Dollar road on the map below:
Enlarge the map
Is the Million Dollar Highway Open?
The road is open all year round. However, the condition can be very hard especially in winter or during rainy days: slippery roads and low visibility are common on the road. Also, the area is known for having some avalanches quite often and there is always a risk that it can pass through the road itself.
The temperatures can also be extreme, very low in winter but also very high in summer. You should always have the right equipment with you. For example, in winter you may need to have snow tires or snow chains with you.
If you are a driver, you cannot enjoy all the splendid scenery and panorama of wildflowers along the mountain climbing paths will you driving. So don’t hesitate to park your car or bike and look at the dope landscapes!
Although the road was built 100 years ago, its construction is still very impressive. The state of Colorado should also build a safety setup. Guard rails and barriers are necessary things, the road is high frequented, especially by tourists during the high season. Otherwise, an adventure can take someone’s life. A lot of people ad this scenic road to their Colorado road trip must do.
Also, be aware that this road remains dangerous and the topic of Million Dollar Highway deaths is sadly often in local news. If you are on a 4×4 car you can drive the Black Bear Pass nearby.
Facts about the Million Dollar Highway
The road is a two lines highway that is a 40 kilometers (25 miles) section of the US route 550 (also called the San Juan Highway).
From where comes the name of One Million Dollar Highway? Well, we hear that a million dollars per mile were spent to build this highway, that’s why it is called the million dollar highway. But some people name it for million views or scenic beauty that is worth more than a million dollars. However, it is considered that the true origin of the name is from a meeting of the construction company where a person said the road will cost one million dollars (a lot of money for such a section of road, especially at the beginning of the 20th century).
The road passes through the Red Mountain Pass which is 3350 meters (11000 feet) above sea level.
No guardrails, no barriers, narrow turns, avalanches, steep cliffs, passes, and mining operation sites will make you believe that it’s a great adventure to drive on this road. On the other hand, you won’t be able to forget the fantastic scenes like waterfalls, snowflakes, mountains, etc.
If you like to collect mountain passes, you should note not far away from Silverton they are also two famous ones: Coal Bank Pass at 3240 meters (10650 feet) and the Molas Pass at 3340 meters (10975 feet).
Why is it called the Million Dollar Highway?
It was built more than 100 years ago but did never lose its attraction. It is the same now as it was before.
Otto Mears, a Russian immigrant, who built this road was an entrepreneur and a successful road and railroad builder. He started the construction of the road in 1883. The construction was too hard and not all the road was built. Otto Mears thought about abandoning the road project and replacing it with only a railroad.
At the beginning of the 1920’s the construction restarted and The route was rebuilt in 1924 and then become part of the US Route 550
As the costs of the building were very high (hence the name) it was decided to make it a paid road. As a result, the road was one of the first toll roads in the United States.
Even today, 100 years after it was built the road is an engineering miracle and is very impressive. If you have some knowledge of road engineering you will be very surprised how they managed to build a road like that a century ago.
How to get to the Million Dollar Highway?
In order to drive the Million Dollar Highway, you should drive the San Juan Skyway (the US route 550). The section named the Million Dollar Highway started in Silverton and ends in Ouray in Colorado. If you are coming from Denver you can also make a detour via the Loveland Pass which is quite amazing by the way! Then, you can drive through the Monarch Pass.
You visualize how to get there on this Million Dollar Highway map of the drive:
Things to do nearby the Million Dollar Highway:
Get time to explore San Juan Forest during your journey. Havilland Lake is also a must-do there. You can go fishing, hiking or hunting. Camping is also a good idea during the late spring or summer.
Join the plenty of birds in Ouray and don’t miss 285-foot Box Canyon falls. Ouray is a classical Colorado mining town but the landscapes are very incredible there. In fact, Ouray is also called little Switzerland because of its climate and landscapes: a little town in the valley surrounded by mountains. It gives a real impression that you are somewhere in the Swiss Alps. Take some time to hike there you won’t regret that!
You can see the abandoned mines during your entire journey. You will feel as if you are visiting this road in ancient times. Stop at the abandoned Idarado Mine or Ouray mines and walk there, you will feel a special mood as if you are in a ghost city.
Try to be very cautious while passing through Red Mountain Pass. A little mistake can be fatal for you. So adapt your speed there and drive even more slowly there during winters. Just take snaps of the dramatic scenes and move ahead.
If you drive the road in winter, and you are a ski or snowboard fan you will be very happy: near Silverton, you will find a non-common ski resort. Indeed, Silverton Mountain is a ski resort with only one lift and a huge area of off freeride skiing. You even can practice heliskiing there. Also, if you have a 4×4 car you can drive through the Imogene Pass, but check the details before!
If you want a more habitual place to ski, you should consider the Telluride ski resort. It is not on the One Million Dollar highway, but quite close to it.
A preview of this scenic road:
Today, with modern technologies, we have the chance to have a lot of possibilities. One of them is that you can have a preview of the Million Dollar Highway. So if you are planning a road trip in the area watch this 4K youtube video:
If you are driving the San Juan Skyway, you should definitely take a look at the Million Dollar Highway you won’t regret it. Remember that it is considered one of the most dangerous road trips in Colorado with bad conditions, especially in winter! But your reward will be a drive on one of the world’s best drives!
Pictures sources: Mike McBey & Felix Lamouroux on flickr.
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