Known as one of the top 10 scenic highways in the United States, The Million Dollar Highway is a must-do when traveling through the Colorado San Juan Mountains. However, RVers need to be aware that this is a mountainous road. It has steep grades, switchbacks, and lack of guardrails. Also, RVers should know the highway has little to no shoulder in the most inopportune places.
The “official” Million Dollar Highway is a 12-mile stretch of US Hwy 550 that starts south of Ouray. Although RVers shouldn’t pass up Ourway, the route traverses through the Uncompahgre Gorge, and the ghost town of Ironton to the summit of 11,018 ft at Red Mountain Pass.
The highway was originally carved out of the mountains in 1883 by Russian immigrant Otto Mears. Although the route was as a toll road to transport ore from mines in Silverton and Ironton to the railroad in Ouray, the origin of the highway is uncertain. There are several stories, however. These include it cost $1 million per mile to construct. Other stories entail that it was purchased for a million dollars, and that the dirt for fill contains $1 million in gold ore. While beautiful, locals are fond of saying, “you’d have to pay me $1 million to drive it in the snow.”
Although the 12-mile stretch built by Mears is the official Million Dollar Highway, many sources will list the entire 25-mile stretch of Hwy 550 as such due to the million-dollar scenery.
To admire the views, perhaps stop at the Yankee Girl Mine Overlook that has educational interpretive panels about the mining history of the Ironton area. You will find the overlook at N37° 54.890 W107° 42.130 just north of Red Mountain Pass.
The Million Dollar Highway
Traveling north from Silverton to Ouray puts your vehicle on the mountain side of the road, descending through Uncompahgre Gorge. Also, use lower gears to avoid overheating your brakes. Traveling south from Ouray to Silverton perches your rig on the precipitous edge of the highway. It then ascends through Uncompahgre Gorge without guardrails or shoulders. If the person in the passenger seat has a fear of heights maybe forgo traveling in this direction.
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