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.
There are many sites and attractions to see in this region. So, perhaps discover Yankee Boy Basin or experience a unique adventure in Durango.
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.
RVing the Million Dollar Highway is just another adventure in RVing!
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Marc Rodstein says
I know that people do it, but personally I would not drive the northern section (Ouray-Silverton) of the Million Dollar Highway in a Class A RV. It is very narrow with no guard rails and extremely steep dropoffs on the side of the road. There are 18-wheelers that travel the highway and if you meet face to face with one of these at the wrong place, you would hard-pressed to avert a catastrophe. This is a great road to drive in your toad. Trust me, you will not enjoy the scenery on a big rig.
The southern section from Silverton to Durango is much easier and is okay in any vehicle.
Bill Simpson says
I have driven a class A pulling a 28 foot trailer from Durango to OURAY 3 times.
There is another route from I70 down I think 24 working our way to Bryce Canyon on I think 12 where u drive the top of the mtn. It is basically about 24′ side to side this is one route I would not want to drive in the dark or drunk. I Just drops off right at the edge, thankfully once through there we found a place to pull in and recoup for the the night.
We did the very route your talking about here though being from Canada there were some pretty scary areas but I remember the climb up to the top, parking stepping out the door and almost passing out from the height once sitting okay again, We stopped long enough for lunch then headed down the hill taking our time. We were driving a Class A 26′ Rexhall with first year V10 stuck it in 2nd and took our time.
Cannot be much different than driving the Coke in the winter months, summer is a dream.
Anne Hhartmann says
I drove that section last summer in a class A pulling a CRV. No problems. Absolutely beautiful!!!!
On your way over look for the monument to the snow plow operators who lost their lives up there.
Ron Mayfield, aka Maddad says
Drove around in a big loop and came down south from and to Durango on my motor cycle several years ago. Got really cold on the high peaks, but was a terrific ride.
Rick Peluso says
I drove this road in a car and had white knuckles but it was great. And was a passenger on the Durango-Silverton excursion bus north to Silverton. Kudos to all drivers of big rigs traversing this fantastic thrilling road. No ride in any theme park anywhere matches this experience. No guardrails cause there’s no footing for them. The wild west at its best! People go to Europe for the Alps when America’s Rockies just as majestic.
I drove Silverton to Ouray last July in my 40′ Monaco. Disconnected my F150 tow and had my son drive behind me. Beautiful scenery… at least from what my wife told me. I was too busy watching the road! Fun drive but not for the novice RV driver. Enjoy!!
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
I know what you are saying. I could appreciate it more after looking at the photos my wife took out / through the window while I was driving.