On Monday morning we left Haviland Lake and traveled north to our next destination. For a little over 50 miles we followed Rt. 550 up over two mountain passes, past the historic town of Silverton, and then wound our way up the famous Million Dollar Highway before reaching the charming mountain town of Ouray.
After climbing up and over the second mountain pass (Molas Pass- 10,910 ft.) we were treated to a view of Molas Lake. This is what I think of when I imagine a Colorado mountain lake- blue water surrounded by a meadow dotted with trees and snow capped mountains in the background. It really doesn’t get much more picturesque than this. In the photo below you can see a few of the lakeside sites at the Molas Lake Campground. Back when we considered spending a week in both Silverton and Ouray, this campground was high on our list of places to stay. Turns out it wouldn’t have worked for us even if we had decided to stop. For one there was not enough cell service for working purposes, and for two, they’re not open until June 1st. It was a gorgeous setting though and maybe someday we can come back and spend a weekend here.
A few miles past Molas Lake we spotted the town of Silverton below. A former silver mining camp, the tiny town of Silverton is now a tourist destination for those traveling the Million Dollar Hwy. The population is only a whopping 630, and the total area of the town is less than 1 square mile, but what it lacks in size and population it more than makes up for in charm and beauty.
We wanted to take a stroll through town so we turned off Rt. 550 and drove to the end of main street where we found some street side parking next to the town green.
After about an hour of walking around we loaded back in the truck for the final leg of the journey. The twenty-five mile stretch of highway from Silverton to Ouray is a known as the Million Dollar Highway. There are several theories as to origin of the road’s name. They range from cost of construction- one million dollars per mile back in the 20s when it was built, to a rumor that the fill dirt used to build the road contains a million dollars worth of gold ore. Or it could just be that the road is named after the million dollar views offered in nearly every direction. Whatever the source of the name, this was one amazing drive.
In some sections the road is very narrow and the absence of guardrails only adds to the thrill of the journey.
We reached the top of Red Mountain Pass at the soaring elevation of 11,018 ft. This is officially the highest we have traveled with the airstream.
From the top of the pass we began the winding journey through a series of hairpin turns, up and down steep grades, and past the remains of mining operations before reaching the final section of the road that would take us into Ouray.
For the last seven miles the highway follows alongside the Uncompahgre Gorge. This section of the road is probably far more dramatic for those traveling south since the narrow road lies very near the edge of a steep drop off with no guardrails in sight. Our side of the road was fairly tame though, and even a bit disappointing since we couldn’t see down into the gorge.
Finally we passed the gorge and the valley below opened up to a view of the lovely town of Ouray.
Overall the Million Dollar Highway wasn’t a terribly challenging drive, even with the airstream in tow. Compared to some of the other roads we’ve traveled, like parts of Hwy 1 on the CA coast and the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier, this was not any more difficult or hazardous. In general, I would categorize the Million Dollar Highway as far more scenic than scary. The scenery was truly awesome though and we’re very glad that we chose this route as part of our Colorado adventure.
I want to go to Ouray! Where are you guys staying? I think we’ll be hitting most of your Colorado stops in October (weather permitting).
We’re at a private park called the 4J. We have a nice spot on the river within walking distance to town. Yesterday we drove around and looked at all the national forest spots nearby. There were some very nice tent sites, but nothing we could get to with the airstream. I think this is probably the best bet in town. My next post will have photos of our site and the town. It’s a pretty awesome place!
Beautiful photos. Great job capturing this gorgeous drive. I hear Ridgeway State Park is really nice….on our agenda for this summer. Happy trails :-)
I’ve also heard Ridgeway is beautiful. We need to keep moving if we’re going to make it through the state so we’ll have to pass it by…for this summer at least. Look forward to seeing what you find there.
We’ll be staying at Haviland Campground just north of Durango, this coming weekend, then plan to drive the Million Dollar up to Ridgway SP (with stops at Silverton and Ouray). FYI – have been to Ridgway in the past. Great campground, although a bit warmer since it below the mountains – when there last July it got into low 90’s. We liked the sites on top of hill best as they have some scrub trees and shade (elk ridge, loop D). But if you want access to the reservoir, the lower campground is best (Dakota terrace, loop C)
Oooh, thanks for the tips on Ridgeway. We drove past as we left Ouray and it looked gorgeous from the road. It’s on the list for next time!
Oh, my absolute favorite area of Colorado! The San Juans (and Ouray and Silverton) are just magical. It still might be a bit too early for the 4WD trails, but if some are open, do take the truck for a drive (Yankee Boy Basin off the Box Canyon road at Ouray is very well known and a pretty easy drive except for the last mile or so at the top). Wildflowers cover the meadows in July.
There’s a good place to boondock along the Forest Service campground road about 5 miles north of Silverton along the river. Good cell reception there too. Although nothing can beat the in-town convenience of the 4+4J. Hope you get to meet Mark and Bobbie (Box Canyon Blog) if you follow them. Bet they could recommend some great hikes.
I agree, we are totally in love with this area! Thanks for the tip on boondocking near Silverton. We’ll have to check that out when we come back (maybe next summer). Funny that you mention the Yankee Boy Basin Rd. because we just took that drive yesterday. Still lots of snow and no wildflowers yet. Again- we need to come back here. Also you’re the second person to mention the Box Canyon Blog. Guess we need to look them up before we leave town :)
Wow what a ride that was…just found your site. Beautiful country your in….just stunning!
Yup, it’s pretty amazing around here!
Beautiful pictures..my favorite city in Colorado..Ouray!