Between Silverton and Ouray, US Rte. 550 is better known as the Million Dollar Highway. It’s also one of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring stretches of pavement you’ll ever drive.
After making a quick climb from Silverton to Red Mountain Pass, you’re in for a quick drop in altitude, thanks to several sharp switchback curves that demand a speed of 15 mph or less.
These curves begin the drop into Ouray.
Stop at a scenic overlook for this view of one of the three Red Mountains (the peaks aren’t named, just numbered 1, 2, and 3). The turnout also provides a great view of the remnants of the old Yankee Girl Mine.
The Yankee Girl Mine was the site of the first successful strike in the Red Mountain area, back in 1882. For more on the history of the area, and some great pictures of the nearby mines, visit the Red Mountain Project’s website.
For the final few miles into Ouray, Rte. 550 clings to the steep mountainside, with very little space for error on either side.
If you travel the road in summer, it’s probably hard to imagine the conditions you would face in the winter. But there’s one, very clear, illustration of just how much snow falls on the roadway. When you reach this covered portion of the road (called a snowshed), pull off to the left side. When you look down into the valley…
… you’ll likely see a huge pile of snow. Just imagine, enough snow falls here in the winter, that some remains by the middle of August.
After you pass Ouray, the landscape changes from extreme mountains, to gently rolling hills and farmland.
Note: This trip was first published in 2005.