Coal Bank & Molas Passes on the San Juan Skyway


Whether you decide to drive between Durango and Silverton, or take the train, you’re in for a visual treat (although the train takes a slightly different route, and the tracks are almost never visible from the road).  The 48 mile route crosses two engine-straining mountain passes.

coal bank pass, san juan skyway

The first is Coal Bank, at 10,640 feet.

engineer mountain from molas pass, colorado, san juan skyway

Drive just a few more miles and you’ll find a great lakefront park atop the second pass, Molas Pass, which tops out just 90 feet shy of the 11,000 mark.

The above picture shows coal bank summit on the left.  The higher peak on the right is Engineer Mountain, which tops out at 12,968 feet.

turk's head mountain, san juan skyway

More mountains, visible from the park: Turk’s Head is on the right (elevation 12,734 feet), and an unnamed peak on the left (12,849 feet).

lake along san juan skyway near molas pass

You can park at the viewpoint and walk to the lake, or follow the paved road as it circles around to a larger parking area.  I imagine on a calm day, you’d see a great reflection of the mountains on the water’s surface.

US Rte. 550 between Durango and Ouray is often referred to as the “Million Dollar Highway”.  While that name would certainly apply to the entire route, it technically refers only to the narrow, steep stretch of road between Silverton and Ouray.  We’ll talk more about that stretch of road later.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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