San Juan Skyway
- DesignationAll-American Road (1996)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric, Scenic
- Length233 miles
Travel the "road to the sky" which offers views from the towering 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains to rolling hillsides speckled with ancient Indian pueblo ruins. Victorian towns offer both excitement and relaxation. Soak in hot springs, ride the narrow-gauge railroad, and sleep under the stars or in a cozy lodge.
Story of the Byway
From road to sky, the San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway is an essential trip through popular mountain Colorado towns, like Durango, Silverton, Telluride and Ouray. With the 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains towering above, the route moves through hills and Indian pueblo ruins, and offers all manner of recreation—from hot springs to ski slopes, even a narrow-gauge railroad. Travel + Leisure named San Juan Skyway one of “America’s Best Spring Drives,” most notably for its spectacular views.
Starting at the southern edge of the San Juans, the town of Durango was strategically positioned for a railroad, becoming a train hub and commerce center by the 1880s. Modern-day Durango offers a walking tour to visit the saloons and historic homes of that time. Also on the tour is the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot and the Strater Hotel—once a popular destination for railroad barons. All aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a scenic ride into the San Juan Mountains by way of steam locomotive.
Continue along the byway into the towns of Silverton and Ouray, a stretch known as “The Million Dollar Highway,” a nod perhaps to the gold ore that remained in the roadway’s fill during construction. Ouray has preserved many mining-era buildings and is home to the Ouray County Historical Museum, located in the brownstone Miner’s Hospital built in 1887.
Once a mining camp and now a popular tourist destination, Telluride honors its past with its national historic district and many well-preserved buildings, such as the New Sheridan Hotel and the Sheridan Opera House. Learn more about the history of the town in the Telluride Historical Museum. With its ideal position in a box canyon amid forested peaks, Telluride is a popular destination for skier and golfers.
From here, the byway loops to the south and passes through the town of Dolores and Mesa Verde National Park. This area is known for its history with the Ancestral Puebloan people and their famous cliff dwellings. Positioned in a landscape of deep canyons and sprawling vistas, the park is home to over a thousand species and protects a rich cultural heritage of 26 tribes. This part of the San Juan Skyway overlaps with the Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway.
From Durango, take US-160W for 45 miles to Cortez, then take CO-145N to CO-62E/State Hwy 62, following this road to US-550S until it returns to Durango.
Points of Interest
Anasazi Heritage Center
The Anasazi Heritage Center, also known as Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum, is an archaeological museum of Native American pueblo and hunter-gatherer cultures located in Dolores, Colorado.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwest Colorado, is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace.
Ouray Hot Springs
Located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, once used by Ute Indians, Ouray Hot Springs are a true gem of the Rocky Mountain Region.
Mancos State Park
Mancos State Park is a Colorado state park located near Mesa Verde National Park, the West Mancos Trail and the San Juan Skyway.
Ridgway State Park
Ridgway State Park is a state park located in Ouray County, Colorado.
The Million Dollar Highway
Starting from Durango, heading north through the San Juan National Forest, take a leisurely drive or hop aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Once in Silverton, select from many lodgings before heading into nature. Spend the remainder of your day in a Jeep or an ATV, in a raft or on a mountain bike. Alternatively, experience Silverton’s heritage tourism—a visit to the historical society, a gold mine tour, or a visit to a nearby ghost town. Return to town for a leisurely dinner and a good night’s sleep.
Grab a quick breakfast before heading out on The Million Dollar Highway. This 23-mile stretch requires all your attention, as it hugs cliffs on narrow lanes, often without guardrails. Upon arriving to Ouray, known as The Switzerland of America, check into an inn or chalet before exploring town. Hike through the Box Cañon Falls or relax in the sulfur-free hot springs. Return to town for a nice dinner and a walk through the creative district. In the morning, continue along the byway to complete the loop, or return the way you came.
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