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The Million Dollar Highway, Colorado (video!) | Roadtrip USA (26)

We are really spoiled in Colorado. After we got in The Great Sand Dunes enjoyed sandboarding in the beautiful desert dunes, we also learned a lot about the native Indians in Mesa Verde† However, we are not planning to leave Colorado for the time being, because there is so much to see here! The next Colorado destinations include Silverton, Ouray, and Rocky Mountain National Park. But before we start, we first drive on the beautiful Million Dollar Highway. The Million Dollar Highway is next to Route 66 one of the most beautiful roads in the USA and this article is therefore purely focused on this unique route through the rockies.


The ultimate tour of North America

This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada in 2022, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and a once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.

The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl
The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl

We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Below is a handy overview in 5 expandable categories.

1. Preparation
2. Highlights & Itineraries
3. Cities & places of interest (AZ)
4. National Parks & Monuments (AZ)
5. Plan your vacation to America here

The Million Dollar Highway

In the late 1880s a special highway was built: The Million Dollar Highway. The road was intended to increase the accessibility of the many mining towns high in the mountains. The raw materials that were mined (mainly gold, silver and other metals) also had to be quickly and safely transported back to the factories in the cities. In the beginning this was mainly done with donkeys and horse and carriages. However, when cars and trucks took over, the road was completely paved and the Million Dollar Highway as we know it today was born.

This makes it one of the most spectacular rides in the United States. Put the standard safety measures such as crash barriers and roadsides out of your mind, because they are not here. The highway may not offer a lot of safety, but it does offer breathtaking views.

For more practical and historical information about the Million Dollar Highway, please refer to the section at the bottom of this article.

Staying at Haviland Lake

We had a busy day in Durango. Our clothes had to be washed, we needed some car parts and the groceries had to be done. In the end it was already late in the afternoon, so we decided to drive a bit towards Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway and look for a place to spend the night on the way.

Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway
Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway

About half an hour north of Durango is Haviland Lake. There is also a campsite here, where you may have facilities. However, we were not going to pay for this. After all, we were there just before sunset and planned to drive early the next morning.

We therefore decided to go wild camping at the lake. There was sufficient space to park along the water and we did not see any signs that it was not allowed.

We even had a terrace on the water!

Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway
Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway
Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway
Our wild camping spot on Haviland Lake | Million Dollar Highway

From Durango to Silverton

The Million Dollar Highway can in principle be divided into two parts. The first part is from Durango to Silverton. This road meanders beautifully through the mountains, but it is not really that extreme yet. I made a video as we covered this stretch in about 1,5 hours in our 4×4 camper. This video can be viewed at the top of the page.

Driving in this section was really enjoyable, because as a driver I could also just look around me. In addition, we could occasionally stop at beautiful viewpoints, such as these:

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The second part is different! There I really had to keep my eyes on the narrow road all the time. When we finally got to Silverton I saw a section where I could stop on the side. There I could relax and we had a perfect view of the town.

Silverton, Colorado. Photo taken from the Million Dollar Highway
Silverton, Colorado. Photo taken from the Million Dollar Highway

From Silverton to Ouray and Ridgway

The second part is from Silverton to Ridgway, but the part from Silverton to Ouray is what really matters. This section of the Million Dollar Highway is what everyone is talking about with deep cliffs, narrow, winding stretches and of course the constant danger of avalanches and rocks falling. I also recorded parts of it again, but unfortunately my SD card of the GoPro was also full at this time. Unfortunately, we miss most of the ride, at least on video.

Luckily we still have the memories

Information on the Million Dollar Highway

How long does it take to drive?

From Durango, via Silverton and Ouray, to Ridgway, the Million Dollar Highway stretches for approximately 80 miles (130 kilometers). The road is known in America as route number 550.

The road connects a number of high, well-known mountain passes, including:

  • Coal Bank Pass (10.640 ft/3.240 m) – Google Maps location here .
  • Molas Pass (10.970 ft / 3.340 m) – Google Maps location here .
  • Red Mountain Pass (11.018 ft / 3.358 m). – Google Maps location here .

The stretch between Silverton and Ouray, the stretch everyone is talking about, is only 25 miles (40 kilometers) long. In a passenger car, this journey takes about 45 minutes, according to Google. However, it took us 1,5 hours in our camper! They are really steep slopes of 8 to 9%, where the motor of the camper had to work hard to get up. We are unfortunately top heavy and not super manoeuvrable in the tight turns, so take it easy!

Our 4x4 RV on the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
Our 4×4 RV on the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado

Also read: The Highway 1 Ring Road Australia | How long does a full tour take?

When is the Million Dollar Highway open?

In principle, the road remains open all year round, but we have to add a caveat: The weather in this zone is very unpredictable. The snow season starts in October and due to snowfall, the road will often be temporarily closed in winter. Snow chains may then also be necessary to drive and in November to March they are often mandatory.

How Dangerous Is the Million Dollar Highway?

The ride can be frightening for those with a fear of heights. Rainy and stormy days sometimes cause nerve-racking waterfalls along the highway, which often flow over the road into the deep valley. So be careful while enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Avalanches, heavy snowfall and landslides can happen at any time and can sometimes block some parts of the road, which is extremely dangerous. snow tires or all-terrain tires with the right quality marks is therefore absolutely recommended if you are going to drive here.

Large parts of the Million Dollar Highway are also not equipped with crash barriers† This is because snowplows need to be able to push the snow off the curb in the winter months to keep the roads passable.

Finally,

The Million Dollar Highway is unique, not only in America but also beyond. You wind through immensely high mountain passes and drive along steep precipices without crash barriers. This is because heavy snowfall in winter means that the road has to be kept clear and the snowplows have to be able to push the snow into the deep valleys.

In addition, the entire region breathes history. This is where the mining of valuable metals such as silver, iron, bronze and gold started 200 years ago. The old buildings and Saloons from then are largely well preserved. The towns of Silverton and Ouray can therefore be seen as the icing on the cake after this beautiful ride.


Plan your vacation to America here


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Chris

Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!

– Travel 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
– 10 months USA & Canada in 2022
– Bucket List Destination: Antarctica
–Best Beaches:Philippines
– Best Food: Thailand
– Best Wildlife: Uganda
– Best City: Singapore
- Best roadtrip: Croatia

Stubborn & decisive world traveller
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