Tucked away in the breathtaking landscapes of Southwestern Colorado, a journey along Highway 550 is an epic adventure waiting to unfold. This scenic stretch of road, often dubbed the “Million Dollar Highway,” offers travelers a thrilling ride through towering peaks, alpine meadows, and historic mining towns. Strap in, as we embark on an unforgettable road trip from Ouray to Molas Pass.
Ouray: The Switzerland of America
Our journey begins in Ouray, a charming town nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Known as the “Switzerland of America,” Ouray is famous for its hot springs, which provide the perfect prelude to our adventure. Soak your cares away while gazing at the rugged peaks that surround you, as the anticipation of the road trip ahead builds.
Starting the Ascent
Leaving Ouray behind, we set our course northward on Highway 550. As the tires grip the asphalt, you’ll soon realize why this road is legendary. The highway immediately starts its ascent, revealing breathtaking vistas of the Uncompahgre Gorge and the sheer cliffs of the San Juans. Winding roads and hairpin turns keep you on your toes as you climb higher into the mountains.
Silverton: A Step Back in Time
Our first major stop is Silverton, a historic mining town frozen in time. The Wild West atmosphere is palpable here, as well-preserved buildings from the 19th century line the streets. Don’t miss the opportunity to hop aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, an iconic steam train that chugs through the Animas River Canyon.
The Alpine Wonderland of Red Mountain Pass
Continuing northward, the road leads to Red Mountain Pass, perched at a dizzying elevation of 11,018 feet. This alpine wonderland offers jaw-dropping views of the rugged peaks, and in the summer, colorful wildflowers carpet the hillsides. Be sure to stop at one of the numerous pullouts to capture the scenery with your camera.
Our Lady of the Rockies and Coal Bank Pass
Descending from Red Mountain Pass, you’ll reach the Our Lady of the Rockies shrine, a beautiful spot to pause and reflect. Soon after, you’ll tackle Coal Bank Pass, which offers sweeping views of the San Juan National Forest and its dense forests. In the winter, this pass transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Cascade Falls and the Descent to Molas Pass
As the road winds down, keep an eye out for Cascade Falls, a hidden gem accessible by a short hike. The sight of water cascading over moss-covered rocks is a refreshing break from the excitement of the drive.
Finally, you’ll arrive at Molas Pass, the culmination of this incredible journey. At an elevation of 10,910 feet, the panoramic views here are simply stunning. The alpine meadows stretch out before you, and the sense of accomplishment washes over you as you realize you’ve conquered one of Colorado’s most iconic drives.
The adventure along Highway 550 between Ouray and Molas Pass is a bucket-list experience for any road trip enthusiast. It’s a journey that offers not just incredible scenery but also a taste of the Old West and a glimpse into the rugged spirit of Colorado’s past. As you stand at Molas Pass, looking out over the vast wilderness you’ve just traversed, you’ll know that you’ve embarked on an adventure that will be etched in your memory forever. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime along the Million Dollar Highway.