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San Juan Skyway

Scenic Byways or Routes
San Juan Skyway autumn scenery – Trust for Public Land

If byways could claim royal lineage, this one would probably rule them all. Start with the major towns along the route—Durango, a well-preserved descendant of the Old West; picturesque Telluride, renowned for world-class skiing and film, jazz, and bluegrass festivals; and Silverton and Ouray, Victorian jewels tucked in deep alpine valleys. Add another crown—Mesa Verde National Park, home to one of the densest collections of prehistoric ruins in the U.S.— and five million acres of undisturbed national forest. Then there are the roads themselves, snaking through the woods in the shadow of impressive 14,000-foot peaks. The segment from Ouray to Silverton is called the "Million Dollar Highway." But you can't put a price tag on this experience.

The San Juan Skyway was designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as an All-American Road, the highest level of designation, in 1996

Craving recreation at high elevation? Travel to the top of the world and back in time on the San Juan Skyway. Discover history and high times in the streets, gold mines, and railway stations of towns like Durango, Silverton, and Telluride. Enjoy rafting and water sports on the Animas River, or fish and boat on McPhee Lake, the second largest lake in Colorado. Join the many visitors who converge on the byway each year for bluegrass, jazz, folk, and film festivals. The byway is your open invitation to five million acres of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. Experience the ancestral homes of the Puebloan Indians at Mesa Verde, once voted the number one historic monument in the world. Enjoy it all on this 236-mile sampler of the best the Southwest has to offer.

The sheer cliffs and rugged terrain of the skyway boast some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. See crashing waterfalls in the spring as the snow melts in the higher mountains. Wildflowers garnish the alpine forests in the summer months, where the gilded amber, bronze, and gold of the aspens delight autumn visitors. Winter brings a glistening blanket of snow to the byway, perfect for quiet admiration or more active recreation.

The San Juan Skyway promises a fiesta for the senses any time of year. Skiing is one of its premier winter activities, filled with fresh powder and quality resorts. After the thaw, enjoy four-wheeling, bicycling, kayaking, dirt-biking, and motorcycle-touring with friends, or indulge in solitary backpacking, hunting, fishing, and photography in the lush landscape. There's rest and relaxation, too. You can browse town shops, soak in historic hot springs, stay in a Victorian lodge, or sleep under the stars in a forest campground. This playground in the sky promises something for everyone in every season.

Dramatic scenery and tempting sports are perfectly matched by the riveting history of the region. Nestled in the mountains to the south, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park exemplify the complexity of the ancestral Pueblos. Spanish conquistadors made their way through this area, and their discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains changed the nature of the country forever. Learn hair-raising stories of struggling settlers and rough prospectors in the ghost towns and historic mines along the byway. Historic shops and Edwardian inns await visitors to Durango, Silverton, and Telluride. Witness the power of progress at the railway depots and stations that turned these small outposts into roaring western whistle stops.


Driving Directions

The byway may be accessed from any of the communities and preceed in any selected direction. Here is an example starting from Telluride. Take 145 south through Rico and Dolores. Connect to Highway 160 to Durango, from Durango. Take Highway 550 through Silverton, Ouray, and Ridgway. Take Route 62 to Placerville and Route 145 back to Telluride.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

14,000–foot peaks, Victorian mining towns, hot springs, Durango and Silverton Railroad, Mesa Verde National Park, four wilderness areas.

Length of Byway or Route

236 miles

Nearby Places