CO-550 | Million Dollar Highway

  • Distance: 81.9 Miles (131.81 km)
  • Rating: 4-B, The twisty sections can be very technical, the steep grades and sheer dropoffs earn it a higher technical rating, but there are some moderately straight and easy sections as well. Ratings Explained »
  • Travel: North to South for best results
  • Start: Ridgeway, Colorado
  • End: Durango, Colorado
  • Fuel: Plenty of opportunities along the way.
  • Along the Way: Silverton (originally “Silver-by-the-ton”) is one of the highest town in the U.S. at over 9,300 feet, stop and buy a t-shirt, you’ll probably want something warm to drink too. Ouray was the location for the John Wayne film “True Grit” and is now one of the cutest tourist stops in the land.
  • Highlights: Gloriously technical cornering run along craggy mountains and even under avalanche sheds. Its cool! A couple of endlessly sweeping switchbacks near the top of Red Mountain Pass may require a couple of extra back and forth passes for the full effect.
  • Advisories: This road is treacherous. No guardrails, steep, sheer dropoffs and narrow lanes mean you need to stay on your toes. Lots of tourist traffic during peak times can take the fun away. Its best ridden during off times.

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While the road is actually only officially the “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton, the rest of 550 is actually the San Juan Scenic Byway. The origins of the name “Million Dollar Highway” are disputed. One version is that it cost a million dollars a mile to build in the 1920’s but our favorite is that there is a million dollars of gold-dust in the fill-dirt used for the road bed.

Leaving Ridgeway, the road gently sweeps along the base of towering rock walls and pastures of grazing animals, but after passing through Ouray, the highlight of the road commences (and our absolute favorite Colorado road). Gloriously technical corners cling impossibly to the side of the mountain, skirting beneath avalanche sheds and climbing aggressively towards Silverton, Colorado. Near the top, you’ll circumnavigate derelict silver mines before dropping into one of the highest towns in America.

Leave Silverton behind and you’ll get to climb up and over onto another mountain ridge-line where you’ll enjoy riding through barren mountain grasses, affording views that look as though they are the absolute top of the world while enjoying a sea of sweeping corners. The road will eventually mellow out and gradually drop you off into the town of Durango, Colorado.

You can ride this in either direction, but we prefer it from north to south because the section between Ouray and Silverton, our favorite bit, its best run north to south.

Road Rating System

The first part of our rating describes how technical we feel that road is. Numbers one through five with five being the most technical and one being a more mellow road with few challenging corners. The second half of the rating is a letter grade. A rating of “A” would be a road that is in great condition and a grade-F would be a crumbly, slippery or degraded surface.

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