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Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway

  • Published on: July 10, 2024
  • Last updated: July 10, 2024
  • By: Dave Miller

Million Dollar Highway Day Trip Guide

Use our guide to plan a day's drive adventure along the iconic Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. Explore the best short trails, roadside stops, waterfalls, vistas, ghost towns, and hot springs within a ~6 hour road trip.

View of Ouray - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org View of Ouray, CO

Colorado's historic Million Dollar Highway connects Ouray, "Switzerland of America", in the north to Silverton, located 25 miles to the south. The highway (US-550) passes through several mountain passes before reaching Durango, Colorado before it continues onward into New Mexico. This guide focuses on exploring public lands between Ouray and Durango where you'll find plenty of stops to add to your Million Dollar Highway bucketlist.

Exploring Ouray, CO

Starting in Ouray, you'll find several quick hits from massive waterfalls to stunning alpine vistas that surround the town.

Box Cañon Falls Park

On the west side of town, visitors will find the small but ultra-scenic Box Cañon Falls Park with its canyon waterfall and panoramic views of Ouray -- including a view of Lower Cascade Falls plummeting from a mountain located across the valley.

Box Cañon Falls Park requires a small entrance fee per visitor and is run by the town of Ouray. Note that this is the only pay-to-enter park in this guide. As of June 2024, adults were $7/person to enter.

Box Canyon Falls Trail

Box Canyon Falls Trail

Easy
0.2 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Water Source

Box Canyon Falls, located at Box Cañon Falls Park in Ouray sits on the west side of town where visitors will find a ~280-foot tall waterfall plummeting into Box Canyon. This easy walk leads visitors through the canyon along a metal suspension bridge that's affixed to the canyon walls. At the end of the trail, hikers will find the roaring waterfall as it rages down through the canyon. Watch your step, the metal bridge pathway can be very slippery.

High Bridge Trail

High Bridge Trail

Moderate
0.3 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views

The High Bridge Trail, at Box Cañon Falls Park in Ouray begins near the main trailhead entrance and leads up a series of stairs before following a rocky cliff side path to reach the top of Box Canyon. From the trail, hikers will find stunning panoramic views of Ouray. At the top of the canyon, you'll find a metal bridge that leads to a tunnel along with westward views into the deep chasm below. The tunnel provides a view of the top of Box Canyon Falls; however, this route ends at the bridge.

Box Canyon Nature Trail

Box Canyon Nature Trail

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views

The Box Canyon Nature Trail, located at Box Cañon Falls Park in Ouray is a very easy mostly-flat trail that runs along the eastern side of the park. The trail features views of Canyon Creek and the mountains surrounding Ouray.

View of Ouray from the High Bridge Trail - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org View of Ouray from the High Bridge Trail
Lower Cascade Falls Trail

Lower Cascade Falls Trail

Moderate
0.3 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Dogs (leashed)

The Lower Cascade Falls Trail at Uncompahgre National Forest is Ouray's largest and most prominent waterfalls, located on the east side of town. This short trail leads to the base of Lower Cascade Falls as it plummets ~330-feet downstream from a mountain cliff.

Switzerland of America Lookout Point

Switzerland of America Lookout Point

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Switzerland of America Lookout Point is located in Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway on the south side of town. This roadside stop is not a hike, but rather a very short out-and-back walk that features views of Abrams Mountain to the south and Ouray to the north. Visitors will find a small dirt trail that leads down from the north side of the parking area to a view of Ouray. This is a great spot to officially start your Million Dollar Highway road trip.

High Point Trail

High Point Trail

Moderate
0.6 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

The High Point Trail at Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado is a moderate but short 0.6-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a beautiful viewpoint high above the highway. The trail provides views of Abrams Mountain virtually the entire way. You'll find stunning mountain views surrounding the entire trail as you make your way up to High Point. Once at the High Point vista, you'll find The Amphitheater mountain bowl, carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, located to the east. Abrams Mountain sits to the south with a view over the Uncompahgre Gorge. While very short, this is another great hike around Ouray to start the trip before a long day of driving.

Bear Creek Falls Lookout

Bear Creek Falls Lookout

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Bear Creek Falls Lookout at Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado is an easy roadside stop with very minimal walking along a universally-accessible pathway to view the 150-foot tall Bear Creek Falls. During snow melt season, or after heavy rains, visitors will also find the tumbling mountainside Ralston Creek Falls, located across the valley, that cascades down the mountain at about 450-feet high. Visitors will also find another beautiful view of Abrams Mountain and the Uncompahgre Gorge from this lookout.

Uncompahgre Falls

Uncompahgre Falls

Moderate
0.1 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Uncompahgre Falls at Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado is a short off-trail hike that leads down the steep terrain of the Uncompahgre Gorge to reach a view from the top of the roaring waterfall. Here, you'll find views of the Uncompahgre Gorge north toward Ouray. Watch your step though as some of the terrain here is steep and sketchy!

Million Dollar Highway History

The highway was originally built as a toll road in the 1880's to connect Ironton to Ouray and features dangerous curves with no guardrails, active avalanche tunnels, and some of the best roadside scenery in the United States.

The highway cuts through Red Mountain Pass, Molas Pass, and Coal Bank Pass while featuring panoramic views, waterfalls, roadside stops, and historic mining ghost towns from a bygone era.

Exploring the Red Mountain Mining District

After leaving Ouray proper, travelers will pass through the Uncompahgre Gorge as the Million Dollar Highway leads up to Red Mountain Pass. This section of the highway is by far the most dangerous with no guardrails along sheer cliff dropoffs. Not long after driving up Red Mountain Pass, visitors will find a new mountain range to explore -- the Red Mountains.

View of Brown Mountain, Red Mountain #1, Red Mountain #2, and Crystal Lake - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org View of Brown Mountain, Red Mountain #1, Red Mountain #2, and Crystal Lake along the Million Dollar Highway
Crystal Lake (Hayden Trailhead)

Crystal Lake (Hayden Trailhead)

Easy
0.3 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Crystal Lake (Hayden Trailhead) at Uncompahgre National Forest south of Ouray, Colorado provides a short out-and-back hike for visitors to stretch their legs along a mostly-flat trail that encompasses the lake. This short section of the trail is simply a 0.3-mile out-and-back walk to take-in the views of Brown Mountain, Red Mountain #1, and Red Mountain #2. Crystal Lake is one of the only bodies of water along the Million Dollar Highway that's blue and clear. Most of the water that drains from the mountains along the highway is polluted by countless long-abandoned mines. The acid mine run-off turns the water orange and is full of toxic heavy metals and pollutants. Crytal Lake, however, appears to be used as a treatment lake before the water flows down into the Uncompahgre Gorge.

Abandoned Ironton Townsite Trail

Abandoned Ironton Townsite Trail

Easy
0.5 Miles
Features:
Camping Allowed
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

The Abandoned Ironton Townsite Trail in Ouray County, Colorado is a short and easy 0.5-mile out-and-back hike that leads to the historic, abandoned, ghost town of Ironton. Ironton was built in the late 1880s simply to mine the Red Mountain mining district, primarily for silver. Today all that's left of the once bustling town are just a handful of houses and structures. These historic buildings are up-kept by the county and local non-profits to preserve its history. Today, you can hike (or walk, really) out to the abandoned town site along a rugged dirt road to explore the buildings. Always leave nature and historic buildings better than you found them -- it's unlawful to take anything from the property or disturb the structures.

Red Mountain Mining Overlook

Red Mountain Mining Overlook

Easy
0.2 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

The Red Mounting Mining Overlook in Ouray County, Colorado is a roadside universally-accessible viewpoint that provides views of the Yankee Girl Mine and provides visitors with history of the Red Mountain mining district. This short walk includes houses within the ghost town of Idarado, Colorado.

View of Bear Mountain - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org View of Bear Mountain
Mineral Creek Tributary Falls

Mineral Creek Tributary Falls

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)
Water Source

Mineral Creek Tributary Falls & Vista in San Juan National Forest is a roadside stop that features seasonal waterfalls that spill down the mountainside to reach Mineral Creek in the valley below. Visitors will find the waterfalls located on the north side of the road along with a view of Bear Mountain on the south side of the road. The Bear Mountain view is separate, but located ~200-feet east along the Million Dollar Highway.

Abandoned Mineral Creek Mine

Abandoned Mineral Creek Mine

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Dogs (leashed)

The Abandoned Mineral Creek Mine at San Juan National Forest north of Silverton is a roadside stop that features an abandoned mine shaft building. This is not a hike but rather a short roadside walk (or roadside view) to reach the structure. Visitors must stay out of the structure at all times as the area is unsafe with abandoned mine shafts that drop hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface. Visitors can appreaciate the historical structure from afar.

Exploring Silverton to Molas Pass

After passing through the Red Mountain mining district, travelers will wind up in Silverton, Colorado. Silverton is a great spot to take a short break from the drive. You'll find plenty of eateries and coffee shops to refuel for the drive ahead. During out trip here, we stopped at Coffee Bear for an espresso shot for a little pick-me-up. Silverton is a neat little town that adorns old western vibes with its architecture along Greene Street to its dirt roads off of Greene. From Silverton, you'll be traveling up into the scenic Molas Pass next.

View from the Molas Pass Overlook - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org View from the Molas Pass Overlook along the Million Dollar Highway
Deadwood Gulch Cascades

Deadwood Gulch Cascades

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Dogs (leashed)
Water Source

The Deadwood Gulch Cascades at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is a quick hit roadside stop that features the small but scenic waterfalls and cascades within Deadwood Gulch. During snow melt season, or after a heavy rainfall, Deadwood Gulch shoots water down its rocky bed with dark green conifers that tower over the creek. This is a great spot to take a short break, especially if you skip heading into town in Silverton.

Molas Pass Overlook

Molas Pass Overlook

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

The Molas Pass Overlook at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is a stunning panoramic (almost 360-degree) view of the alpine mountains surrounding Molas Pass. This very short universally-accessible pathway leads from the parking lot up to a lookout point with views the entire way. Visitors will find views of Molas Lake in the valley below along with mountains like Snowdon Peak and Grand Turk Mountain.

Andrews Lake Trail

Andrews Lake Trail

Easy
0.8 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Andrews Lake Trail at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is a short 0.8-mile out-and-back hike that features stunning views of the alpine mountains in Molas Pass and Andrews Lake. This short hike begins at the upper-most parking lot, which features open meadow views with Engineer Mountain (and others) in the distance. It then leads down and around Andrews Lake to take-in more views of the breathtaking alpine scenery, located around 10,800-feet above sea level. We turned around on this trail due to the large amount of black flies in early June, but the trail encompasses Andrews Lake for additional hiking opportunities.

Lime Creek Overlook

Lime Creek Overlook

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Lime Creek Overlook at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is a roadside viewpoint of Twilight Peak and its snow-capped slopes (seasonal) located along the Million Dollar Highway. The overlook sits above Lime Creek with its lush valley below and Twilight Peak hanging overhead. This roadside stop is another great place to take a break along the drive.

Lime Creek Burn 1879 (Deer Creek Overlook)

Lime Creek Burn 1879 (Deer Creek Overlook)

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Lime Creek Burn 1879 (Deer Creek Overlook) at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is another roadside viewpoint on the Million Dollar Highway of Twilight Peak and its snow-capped slopes (seasonal), which boasts similar views to the roadside overlook up the road, Lime Creek Overlook. This overlook includes additional history about the wildfire burn in 1879 and provides visitors with a strange (likely long-abandoned) overlook pathway that leads down the hillside to reach similar views of Twilight Peak. Just another great roadside stop along the drive.

Coal Creek Falls Viewpoint

Coal Creek Falls Viewpoint

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Waterfall
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Coal Creek Falls Viewpoint at San Juan National Forest south of Silverton is a very short roadside walk that leads to views of the ~10-foot tall waterfall, Coal Creek Falls and is the last stop along the Million Dollar Highway just before Coal Bank Pass. There's a short trail that leads to the base of the waterfall, for a short 0.2-mile out-and-back walk, but you can also park and take a quick walk along US-550 to find views of Coal Creek Falls. Just watch for any on-coming traffic.

Meadow view and snow-capped mountains - Explore Colorado's Million Dollar Highway on MyHikes.org Meadow view and snow-capped mountains near Andrews Lake

Onward toward Durango

Once you pass Coal Creek Falls the Million Dollar Highway leads through Coal Bank Pass before it officially exists the high altitude mountain passes. There isn't much to see or explore for short walks or roadside stops after Coal Creek Falls, but there is one last stop along the way to Durango, Colorado -- Pinkerton Hot Springs.

Pinkerton Hot Springs

Pinkerton Hot Springs

Easy
0.1 Miles
Features:
Lookout/Views
Dogs (leashed)

Pinkerton Hot Springs north of Durango, Colorado is the very-last stop along this north-to-south Million Dollar Highway day trip drive. This roadside oddity is a multi-colored mineral hot spring that spews water at a consistent rate before it flows down the hill. The hot spring can be seen from the road and enjoyed by visitors with just a few steps from the parking turnout.

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