Million Dollar Highway: Know Before You Go

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A vehicle driving on the million dollar highway colorado

What do Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, and Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park have in common? They’re three of the most beautiful drives in America. They capture the essence of nature at its best.

But there’s a stretch of highway in Colorado that you don’t need a National Parks Pass to enjoy. It travels through the San Juan Mountains and reaches the peak of Red Mountain Pass at over 11,000 feet.

If you’re looking for a breathtaking – although perhaps terrifying – scenic drive, you’ll want to put the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado on your bucket list.

Let’s look at what you need to know before you make this drive! 

Where Is the Million Dollar Highway?

Built in the late-1880s, the Million Dollar Highway is located in southwestern Colorado. It’s about 25 miles of highway between Ouray in the north and Silverton in the south. It’s also part of Highway 550.

There are no guardrails along this beautiful stretch of highway that meanders through valleys and towering peaks. So it can be nerve-wracking for some drivers.

However, you’ll understand why it has earned its name once you drive the Million Dollar Highway.

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado?

If you drive without stopping, you can travel the Million Dollar Highway in less than an hour. However, who wants to do that? You’ll want to stop and explore along the way, so we suggest giving yourself at least two hours.

This is also a location in Colorado where you could spend an entire weekend. Ouray, Silverton, and Durango are great cities to explore. There are hiking trails, cute shops, restaurants, hot springs, rivers for paddling, local mining areas, and much more.

View of the million dollar highway colorado

Are RVs Allowed on the Million Dollar Highway?

RVs are permitted to drive on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. This road isn’t closed or limited to RVs of a certain height or length, like the Needles Eye Tunnel in South Dakota or the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel in Utah.

However, this highway is known for its steep cliffs and narrow lanes. There are no guardrails or shoulders. This leads to a lot of white-knuckle driving when you’re in a standard vehicle. So driving or towing an RV could be really, really stressful. We don’t suggest driving the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado if you’re a new RV owner or have never driven through mountainous terrain before.

As the driver, you won’t get to see much as your eyes will have to be focused on the tight turns and staying in between the lines. Your passenger will get a great view, though!

Is the Million Dollar Highway Open Year-Round?

Winter weather can sometimes cause closures. The Million Dollar Highway climbs Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass, all over 10,500 feet in elevation. Because of snowy conditions, you may need chains to travel the Million Dollar Highway safely.

It’s also worth mentioning how hazardous rainy conditions can be. The highway is already narrow and twists and turns as it climbs in elevation. Severe rain can limit your visibility, which can be extremely dangerous along this stretch of Highway 550 in Colorado.

Is the Million Dollar Highway Dangerous?

As mentioned, hazardous weather conditions can increase the danger of driving the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. However, if you’re traveling at a safe speed in normal weather circumstances, there’s no need to avoid this part of the state. You must stay alert. Expect to have sweaty palms, but also expect to have magnificent views.

Tips For Driving the Million Dollar Highway, Colorado

If you’ve decided to tackle the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, here are a few tips for safe travel. It can be dangerous, but the views are simply breathtaking. So don’t avoid the drive unless you have acrophobia.

Take A Dependable Vehicle

First, you don’t want to take your clunker along the Million Dollar Highway. That may be fine for getting around town, dropping the kids off at soccer practice, or driving to Sunday dinner at your mom’s house.

But you will stress your vehicle’s engine, brake system, transmission, and all the other components that make your vehicle go. Make sure to drive a dependable vehicle that will safely get you over these mountain passes.

Keep in Mind: Have you heard of the RVing 2/2/2 Rule? If not, you need to read this!

View of the million dollar highway colorado

Don’t Rush

Second, don’t be in a hurry. This scenic drive is meant to be enjoyed. Although you might be white-knuckle driving, there will be some views that you’ll be able to take in. This stretch of Highway 550 is not one to rush through. It’s not safe for you or the other drivers. You’ll drive about 10 MPH on many tight turns as you traverse the high elevations.

Build In Extra Time

You don’t want to rush, but you also want to leave ample time to stop and explore. Don’t give yourself 45-50 minutes to drive the 25 miles. Take two or three hours to stop for lunch, take photos, and enjoy the towns and views. As mentioned earlier, you could spend an entire weekend traveling between Ouray and Silverton. Build in extra time so you can stop whenever you want to.

Don’t Pass Without A Passing Lane

This should go without saying, but it’s essential when traveling the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. If you don’t have a passing lane, you’re endangering your life, the lives of your passengers, and the lives of others traveling along the highway.

It’s unsafe to pass when the roads are this narrow, and you have no guardrails or shoulders. Follow the signs and obey the law.

Keep in Mind: If you’re not already planning a trip to Colorado, these photos of Colorado National Parks will convince you to go!

Don’t Drive During Inclement Weather

Finally, we’ve already mentioned how dangerous the Million Dollar Highway can be when it snows or rains. If you can choose what day to take your drive, choose a day with nice weather. You want clear visibility and don’t want to worry about black ice, chains, or impassable roads. The highway is dangerous enough on a perfect day. Don’t increase the danger by driving in hazardous weather conditions.

View of the million dollar highway colorado

Is A Drive Along the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado Worth It?

There’s a reason the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado has been named as such. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the country. Many travelers will say it’s number one on their lists. The jaw-dropping vistas and potential wildlife sightings make this drive worth it. So don’t be afraid. Just drive with caution.

Have you ever tackled the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado? Do you have any additional tips for potential travelers?

  1. Would love to know which direction driving is best for views or ease of pull out stops. Got stuck driving this road north once after dark in rain turning to light snow beyond white nuckle and no view.

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