With its peaks, valleys, twists, and turns, the Million Dollar Highway portion of the San Juan Skyway in Colorado may be the most beautiful drive in America... Lucky for us, on our 4th day of the 2014 MINI Takes the States cross-country road trip, we got to motor along with 400 other MINI Coopers through this remarkable stretch of road.
While the entire byway actually forms a loop using U.S. 160, CO 184, CO 145, CO 62, U.S. 550, we were just hitting the US 550 portion as MINI Takes the States barreled south toward our nighttime destination of Albuquerque. Lucky for us, this section of the San Juan Skyway features the “Million Dollar Highway,” a 12-mile stretch of remarkably scenic road from Ouray, CO to Silverton, CO. If you’ve never traveled this stretch of road (especially in a MINI), imagine taking one of the most nimble little cars on the planet on one of the most radical paved roads in all of America.
The twists and turns (and lack of guard rails) keep you on your toes the whole route. Your ears pop, your eyes move rapidly to absorb the scenery, and your heart races at each vista. While most of us pass by scenic overlooks on other trips after we snap a few pictures at the very first one, not on this road… No, you pull over every chance you can on the Million Dollar Highway… Each stop is so different from the last, and each takes your breath away.
In 2 words: Hot Springs. This cozy little mountain town is full of quaint shops and dining options, but the real draw is the Ouray Hot Springs Unlike more common sulfur springs, the Ouray Hot Springs are sulfur-free meaning you won’t smell rotten eggs during your soak. There are multiple areas at different temps allowing you to find just the right soak for your tired bones.
Admittedly, the thought of a dip in a hot spring during the summer didn’t appeal to us or our tight time schedule so we moved on without getting wet, but if you’ve got the time, make Ouray a major stop on your trip down US 550.
After feeling guilty for not spending more time in Ouray, we knew our Volcanic Orange MINI Cooper S had to spend a little time in the charming train-town of Silverton. A local pointed us to Handlebars, a bar with a quirky atmosphere perfect for taking the edge off a day on the road. The best part? If you stop by Handlebars with a mustache you’re invited to snap a polaroid and hang it on the wall. The place is literally covered with mustached men (and probably some women, we didn’t check.)
Silverton seems to take you back to the days when trains brought travelers and miners to the area, complete with saloons, dining, and even stagecoach rides through town.
But all the fun on US 550 isn’t just confined to the stretches between Ouray & Silverton. Oh no, sir.
The route is packed with state parks, local dining, shopping, and more even outside the stretch known as the Million Dollar Highway.
Don’t believe us? Read about all the fun we had motoring the Roadtrippers MINI to the funkiest little roadside shopping in all of Montrose, CO…
Of all the iconic routes in America like Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, A1A, and Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s hard to definitively say which drive is the best, most scenic, in America, but the San Juan Scenic Byway (particularly the Million Dollar Highway) has to be towards the top of the list. And, of course, there may be no better car to take its twists and turns than a MINI...