San Juan Skyway

Posted on 19 March 2013

Colorado is a state of scenery, mountains and outdoors fun, which is a draw for many motorhome road trippers. If you are there and looking for a scenic drive to complete, don't look past the San Juan Skyway, a loop which includes the towns of Ridgway, Durango  and Cortez. Also just off the main route is the famous Telluride, a gorgeous mountain resort.

To complete the loop in one day would take 5 hours, but many choose to spread it over 2 and take the time to enjoy the sights. Heading south on US550 for the first leg of the route, you will pass through Quray, a historic city established during the rush for gold and silver found in the mountains. This stretch of road, continuing right down to Durango, is a stunner. Passing waterfalls in the Uncompahgre Gorge and  an array of mountains, it is a long but enjoyable drive, called the Million Dollar Highway.

Uncompahgre Gorge
by Ken Lund Flickr Creative Commons

The Red mountains are particularly noteworthy, with slopes streaked with red and orange gravel. After passing the small town of Silverton, the route passes through valleys in San Jaun National Forest, an expanse of wilderness covering nearly 2 million acres. The road eventually follows the Animas River valley to the city of Durango.

Durango is a great place to stop for the night if you are breaking up the trip. Famous for the spectacular narrow guage railway connecting it with Silverton, it was built as a railroad town. The Historic area of downtown Durango is a great place to spend some time, and you can take part in outdoor pursuits such as ziplining, rock climbing and rafting in and around the city.

by Bob Uhl Flickr Creative Commons

From Durango, the Skyway continues on US160 towards Cortez, but turns onto CO145 north to Dolores just before reaching the city. Along US160 you will pass Mesa Verde National Park, where the ruins of ancient Puebloan villages can be found. This park is a highlight of the route, with spectacular views from the Mesa. Cortez is another option for a nighttime stopover!

Ruins at the Mesa Verde National Park
by Doug Kerr Flickr Creative Commons

After Cortez, the route passes Dolores and follows the Dolores River back into the San Juan mountains. There are great vistas from the San Juan crest at over 3km above sea level. Trout Lake is a popular stop along this leg of the journey, and can be found close to CO154 before the turn-off to Telluride. The lake is not only beautiful with a backdrop of Colorado mountains, it is a great fishing spot.

Trout Lake
by Frank Kovalchek Flickr Creative Commons

After the lake is the turn-off to Telluride. This lovely mountain town sits in a canyon with Bridal Veil Falls at the head of it, and it is connected by gondola to Mountain Village at the base of the winter ski area. Telluride's victorian Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is quite spectacular to see, especially in such an amazing setting.

by Christopher Bown Flickr Creative Commons

Bridal Veil Falls
by Paul Schultz Flickr Creative Commons

 Back on the main road, the route follows the San Miguel River through a sandstone-cliff canyon to Placerville, and then back to Ridgway after a right turn onto CO62. 

The major pick-up location for the San Juan Skyway and in fact all of Colorado is Denver, the state capital. Start booking your San Juan Skyway motorhome rental at Motorhome Road Trip.

Author: Phil Wright+

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