Touring the Byway
7 Days / 6 Nights (With Optional 8th Day) | Gateway City: Durango, Colorado
We recommend starting your journey in Durango, where you can ride the Durango and Silverton Railroad, a coal-fired steam train that chugs up into the mountains. Explore the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, the art galleries and historic downtown and before or after your train ride. Visit the Animas Museum to learn more of the frontier Colorado story. Stay overnight in the very historic General Palmer Hotel.
On Day Two, it’s time to head out on the San Juan Skyway All American Road toward Silverton where not much has changed since 1876. Take the walking tour to admire the historic architecture and visit the San Juan County Historical Society Museum before taking a side trip to three ghost towns. In one, you can tour the Old Hundred Gold Mine to see how gold was dug out from deep in the mountainside. Spend the night at the Inn of the Rockies at the Historic Alma House in Silverton.
Start Day Three driving the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray before visiting the Ouray Historical Society, taking the Historic District Walking Tour, and touring the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine. Spend the evening at the Beaumont Hotel and Spa.
Day Four begins with a trip to Ridgway. When you reach this historic town, you can explore the Ridgway Movie Locations and the Downtown Creative District before visiting the Ouray County Ranch History Museum. From there, move on to Telluride, where you can visit the Telluride Historical Museum and take the Gondola high over the city. Stay at the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride.
Today, on Day Five, before leaving Telluride take the historic walking tour and then move on Dolores and the Anasazi Heritage Center and a bit further south, explore the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Lowry Pueblo and Hovenweep National Monument. Stay overnight at the Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch.
On Day Six, explore the Cortez Cultural Center and the Crow Canyon Archeological Center before checking into the Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde National Park and a head start on exploring this intriguing place.
Having stayed at Mesa Verde National Park, you have the whole of Day Seven to explore the fascinating Cliff Dwellings left by the original ancient residents of the area, take the scenic drive through the park, and explore all of the other timeless park locations.
On Day Eight, you have the option to return to Durango, to complete the Byway loop or head out. Whatever you decide, we wish you safe passage if you’re traveling another Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway or a safe and pleasant journey home.
View the Detailed Itinerary below to see the full route, which is complete with dining, shopping, and lodging recommendations!
For a completely different view of the area than you will get when you drive the San Juan Skyway, riding the train that brought over $300 million in gold and silver down from the San Juan mountains is a must do. Constructed in 1881, the line parallels the Million Dollar Highway, yet also takes you through backcountry not accessible by car. Hauling the precious metals continued until 1893, when the bottom dropped out of silver prices. After facing various challenges for nearly 40 years, Hollywood discovered Durango and the railroad, showcasing the train in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
This morning it’s time to drive the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray. It began as a toll road named for the large quantities of silver and gold that moved down the route. Local legend has it the road cost a million dollars a mile to build (think of what that would be in today’s dollars!) and the fill dirt still contains a million dollars in gold ore. Cut from the mountainside, the highway delivers jaw-dropping vista after vista of magnificent scenery. Drive with care around the hairpin curves and use caution while enjoying the beautiful views.
It’s time to don a yellow rain suit and hard hat to travel 1,500 feet underground, a third of a mile into the mountain to see how gold was mined. Live demonstrations using the old mining equipment obtained from the Camp Bird, Idarado and Sunnyside mines include operating drills, a skip, a slusher, a mucker, and honey wagons. Try mining in the sluice boxes outside after the tour.
Take the 16-block walking tour through the historic district that includes the San Juan County Jail, the old hospital, and a selection of the many dens of iniquity from the mining heyday. The Durango and Silverton Railroad and the Mayflower Mill are National Historic Landmarks. The Old Hundred Boarding House is a Colorado Historic Place.
When the St. Joseph’s Miners Hospital was transformed into the Ouray County Historical Museum, the Smithsonian called it “one of the best little museums in the West.” Three floors with twenty-seven rooms of exhibits include original documents and thousands of photographs, an impressive mineral collection, Ute Indian displays, Victorian era displays, mine exhibits, railroading and ranching exhibits, hospital operating rooms from the 1890s and the 1940s, and an original patient room. In addition, the museum offers guided tours of Ouray’s Main Street.
A side trip from the San Juan Skyway takes you to the ghost towns of Howardsville, Eureka, and Animas Forks. Even though Howardsville now has only a few cabins, the town was the first seat of LaPlata County and the1874 courthouse briefly the seat of government for all of southwestern Colorado. Home of the Sunnyside Mine, Eureka still holds deposits of precious metals. At one time, the ghost town of Animas Forks had 30 cabins, a hotel, general store, saloon and post office, along with 450 residents and a newspaper.
Once home to the Ute Indians, the current town of Ridgway was founded when the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was incorporated to provide rail service between Ridgway and the mining districts of Ouray, Telluride, Rico and Durango. The “Gateway to the San Juans” became the headquarters of the railroad company and also began to serve the surrounding growing ranch community. Ridgway caught the eye of director Henry Hathaway of the movie “True Grit”, who cast John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper to star in the lead roles. For six weeks, the town became Fort Smith, Arkansas in the 1880s, complete with Hanging Judge Parker’s three-man gallows. Take the one-hour True Grit Movie Walking Tour that departs every Friday from the Visitors Center at 150 Racecourse Road at 11 AM, or a self-guided tour of the locations.
The Ridgway Creative District weaves Ridgway’s heritage and culture into sculpture, poetry and art that appears in town in some unusual places, including alleys, trails, and parks. See where the Grammy awards are produced and wander around the surrounding blocks to discover a variety of studios, shops, and restaurants.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law in May 1862, settlers moved into Colorado to get 160 acres of public land for $1.25 an acre and promised to live on for five years for the sale to become final. The lifestyle on the new ranches is on display at the Ouray County Ranch History Museum.
The San Juan Historical Society encompasses a whole campus of structures that illustrate the history of mining in the region including the Mining Heritage Center, the 1902 County Jail Museum, Mayflower Mill, the Allen Nossaman Memorial Archive, the Silverton Power Station, Silverton Standard, Miner Newspaper, (a National Journalism Historic Site) and the Little Nation Mill in Howardsville.