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Road Trip: San Juan Skyway

by Teresa Bitler

Oct 22, 2019

Teresa Bitler

Destinations / North America

With postcard-perfect vistas and Victorian-era towns, the 235-mile San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway in southern Colorado is one of the nation’s most beautiful road trips. That’s especially true during the fall when yellows, oranges and reds blanket the San Juan Mountains and rolling hillsides.

 

Road-tripping families will find more than just scenic views on a San Juan Skyway road trip, though. From Puebloan ruins to abandoned mining towns and a vintage steam locomotive, the San Juan Skyway may be one of the most family-friendly drives you’ll ever take.

 

Start in Durango

The San Juan Skyway begins and ends in Durango. While it’s possible to drive the entire route in six hours, if you don’t stop, plan on taking your time, especially with kids. You may even want to find lodging along the way and spend a few days exploring.

 

From Durango, head west on US 160. Depending on how much time you have (it will take at least 45 minutes to get from the highway to the ruins), detour into Mesa Verde National Park to see 700-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruins, including Cliff Palace. You could easily spend an entire day in the park, so budget your time accordingly.

San Juan Skyway Mesa Verde. Photo: Teresa Bitler

 

Back on US 160, head north from the city of Cortez on CO 145. If you enjoyed Mesa Verde and have the time, take CO 184 one mile northwest from where it dead ends into CO 145 and spend an hour or two at the Canyons of the Ancients Center and Museum. Kids can grind corn, weave and explore replica Puebloan ruins there while you learn about the area’s geography and history.

 

Continue to Telluride

Break up the 1.5-hour drive on CO 145 with a stop at the remnants of a roadside mine outside of Rico or scenic overlooks on the way to Telluride. While in the scenic town, grab a bite to eat, tour the historic downtown area or ride the gondola to Mountain Village.

San Juan Skyway Ghost Town. Photo: Teresa Bitler

 

CO 145 turns left from Telluride toward Placerville, where you’ll turn right on to CO 62. This merges with US 550 about 10 miles north of Ouray, where you can soak in sulfur-free hot springs, trek to Box Canyon Waterfall or stroll the Victorian town.

 

Drive the Million Dollar Highway

About nine miles south of Ouray along the section of US 550 known as the Million Dollar Highway, watch for abandoned mines and buildings. If your vehicle can handle dirt roads, opt to loop through the Red Mountain Mining District on County Road 31.

 

Finally, in Silverton, pick up souvenirs at the mining town’s gift shops, and watch for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to arrive from Durango.

 

Your road trip ends in Durango. Add a day to your adventure to take the scenic train ride from Durango back to Silverton, zip line at Purgatory Resort or explore the Powerhouse Science Center and MakerLab.

#WhereverFamily

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