San Juan Skyway Road Trip: Exploring the Heart of the Mountains

San Juan Skyway Road Trip: Exploring the Heart of the Mountains,

Colorado is a state fondly nicknamed as the "Switzerland of America", thanks to its beautiful landscapes filled with green meadows and snow-capped peaks. Motoring enthusiasts can best enjoy the Alpine-like views without leaving the United States by driving through the famed San Juan Skyway. This All-American Road will reward you with an unforgettable experience of driving on the top of the world for two to three leisurely days.

The 233-mile road loops around the southwestern part of Colorado and brings motorists right into the heart of the majestic San Juan Mountains. In 1989, the San Juan Skyway was awarded with the distinction of being a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway, a title given to roads that offer unparalleled views of the state’s famed landscapes.

You can start your San Juan Skyway adventure in Durango, Colorado at the US Highway 160. Drive west to head to Cortez (where you will pass by the entrance to the breathtaking Mesa Verde National Park) and turn north to follow the State Highway 145 to Dolores, which will lead you straight to the San Juan National Forest. The drive ends at Ouray, a Victorian mining town.

What to See

The San Juan Mountains are truly a wonderful sight to behold, and the San Juan Skyway takes drivers through numerous mountain towns, each with their own charms. Durango is home to various historic structures done in popular Continental architectural styles, including Spanish Colonial, Greek, and Queen Anne.

Along the canyons of Silverton and Ouray (shown right), you can find the Million Dollar Highway that offers a couple of miles of exciting driving along one of the most distinct landscapes in the state. The luxurious moniker of this road probably stems from the astronomical cost of the road—paving a byway in this altitude and location would definitely entail a million dollars—or to the gold ore that this part of the state was once known for.

At the end point of the trip in Ouray, make sure to visit the 19th century structures that will transport you right back to the mining-town past of Ouray. For more information on the interesting history of the town, spend an hour or two at the Oray County Historical Museum, which is located inside a charming brownstone built in the late 1800’s.

Telluride, one of the charming mountain towns found along the San Juan Skyway, offers a trip back to time despite the many modern amenities and comforts. The historic New Sheridan Hotel has been restored in its full historic glory, as well as the Sheridan Opera House.

Mesa Verde National Park in Dolores, on the other hand, is home to the legendary cliffside settlements of the Puebloans.

Final Tip

The San Juan Skyway is easily driven through in seven to eight hours, but to fully enjoy the wonders of the Switzerland of America, make sure to plan your itinerary for a two- to three-day weekend to drive in a leisurely pace.

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Route Details
Start Point: Durango, Colorado Distance: 233 miles (375 kilometers)
End Point: Ouray, Colorado Estimated Days: 2 to 3