Day Excursions and Spectacular Scenic Drives Southwest Colorado


Scenic Drives in Southwest Colorado

Last Dollar Road

There are many scenic drives in Colorado

Welcome to Colorful Colorado greets every driver as they drive into the state.  Each part of Colorado boasts beautiful landscapes and captivating scenic drives wind drivers through the jagged and rocky mountainous regions as well as the canyons of the Colorado Plateau.  Be sure to plan your trip to provide ample time to enjoy the turnouts around every bend on scenic drives Colorado style.


silverton colorado

The town of Silverton — 23 miles from Ouray

The 45-minute drive to Silverton south along the Million Dollar Highway is not one you will soon forget. This magnificent portion of Hwy 550 was designed and built by Otto Mears in the 1880’s as a toll-road for not only ore-wagons, but for stagecoaches, and later cars, transporting people who just wanted to experience this dramatic drive.

Plan a half-day to browse through Silverton’s shops and have lunch in one of their many restaurants.

One of the area’s most accessible ghost towns, Animas Forks, is a short drive northeast of Silverton. This is an area that you can reach in a standard-clearance passenger car traveling over a gravel road. You wouldn’t want to try this in a sports car.

Black Canyon National Park

One of the country’s newest national Parks is Black Canyon of the Gunnison, located only a one-hour away north of Ouray. This canyon is one-mile deep at its deepest point and 1,150 feet across at its narrowest. This twisting, narrow canyon was carved out of the rock by the Gunnison River over millions of years.

Owl Creek Pass

Near Silverjack Reservoir on Owl Creek Pass

Near Silverjack Reservoir on Owl Creek Pass

This drive through the heart of the majestic Cimarron Mountains can be made in a passenger car. This particular route was once a cattle drive trail and was used extensively during the production of the movie True Grit, with John Wayne.  After the summit of Owl Creek Pass, you can continue on and see SilverJack Reservoir.  This is a perfect place for a morning or afternoon drive and picnic.  It is accessed off of Ouray County Rd. 10 about 1 mile north of Ridgway.  It is a dirt road and can be full of washboards.  It is not maintained  in the winter.

 San Juan Skyway

Yankee Girl Headframe

Nearing the Summit of the Million Dollar Highway

This nationally designated All-American Road offers 236 miles of state-maintained highway, looping through some of the most spectacular scenery in America.

Your day will be spent traveling throughout the San Juan Mountains, covering five million acres of national forest, national parks, wilderness areas and state parks. From deserts, alpine forests and over tall mountain passes, you will experience the journey of a lifetime.  This is a great all-day excursion.  This road connects Ouray to Silverton, Durango, Mesa Verde, Cortez, Rico, Telluride, Placerville, and Ridgway on a circular route.  Either direction is beautiful but if you have a fear of heights, it might be preferable to head north to Ouray from Silverton and hence, drive this scenic byway in a counterclockwise direction.  This route includes the “Million Dollar Highway“.   Read more about the San Juan Skyway from our Blog!

Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

Recently named the most popular National Park in the U.S., the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are worth the three-hour drive. You will be in awe at how they built their “communities” and understand how these ancient Indians felt protected by their surroundings.  This would certainly be at least an all-day excursion (depending on your interest in the topic, you may prefer a couple of days)  but time well spent.  (Photo courtesy of Mesa Verde Country.)  Read more about the area on our blog.

Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Drive in Southwest Colorado

Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway



Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway

A popular scenic drive southwest CO is the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway.  This route takes the driver along two rivers, past some lovely riparian areas on the way to Gateway Colorado, home of the Gateway Auto Museum which is a world class museum showcasing over 100 years of automobile transportation in the US.  Along the route, there are great spots for picnics, boat ramps for kayak and rafting purposes, and historic landmarks like the Hanging Flume.  This route is dry so when it seems rainy or overcast in the mountains, this scenic drive is a great alternative.  

Colorado National Monument

Two hours north of Ouray is the magnificent Colorado National Monument that was established in 1911 to preserve one of the grand landscapes of the American West.  You will enjoy a seven-mile Rim Rock Drive, viewing brilliantly colored masses of naturally sculpted rock throughout a 32-square mile area. There are a number of picnic areas and short hiking trails along this drive.


Mt. Sneffels, king of northern San Juan Mountains

View from San Juan Skyway on Highway 62 about eight miles west of Ridgway

Although Telluride’s history of gold and silver mining is much like Ouray’s, throughout the years it has developed a completely different personality than Ouray. Telluride is known as one of Colorado’s most spectacular ski resorts and is the festival capital of the world.  Throughout most of the year, the Telluride Ski Resort operates a free gondola, whisking passengers high above the city to the Mountain Village. Be sure to check that out while you’re there. It does close for a short time in the early spring and late fall for routine maintenance.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train

Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The train from Durango near US Highway 550 at the Rockwood Station

Many visitors enjoy the trip from Durango to Silverton while visiting in Southwestern Colorado.  From early June to mid-August, you can ride the afternoon train from Silverton to Durango and take a late bus back to Silverton!  In this case, you are able to take any scheduled train departure from Silverton and then catch the 7:30 bus from Durango back to Silverton.   Please check the most current schedules before your departure.  We are happy to make your reservations for you if you would like.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train also operates a shorter trip during the winter months. Call the Durango depot for details.

Other ideas:

Check out our blog articles for other ideas on scenic drives from Ouray including a tour of Ouray’s Wine Country!

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