Welcome to the
INNS OF THE SAN JUAN SKYWAY
Here’s the Experience …………
Visit the ‘Classic’ Inns of South Western Colorado’s famous 236 mile loop known as the San Juan Skyway. Located in the most picturesque portion of the state, your private tour guides will discuss your curiosities about the region with you as you travel between historic hotels in a combination of the five mountain towns of the Skyway: Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton, Durango and Telluride. Choose between shorter or longer tour packages and special ‘self drive’ packages are available as well.
“They organized everything for us. Our private guides really added to the fun and the scenery was beyond remarkable. The historic hotels were a unique experience and this vacation was so different and so interesting. Wish we had chosen a longer package”
~ Matt and Kaira from Portland Oregon ~
View Your Vacation Package Options
Inclusive of Hotels,Transportation and Private Tour Guides or Self Drive
Here are Your Private Tour Guides
Cari is a retired attorney who has lived in this area for years and loves to share the ‘San Juan Skyway Experience’ with our visiting guests.
Lou is a retired Counselor Educator who grew up in Ouray and enjoys sharing the outdoor lifestyle of the San Juan Mountains with visitors.
Interactive Map of the San Juan Skyway.
Click a ‘Star’ on the map below or a ‘Colored Line Segment’ to learn more about that region of the skyway.
Here are the
Inns Of The San Juan Skyway
Additional Information About The San Juan Skyway
The road did not cost more than a million dollars to build, but it did cost a huge sum for its time. It may contain some waste from early gold mills and silver mines, but nowhere near a million dollars worth. There’s also some mystery and dispute about the length of the Million Dollar Highway.
As new mining claims were discovered in the 1870s and the population of the San Juans mushroomed, so did the need for an economical, year-round transportation system. Most of the ore from mines discovered was not yet shipped out by the mid-1870s.
Covering about 12,000 square miles, the greater part of Southwestern Colorado and its San Juan Mountains are full of high mountains: 14 peaks exceed 14,000 feet and nearly all the area is above 6,000 feet.
What is the San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway
The 236-mile loop of the San Juan Skyway offers one of the most scenic drives in North America. Winding through forests of aspen and pine and over breathtaking high passes, again and again the drive reveals panoramic views of volcanic Rocky Mountain summits in the San Juan range, many exceeding 14,000 feet. Visitors experiencing parts or all of the San Juan Skyway soon understand why it was designated a National Scenic Byway and one of 10 All American Roads.
From Durango through Silverton and Ouray to Ridgway, cut from the side of a mountain, about 25 miles of this one-of-a-kind scenic roadway delivers jaw-dropping vista after vista that became known as the “Million Dollar Highway”. Like almost everything else in the San Juan Skyway area, this mountain road, with its hairpin curves and dangerous drop-offs, is connected to fascinating history and legends. One of those legends is that its fill dirt contains millions of dollars in gold ore mined in the area. True or not, the “Million Dollar Highway” is like no other road that any visitor has travelled. It is a road with scenery that is almost impossible to describe and you have to see to believe.
History buffs will love the story and photos of the mining boom in the San Juan’s that led to efforts in the 1870s and 1880s to build a road between Ouray and Silverton. These efforts were unsuccessful until, in the 1880s, Ouray turned to Russian immigrant and famed Colorado road builder Otto Mears. Established in 1876, Ouray was located in a box canyon at the north end of the San Juan mountains separated from rich mining districts to the south by very steep and rocky terrain. In 1883 Mears won the race with Silverton road builders to build a road from Ouray to Ironton. The shrewd Mears then made a deal with San Juan County to build a toll road to connect with Ouray’s road. Thanks to Mears’ toll road, not only did mining bring prosperity to Ouray but, in the late 1880s, tourists flocked to the spectacular views.
Today the San Juan Skyway incorporates stretches of U.S. Highways 160 and 550 as well as State Roads 62 and 145. Connecting the former 19th century mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and Rico, it passes Ridgway, Dolores, Cortez, Mancos and Durango. It traverses four mountain passes above 10,000 feet, skirts rivers, reveals waterfalls and a wealth of beauty and recreational opportunities.
Most of the land visible along the Skyway is within the San Juan National Forest, established in 1905, that encompasses 1.9 million acres. Also created in 1905, the Uncompahgre National Forest consists of another million acres. The Weminuche Wilderness Area spans yet another 500,000 acres of the range. Management of these marvellous forest resources is in the capable hands of several federal agencies that strive to ensure benefits for locals and everyone else. In addition to protecting the natural resources of forests, agricultural and ranch lands, the San Juans have several major rivers that are protected as providers of water for much of the Southwest and even westward to Los Angeles.
No wonder that early Ute Indians thought that what later became the San Juan Mountains were the work of their gods. Geologists explain the various stages of geological mayhem that over millions of years delivered both fantastic mineral wealth and the awesome sculpting of rock formations in the San Juan Mountains. Created by fire, the San Juans were sculpted by ice during the ice ages. Glacial action moving down mountainsides produced angular peaks and U-shaped valleys that captivate visitors. One of the largest glaciers in the mountain range is located between Red Mountain Pass and Ridgway. Lake San Cristobal, near Lake City, also manifests glacial activity.
After plate tectonic uplifting, massive volcanic activity churned out massive amounts of magna, spewing ash and rock across the landscape. Volcanoes collapsed into vast calderas. Subsiding volcanoes formed a huge volcanic plateau, later eroded by streams into peaks and valleys. Visitors are enthralled by many different examples of dramatic volcanic remnants. For example, Lizard Head Peak southwest of Telluride is a pillar of lava that solidified in the vent of an active volcano. Mount Sneffels also might be the neck of an immense volcano.
The story of the San Juans and the people that have lived, worked, explored and played there is celebrated for visitors in various ways throughout the Skyway. The Skyway offers a continuous panorama of past and present that mesh. A perfect example is the Denver and Rio Grande Railway (D&RGR) that constructed a network of narrow-gauge lines through the mountains. The D&RGR founded Durango in 1879 and arrived there in 1881, the same year that it began construction of a line to Silverton. Constructed to haul silver and gold ore, the historic train revealed views that passengers soon realized were inaccessible by any roadway. This network has had the name Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGR) since 1882. The same 45 miles of D&SNGR track carries tourists today on a spectacular journey behind vintage steam locomotives.