San Juan Skyway Cover image

Full Video Tour: San Juan Skyway



Founded in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Durango is the Victorian gateway to Colorado’s Old West. A collection of outstanding historic buildings built during eras of boom and bust, include the railroad depot, the Wetter Building at College and Main, several historic hotels, and the carefully preserved “Saloon District.”  Even though the “jeans and cowboy hat dress code” will be immediately obvious, the town has more award-winning restaurants per capita than San Francisco. In fact, Durango’s high quality of life is the main reason residents leave the big city for a more casual mountain life, a multitude of scenic walking trails, a thriving arts community, and great historic and cultural offerings.


Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

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, the train was discovered by Hollywood which showcased the train in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.    

479 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-259-0274 Departures at 9AM, 12:15PM, 3:15PM, Allow 3+ hours, Adults $70

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Roundhouse Museum

Before or after your train trip, visit the museum tucked in the back of the rail yard. In addition to two full sized locomotives, a caboose and sleeper, the artifacts donated by families and friends of former railroad workers are on display. 

479 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 888-872-4607, 10AM-4PM Daily, Free

Historic Downtown Durango Walking Tour

The Historic Downtown Durango Walking Tour that begins at the Railroad depot includes carefully preserved buildings all along Main Avenue.  There is also a walking tour of the East Third Avenue Residential District.

Animas Museum

Located in the North Main District, the Animas Museum delivers an overview of the area’s Native Americans, Old West, fires, railroads, transportation, and lifeways. The Joy Family Cabin and Peterson House, both a part of the campus, contrast life in 1876 with life in the 1930s. 

3065 West Second Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-259-2402 Tu-Sat 9AM– 4PM, Allow 1 hour, Adults $5

Animas Museum
General Palmer Hotel

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

General Palmer Hotel 567 Main Avenue Durango, CO 81301 970-247-4747 The prestigious Victorian General Palmer has operated continuously since 1898.

Destination Distinctive Dining 

Eolus 919 Main Avenue Durango, CO 81301 970-259-2898. Considered one of the best in Durango.

Seasons Rotisserie and Grill 764 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-782-9790. Fine farm to table dining. 

Rochester Hotel and Bar 826 East Second Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-385-1920. Traditional bar in a historic hotel. 

Wild Horse Saloon 601 East Second Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-375-2568

Destination Distinctive Retail  

Toh-Atin Gallery 145 West 9th Street, Durango, CO 81301 970-247-8277

Sorrel Sky Gallery 828 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-247-3555

Colorado Clay Studio and Gallery 1315 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-946-5343

Sticks and Stones Handmade 922 Main Avenue, Durango, CO 81301 970-317-5696




Anchoring one end of the Million Dollar Highway, the entire town of Silverton is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Even though precious metals were discovered here in 1860, miners did not return to stake their claims until a decade later. As the center of the mining camps, Silverton was home to 2,000 residents, 400 buildings, two banks, five laundries, 29 saloons, several hotels and a bawdy red-light district within a year after the first train rolled in. When men began bringing their wives and families to town, Greene Street served as an invisible line between the law-abiding, church going residents and the gamblers, dance halls, saloons, and other local characters who lived on the other side. Mining did not completely close down in Silverton until the early 1990s. Legend has it that there’s still gold and silver in the hills, just waiting for miners to return.

Silverton Historic Walking 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. 

The tour begins at the San Juan County Courthouse, Greene Street and West 15th Street

San Juan County Historical Society

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.  

1557 Greene Street, Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5609 Daily, 10AM-5PM, Allow 2 hours, more time to visit all locations. Adults $10 Purchase a Heritage Pass for discount to visit all locations. 

San Juan Historical Society
Animas Forks Ghost Town

Ghost Towns of Howardsville, Eureka, and Animas Forks

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 story, saloon and post office, along with 450 residents and a newspaper. 

Old Hundred Mine Tour Howardsville

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. 

721 County Road 4 A, Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5444 Daily 10AM-4PM, 1 hour tour, on the hour, Adults $24

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Inn of the Rockies at the Historic Alma House 220 East 10th Street, Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5336. Historic Bed and Breakfast located in the historic district. 

Destination Distinctive Dining

Handlebars Restaurant and Saloon 1323 Greene Street Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5395. A Silverton institution for 30 years. 

Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant 1114 Blair Street, Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5775

Goodies to Go Coffee House and Creamery 1159 Blair Street, Silverton, CO 81433 970-387-5300

Destination Distinctive Retail

Adelaides Antiques 1327 Greene Street, Silverton, CO 970-387-5302

Naturescapes Gallery 12th and Blair Streets, Silverton, CO 970-728-6359

Kendall Mountain Gallery 1240 Blair Street, Silverton, CO 970-387-5160



Million Dollar Highway (1)

Million Dollar Highway

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.


Local legend has it that Chief Ouray lived in a small cabin near the Amphitheater, soaked in the “sacred hot springs,” conducted native rituals, and met with officials here, as Ouray was being formed. Known to some as the “Switzerland of America,” the town is surrounded by some of the most rugged mountains in the country. Ore shipments made the railroad the most profitable railroad per mile in the U.S. and the town a historical gem.

Ouray Historic District Walking Tour

The Ouray Historic District Walking Tour which begins and ends at the Ouray County Historical Museum, takes you past 24 locations of the finest Victorian architecture.  Tour begins at 420 Sixth Avenue

Ouray Historic Walking Tour

Ouray County Historical Society

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. 

420 Sixth Avenue, Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-4576 10AM-4:30PM, Days vary with seasons, Allow 2 hours, Adults $7

Bachelor-Syracuse Mine Tour

Beginning at ground level, a tour of the Bachelor-Syracuse mine takes you 1,500 feet into Gold Hill where you’ll discover rich veins of ore veins still in place along with the equipment used to dig it out. After the underground tour, you’ll receive gold panning instruction and a tour of the turn-of-the-century Blacksmith shop. If you have not yet had lunch, stop at the Outdoor Café.  

95 Gold Mountain Trail, Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-0220 Daily 10AM-2PM, 1 hour tour. Adults $16

Bachelor Mine Tour (1)
Beaumont Hotel

Destination Distinctive Accommodations

Beaumont Hotel and Spa 505 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-7000 Built in 1886 at the height of the “gold boom,” the Beaumont Hotel has a long been known as the ‘Flagship of the San Juans.”

Destination Distinctive Dining

Brickhouse 737 737 Main Street Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-7236 The number one restaurant in Ouray, with unique choices and farm to table cuisine.  

Bon Ton Restaurant 426 Main Street, Ouray, CO 81427 970-325-4418

Red Mountain Brewing 400 Main Street, Ouray, CO 91427 970-325-9858

Destination Distinctive Retail

Bloom Modern Mercantile 645 Main Street, Ouray, CO 91427 970-325-0645

Ouray Custommade 630 Main Street, Ouray, CO 91427 

RB Horsetraders Art and Antiques 629 Main Street, Ouray, CO 91427 970-325-9883




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. When the movie was finished, the firehouse became an artist studio, and the livery stable and post office restored. 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.

Destination Distinctive Dining 

Colorado Boy Brewery 602 Clinton Street Ridgway, CO 81432 970-626-5333 Taste the passion of the brewery owners in their craft beer and artisan pizza. 

Ouray County Ranch History Museum

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.  

321 Sherman Street, Ridgway, CO 81432 970-316-1085 F-Sat 11AM-3PM, Allow 1 hour, Adults $5

Ridgway Creative District

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.

Regular retail hours, generally W-Sat 10AM-3PM, Sun 10AM-2PM

Ridgway Railroad Museum

Featuring railroad and rail yard equipment on a half-mile loop track.  Equipment operates on Saturdays.  

200 North Railroad Street, Ridgway, CO 81432 Daily, Free.


Just eight blocks wide and twelve blocks long, the tiny town of Telluride is tucked into a box canyon surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks. It began as a gold mining camp and ended up a fairy tale. Even though the mountains were loaded with zinc, lead, copper, iron and silver, it wasn’t until the gold rush the town grew from cabins and shacks to rows of elegant residences and stately buildings. The National Historic Landmark District is filled with colorful Victorian homes, clapboard storefronts, art galleries, gourmet restaurants, and boutiques, which citizens work to keep impeccably preserved. 

Telluride 2

Telluride Historical Museum

At one last stop for mining history, the Telluride Historical Museum introduces you to the diverse prospectors, settlers, and entrepreneurs who came to the mountain valley to seek their fortune, illustrating their family life in the Tomboy and Marshall Basin mining camps. 

201 West Gregory Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435 970-728-3344 W-Sat 11AM-5PM, Adults $7

Telluride Ski Resort Gondola

For the most spectacular view of the mountain valley (especially at night), ride on the gondola that links Telluride to the Mountain Ski Village. The 13-minute ride is a front row seat to the magnificent mountain landscape views from 10,500 feet. It is the only public transportation of its kind in America.  

West San Juan Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435 Daily 6:30AM-Midnight, Fre

New Sheridan hotel 2

Destination Distinctive Accommodations  

New Sheridan Hotel 231 West Colorado Avenue Telluride, CO 81435 970-728-4351 Constructed in 1891 for prospectors and profiteers who moved to the area. As Telluride changed from gold mining to skiing, the Sheridan Hotel became the New Sheridan Hotel.

Destination Distinctive Dining 

221 South Oak 221 South Oak Street Telluride, CO 81435 970-708-1437 Housed in a tastefully refurbished historic home. 

Cosmopolitan Telluride 301 Gus’s Way, Telluride, CO 81435 970-728-1292

Brown Dog Pizza 110 East Colorado Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435 970-728-8046

Destination Distinctive Retail 

Alpen Schatz Boutique 100 West Colorado Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435 

Sublime 126 West Colorado Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435

Black Bear Trading Company, 226 West Colorado Avenue, Telluride, CO 81435



Telluride Historic Walking Tour

Before you leave this morning, take the historic walking tour of one of the West’s most iconic Victorian mining towns. 

Tour begins at the intersection of Colorado and Oak Streets


Now back in the southwestern desert region, this wonderful small Colorado town tucked between the Dolores River on one side and rock cliffs on the other, has a unique mix of shops, restaurants, taverns, and a brew pub.

Canyon of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum

The Center features the culture of the Ancient Ones who lived in the nearby Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.  Here, you can weave cloth, grind corn, and try out the tools of the ancient dwellers.  You can also tour two pueblos dating from the 12th century, including the Escalante Pueblo which illustrates three major periods of settlement. 

27501 Highway 184, Dolores, CO 81323 970-882-5600 Tu-Sun 9AM-5PM Allow 1 hour, Adults $6

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

Encompassing 164,000 acres of high desert, with more than 6,000 recorded, this monument has the highest density of archeological artifacts in the United States.  Thousands more have not yet been studied.  

9651 Road N, Cortez, CO 81321 970-882-5600 Daily, Dawn to Dusk, Free

Lowry Pueblo

Dating from 1060AD, the pueblo has over 40 rooms with interpretive signage,  offering a close-up view of the life of the Ancestral Puebloans. The ceremonial Great Kiva is complemented with a smaller Painted Kiva, dating from 1070AD. Sited on a ridge, the village delivers views of the surrounding 1,500 square miles of plateaus and canyons. 

Located in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Daily 9AM-8PM

Hovenweep National Monument

Once home to more than 2,500 people, Hovenweep encompasses six prehistoric Puebloan villages within 20 square miles. The attention to detail of the multistory towers, construction balanced on boulders, and the variety of buildings is amazing. 

Start your visit at the Visitor Center to learn the story the nomadic people who visited more than 10,000 years ago to hunt game and gather food before they began settling around 900 AD to plant crops.  Even though more than 30 kivas and other structures dot the site, the Square Tower Group is the only location within the monument that is accessible on a paved road.  A moderate trail to the canyon rim offers excellent views of the structures perched on the canyon rims, balanced on rocks and tucked under ledges which are estimated to have housed 500 people.  

The unique Cutthroat Castle structure, sitting on boulders, is entered through the roof. 

Reached by County Road 10 through Canyon of the Ancients National Monument


Even though the actual town of Cortez was not begun until 1886, the region, located on the Old Spanish Historic Trail that connects Colorado, New Mexico and California, is steeped in the history of the ancient peoples.  Ultimately, hundreds of men came to town to work on the elaborate networks of irrigation ditches that diverted water from the Dolores River to the valley.

Destination Distinctive Accommodations  

Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch 7950 Country Road G, Cortez, CO 81321. Luxury guest ranch nestled in a canyon.

Destination Distinctive Dining  

The Farm Bistro 34 West Main Street, Cortez, CO 81321 970-565-3834

La Casita De Cortez 350 East Main Street, Cortez, CO 81321 888-680-7484

Destination Grill 2121 East Main Street, Cortez, CO 81321 970-516-1111

Destination Distinctive Retail

Antiques and Artisans 720 East Main Street, Cortez, CO 81321 

The Station Boutique 36 North Maple Street, Cortez, CO 81321 970-739-0292


Cortez Cultural Center

Cortez Cultural Center

The pueblos at the Hawkins Preserve from the Pueblo I and Pueblo II eras that has been home to ancient cultures since 900AD, are now entirely protected. There is also a gallery featuring the work of local artists and Native American dance performances nightly throughout the summer.  

25 North Market Street, Cortez, CO 81321 970-565-1151 Hours vary, Dawn to Dusk

Crow Canyon Archeological Center

A half-mile walking tour provides a behind the scenes look at archeological research in real time provides an upclose and personal look at the artifacts being unearthed.  If your schedule permits, full days tours of area archeological sites, filled with in depth information, are on offer.

23390 Country Road K, Cortez, CO 81321 970-565-9875

Destination Distinctive Accommodations  

Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park 

Sitting on a high shoulder in the park, with unobstructed views. 

Destination Distinctive Dining  

Far View Terrace, Navajo Hill Road, Mile 15

Metate Room and Far View Lounge Navajo Hill Road, Mile 15

Spruce Tree Terrace Navajo Hill Road, Mile 21



Mesa Verde National Park (1)

Mesa Verde National Park

Considered one of the 50 must see places of a lifetime, the extensive dugout areas filled with cliff dwellings and other serpentine structures were home to residents for over 700 years.  Accompanied by a guide, you can tour the Cliff Palace, climb ladders into Balcony House, and walk into Long House to hear the wind whispering through the shadowed rooms. Self-guided tours are available for Spruce Tree House, Step House, Badger House, sites on Mesa Top and sites in the Far View Complex.  Prepare to be awestruck!

Cliff Dwellings, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House

Grab your sense of adventure as you go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace exploring the 150 rooms and 23 kivas that housed about 100 people.  Three quarters of the dwellings are made up of one to five rooms each, complemented with ceremonial rooms and administrative spaces.  Balcony House features 40 rooms that also reveal the details of how they were constructed over time. Getting in on a 32-foot ladder is adventurous.

Mesa Verde Visitor Center

Exhibits offer a glimpse into the daily life of the Ancestral Puebloans, plus works of art by the descendants of the ancient peoples. 

Far View Sites

Occupied more than 200 years before the cliff dwellings were built, the area was home to hundreds of people in 50 villages located in a half mile square.  The Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House and Far View Tower are open to tour.

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Built in 1922 and a historic landmark in its own right, a 25 minute film here provides an excellent overview of the history of Mesa Verde.

Mesa Top Sites

The Badger House Community here is comprised of four sites: the Basketmaker Pithouse, Developmental Pueblo Village, Badger House, and Two Raven House, plus the Cedar Tree Tower built around 1200AD for ceremonies. A winding 12-mile drive traverses this area.

Mesa Top Loop Road

A 6-mile auto tour road takes you to 12 short easy trails to view sites that overlook the Cliff Palace and other historical structures.


Return across the portion of the San Juan Skyway loop between Mesa Verde National Park and Durango to complete the Byway.