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How Much Does It Cost to Drive the Million Dollar Highway?

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park requires a vehicle reservation. The Zion Scenic Drive closes to personal vehicles from March to November. There’s an entrance fee to drive the Needles Highway in South Dakota. So what about the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado? 

Do you have to make a reservation or pay to travel for this scenic drive? Let’s dive in and look at one of the Rocky Mountain State’s most beautiful highways!

Towing an RV on Colorado's Million Dollar Highway

Where Is the Million Dollar Highway?

The Million Dollar Highway stretches from Ouray to Silverton in southwestern Colorado. It’s part of the San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile All-American Road, National Forest Scenic Byway, and Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway. The Million Dollar Highway is also part of Highway 550, one of only two north-south highways in Colorado west of the Continental Divide. Even though it passes through upper elevations in southwestern Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway is open year-round to the public.

View of the Million Dollar Highway
Enjoy jaw-dropping views while driving down the Million Dollar Highway.

How Much Does It Cost to Drive the Million Dollar Highway?

It’s free! There’s no toll or ranger station. The Million Dollar Highway is a section of Highway 550. It originated in the late 1800s to connect the Ouray and Silverton mining districts.

However, the origins of how this stretch earned its name are debatable. Some say the views are worth a million dollars. Others say the road costs a million dollars to construct. Some say the land underneath the road is worth a million dollars in gold.

Regardless of how the road earned its name, the views are undeniable. No matter which way you travel, you’re treated to the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains. From Ouray, the drive through the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass, the highest point at 11,018 feet, is breathtaking.

There are also old mining towns and places to explore nature via hiking, biking, or fishing. It’s worth stopping in Ouray or Silverton to enjoy various activities like horseback riding, climbing, whitewater rafting, or ATV riding. You can also take a gold mining tour.

View while driving the Million Dollar Highway
You don’t have to be a millionaire to drive the Million Dollar Highway. In fact, it’s free!

Is the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado Dangerous?

If you’re paying attention and aren’t driving a large vehicle, the Million Dollar Highway is unnerving and considered one of the scariest roads in America. Some even consider it dangerous. There are no guardrails because the roadway is too narrow to install them, but the road is paved. The lanes are narrow, and you have hairpin turns around cliffs. Drivers or passengers who fear heights will want to keep their eyes on the road and avoid looking around until they pull off at an overlook.

Because the road cuts directly through the mountains, the drive is potentially hazardous due to the steep grades and hairpin turns. The steepest grades are 8%, which is steeper than Eisenhower Pass at 6%. It’s plenty steep to overheat your engine if you’re not careful. So, as Aesop’s famous fable teaches, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Pro Tip: If you’re planning a Colorado road trip, beware of these Scariest Roads in Colorado.

Can You Drive An RV On the Million Dollar Highway?

There are no regulations that disallow RVs on the Million Dollar Highway. But driving a large rig along this stretch of Highway 550 isn’t advisable. The steep road grades are challenging for larger motorhomes and trucks towing long, heavy trailers whether you’re going uphill or downhill. There’s nowhere to pull off if something happens to your engine or brake system.

In addition, the lanes are very narrow. Larger RVs will have to travel slowly to stay in their lane. Making those hairpin turns will be almost impossible for bigger RVs. So although there are no limitations along the Million Dollar Highway, we wouldn’t recommend driving it if you have anything longer than a teardrop trailer, a camper van, or a small Class C without extensive prior experience with windy mountain grades.

Mountain view of the Million Dollar Highway
Avoid driving on the Million Dollar Highway if you have a large rig.

Tips for Safe Driving Along Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway

Because of the potential hazards along Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway, we have some tips to help keep you and other travelers safe. Most accidents occur when people are driving too fast or not paying attention.

1. Make Sure Your Vehicle Is in Good Condition

First, this isn’t a scenic drive you want to take in an old, beat-up clunker. Don’t drive the Million Dollar Highway if your vehicle isn’t in good condition. Your brakes must be in good shape to handle the steep declines, while the engine and transmission must work well to handle the inclines. You won’t find runaway truck ramps or shoulders to pull off onto should your engine overheat or brakes start burning.

2. Don’t Rush, Stay Alert

The Million Dollar Highway isn’t a road to travel if you’re in a hurry. Leave with plenty of time to reach your destination. Travel at a safe speed and with caution. Again, there are no guardrails, and you’re driving on the side of a mountain. One wrong move could be deadly. So don’t put yourself or any other drivers in danger by taking curves too fast or paying more attention to your CarPlay music than the road.

3. Build in Extra Time for Stops

Add some extra time to stop along the drive. Take advantage of photo opportunities at overlooks. Don’t worry so much about seeing it all as you drive. Your eyes need to focus on the road. Choose a hike or two in Ouray or Silverton and dive into the beautiful surroundings. Check out the local shopping and dining options. Enjoy your day, and don’t only travel through to reach the other side.

4. Check the Weather Forecast

Remember the time of day and season you’re traveling along the Million Dollar Highway. For example, it’s much more hazardous in the winter due to black ice and the potential for avalanches or mudslides after heavy rain. Venture out on a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the scenic views. Driving in rainy or snowy conditions makes the already dangerous drive exponentially more hazardous.

5. Don’t Pass Unless There Are Passing Lanes

Finally, obey all road signs and laws. The Million Dollar Highway isn’t a race track. You may come upon an RV moving slowly up the mountain. Wait until you have a safe passing lane to pass. Remember, you’re not in a hurry. Don’t endanger yourself or anyone else by attempting to pass in a no-passing section of the highway. Who knows if there’s a vehicle coming around the next curve?

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Million Dollar Highway?

From Ouray to Silverton is about 25 miles. With speed limits varying between 10-25 MPH, it takes about 45 minutes to drive straight through. However, this isn’t how you want to approach this scenic drive.

Give yourself a couple of hours to stop as often as you’d like to enjoy the views. Allot time to spend in Ouray and Silverton. Sit down for a drink at a brewery. Book a tour of an old gold mine. You could spend an entire day exploring this part of southwestern Colorado.

Pro Tip: After driving the Million Dollar Highway, spend the night at one of these 7 Best Campsites for Boondocking in Colorado.

Are There Gas Stations Along the Million Dollar Highway?

It’s crucial to mention that there are no gas stations along the Million Dollar Highway. Ensure your vehicle has a full fuel tank before leaving Ouray or Silverton. There’s nowhere to pull over if your car runs out of gas. You’ll also use more fuel than usual as you travel through the mountain passes.

Driving Colorado's Million Dollar Highway

Is the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado Worth the Drive?

In our opinion, the Million Dollar Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the state. It’s also on many people’s top ten list for scenic drives in the entire U.S. Most people are a bit anxious as they make the drive but usually don’t feel unsafe because they exert the appropriate caution, abide by the road signs, and stay alert. If you travel this scenic stretch of Highway 550, you likely won’t be disappointed. The views of the Uncompahgre Gorge and surrounding mountains are spectacular!

Do you have the nerves to tackle Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

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She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Kevin Linton

Sunday 20th of August 2023

We just did two weeks in Pagosa Springs and Silverton. The views are amazing. We drove the million dollar highway twice on our trip this time. Once to go to the hot springs in Ridgeway and once as we took our jeep over Ophir pass to Telluride then back through Ouray. We are in love with the Colorado Rockies.

MOTM Editor

Monday 25th of September 2023

Kevin, that sounds like an incredible adventure! Glad you were able to drive the Million Dollar Highway twice. We absolutely love the Colorado Rockies too!