3 Best Scenic Drives Near Durango: Mountain Drives With Scenic Views

Scenic Routes Near Durango

Durango, Colorado, is a gateway to some of the most scenic drives in the American Southwest. Surrounded by majestic mountains, vibrant canyons, and ancient ruins, the diverse range of landscapes and cultural experiences in the region make for a chock-full Durango vacation or staycation schedule. Whether you're a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or an adventure seeker, there's a scenic drive near Durango that's perfect for you. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll guide you through the most iconic routes: the San Juan Skyway, the Tracks Across Borders Scenic Byway, and the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, detailing the highlights and unique experiences each offers.

The San Juan Skyway: Mountains, History, and Culture

The San Juan Skyway is a 236-mile loop that traverses the San Juan Mountains, offering a breathtaking tapestry of alpine scenery, historic mining towns, and vibrant cultural experiences. In the Durango area, the US Highway 160 portion of the Skyway enters town from the west, while US 550 heads north out of town and towards the Silverton community.

Durango to Silverton: Coal Bank and Molas Pass

Starting in Durango, head north on US 550, a scenic highway that climbs over the Coal Bank and Molas Passes. These high mountain passes offer stunning panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains, including rugged peaks, alpine meadows, and lush forests. After approximately 50 miles, you'll pass through the historic mining town of Silverton, one of Colorado’s best small towns known for its colorful Victorian-era buildings and rich mining heritage.

Silverton to Ouray: The Million Dollar Highway

From Silverton, the San Juan Skyway continues on US 550 through San Juan County, embarking on the legendary Million Dollar Highway. This stretch of road is renowned for its dramatic cliffs, hairpin turns, and awe-inspiring views. As you navigate the narrow, winding road, you'll be treated to breathtaking vistas of the Uncompahgre Gorge and the surrounding mountains. The highway eventually descends into Ouray, a charming town known for its hot springs, Box Canyon Falls, and picturesque setting amidst the mountains.

Ouray to Telluride: Dallas Divide and the Sneffels Range

Take a Long Trip on the San Juan Skyway

Leaving Ouray, the Skyway takes you over the Dallas Divide, a high mountain pass that offers panoramic views of the Sneffels Range. The route then descends into Telluride, a picturesque box canyon town renowned for its world-class ski resort, vibrant festivals, and captivating Bridal Veil Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. Telluride, one of the best ski towns in Colorado, offers a unique blend of outdoor adventure and cultural attractions, making it a must-visit destination on the San Juan Skyway.

Telluride to Dolores: Lizard Head Pass and the Dolores River Canyon

The journey continues from Telluride, traversing Lizard Head Pass and winding through the Lizard Head Wilderness. You'll then follow the scenic Dolores River Canyon, a spectacular gorge with towering cliffs and rushing waters. Along the way, you'll pass through Rico, a historic mining town that offers a glimpse into the region's rich mining heritage.

The quaint Dolores community is located on the Dolores River near the southern tip of the McPhee Reservoir.

Dolores to Cortez: McPhee Reservoir & Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Leaving Dolores, the San Juan Skyway takes you through a diverse landscape of rolling hills, canyons, and mesas. You'll pass the McPhee Reservoir, a popular recreation area for boating, fishing, and camping. The route then enters the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, home to a vast collection of Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings, kivas, and petroglyphs.

Cortez to Durango: Mesa Verde National Park and the La Plata Mountains

The final leg of the San Juan Skyway takes you from the town of Cortez—one of the most affordable communities in Colorado—back to Durango. You'll pass through Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. As you approach Durango, you'll traverse the La Plata Mountains, offering stunning views and a fitting end to this unforgettable scenic drive.

Tracks Across Borders Scenic Byway: A Journey Through Native American Lands

The Tracks Across Borders Scenic Byway is a 123-mile route that winds through the ancestral lands of the Southern Ute and Jicarilla Apache tribes, offering a unique blend of cultural and natural attractions.

Durango to Ignacio: La Plata Mountains and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation

The byway begins in Durango, traveling east on US 160, offering views of the La Plata Mountains. It then winds through the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, where you can learn about the tribe's history, culture, and traditions, before reaching the small Ignacio community.

Ignacio to Navajo Lake: Chimney Rock National Monument and the San Juan River

From Ignacio in Colorado’s La Plata County, the route continues to Navajo Lake, a scenic reservoir on the Colorado-New Mexico border. Along the way, you can visit Chimney Rock National Monument, an Ancestral Puebloan site with towering rock formations and breathtaking views. The monument offers hiking trails, guided tours, and interpretive programs that delve into the rich history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Navajo Lake to Dulce: Across the State Line into New Mexico

The byway then crosses into New Mexico, passing through the town of Dulce, the heart of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. The landscape changes to desert mesas and rolling hills, offering a different perspective on the region's natural beauty. In Dulce, you can visit the Jicarilla Arts and Crafts Center to learn about the tribe's artistic traditions and purchase authentic crafts.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway: A Journey Through Ancient History

Take a Long Trip on the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is a 113-mile loop that winds through the heart of Ancestral Puebloan territory, offering a unique glimpse into the lives of these ancient people.

Cortez to Mesa Verde National Park: Ancestral Puebloan Ruins and Cliff Dwellings

The Trail of the Ancients begins in the Montezuma County town of Cortez, home to the Anasazi Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to Ancestral Puebloan culture. The route then takes you to Mesa Verde National Park, where you can explore ancient cliff dwellings and learn about the people who built them. There are tons of things to do at Mesa Verde National Park, including guided tours, hiking trails, and interpretive programs that delve into the fascinating history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Mesa Verde National Park to Hovenweep National Monument: Canyons and Ancient Towers

The journey continues to Hovenweep National Monument, a collection of Ancestral Puebloan villages and towers located in canyons and mesas just across the border in Utah. Here, you can hike among the ruins and imagine life in these ancient communities. Hovenweep's remote location and dramatic landscape add to the mystique of this fascinating archaeological site.

Hovenweep National Monument to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument: Desert Landscapes and Archaeological Sites

The byway then winds through the vast Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, home to thousands of archaeological sites, including kivas, petroglyphs, and ancient roads. This part of the journey offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans, who thrived in this region for centuries.

Your Scenic Durango-Area Road Trip Awaits!

Whether you're a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking to experience the majesty of Southwest Colorado, the scenic drives in the region are unique and unforgettable. With their diverse landscapes, cultural attractions, and historical sites, these routes provide a window into the rich heritage and natural beauty of the American Southwest.

Before embarking on your journey, be sure to check road conditions, plan your itinerary, and pack accordingly. Allow ample time to explore each destination, as there's so much to discover along the way. Most importantly, take your time, soak in the scenery, and enjoy the adventure. Happy travels!

If Durango sounds like the perfect place for you, contact Colorado Property Group of RE/MAX with Durango Homes for Sale at (970) 946-0601 to get in touch with a Durango real estate agent and get ready to call this beautiful mountain town home.

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