- This byway begins in Ridgway and, traveling clockwise, leads south to Ouray. This segment provides travelers with grand views of the peaks in the San Juan Mountains as they enter Ouray. Ouray is an old mining community with some unique architecture and public hot springs. Some of the best ice climbing in the state can be found south of Ouray.
Leaving Ouray, drivers will enter into the steep slopes of the San Juan Mountains in the Uncompahgre National Forest. This stretch of road is known as Red Mountain Pass (11,018 feet). In the winter this road can be treacherous. Road conditions should be checked before traveling on it. It is truly a breathtakingly scenic stretch of highway.
On the other side of Red Mountain Pass from Ouray is the small mining community of Silverton. It is home to the Silverton-Durango Scenic Railway and a very busy tourist attraction during the summer months. Heading south from Silverton the byway leads over Molas Pass (10,910 feet) toward Durango.
Highway 550 follows the path of the Durango-Silverton Railway into Durango. On the south end of Durango Highway 550 intersects with U.S. 160. The byway turns west on 160 and leads toward the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park. This stretch of the byway leads through the Mancos River Valley, which divides the mountainous terrain of the San Juan National Forest and the plateau country of Mesa Verde and the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation.
Approximately ten miles west of Mesa Verde Park entrance the byway reaches Cortez and turns north on State Highway 145. This leads passed the Anasazi Heritage Center, Dominguez and Escalante Ruins and McPhee Reservoir. After crossing the reservoir Highway 145 turns eastward and passes through the small town of Dolores. From here the byway enters the heart of the San Juan National Forest. Highway 145 is amazingly scenic as it travels through the mountains and over Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet). Telluride is approximately 15 miles from Lizard Head Pass.
Recreation - The San Juan Scenic and Historic Byway provides 236 miles of scenic driving. In addition to the obvious recreation opportunity of scenic driving, the San Juan Byway offers countless other activities in the National Forests, National Park and wilderness areas that surround it. Hiking, biking, rock and ice climbing, camping, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, four-wheel driving, wildlife viewing, boating and fishing can be enjoyed in this terrain by all skill levels throughout the year.
Climate - Climate conditions in Colorado should be taken seriously throughout the state. Snow and ice are common on roads and trails from mid-October through late April. In the summer months snow is still possible but less common. Varying conditions throughout a given day can be expected throughout the year. Remember that summer days can typically have beautiful sunny mornings and short sudden thunderstorms in the afternoon.
The region south of the mountains near Durango, Mancos, Mesa Verde and Cortez becomes very hot during the summer months. Temperatures may reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Things cool slightly at night, but it is good to carry water if your contemplating any type of physical exertion.
This scenic byway is located in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It travels through the San Juan Mountains and into the high-plateau country of Mesa Verde. The Uncompahgre, Mancos, Dolores and San Miguel River valleys are included in the terrain covered by the San Juan Scenic Byway.