Telluride to Ridgway

Autumn Cattle Ranch

The San Miguel River rises in the San Juan Mountains southeast of Telluride and flows along the southern slope of the Uncompahgre Plateau past the town of Placerville where it joins the Dolores River. Near Placerville the San Miguel becomes navigable after dropping over 7,000 feet in its 80-mile journey from an alpine ecosystem to the desert. Thus Telluride and Placerville are connected via the scenic San Juan River that offers one of Colorado’s havens for whitewater kayakers and boaters.

For people journeying on the San Juan Skyway northward from Cortez and Dolores to Telluride, and then on to Ridgway, Placerville itself usually is not a destination in the itinerary except perhaps for fishing or water sports in the San Miguel. But Placerville has some interesting and enjoyable attractions like Hangtown’s Gold Bug Park which was a mining site in Gold Rush days. Exploring the park and then the mining museum or the Placerville Historical Museum can be enlightening and entertaining family-fun. In much the same spirit, a visit to historic Boeger Winery and its tasting room and then a visit to the Boa Vista Orchard or High Hill Ranch for fresh fruits in season and High Hill Ranch or Apple Hill Farm for snacks and activities offers more memorable fun. Horsetail Falls Trail in nearby Eldorado National Forest attracts hikers.

Dallas Divide
Only 39 miles apart via CO 145N and 62E, the usual way to get from Telluride to Ridgway is the semi-circular route on highways 62 and 145. Located along the San Miguel River, at the junction of these two highways, 62 and 145, the former mining camp of Placerville is less than 30 minutes from Telluride. Heading from Placerville to Ridgway on 145, travelers cross over the stunning Dallas Divide. Roughly 10 miles north of Dallas Peak and Mt. Sneffels, this high mountain pass (8,983-ft.) on the San Juan Skyway divides the watersheds between the Uncompahgre and San Miguel Rivers and sits at the geological divide between the San Juan Mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau. In 1880, the first toll road was built that crossed over the Dallas Divide. Ten years later the route became part of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad connecting Ridgway and Telluride.
San Miguel River

With or without a stop in Placerville, for people with sufficient time, in June through November (usually not December to May), Last Dollar Road from Telluride to Ridgway is a must-see detour. Driving out of Telluride on CO 145N to Placerville, after about 3 miles from Mountain Village, make a right onto Airport Rd./Last Dollar Rd. Last Dollar Road splits off to the right. The drive to Ridgway takes about two to three hours or perhaps more for people who decide to see more of nature’s marvelous offerings. Lots of gorgeous flowers, forests and mountains line the route, also home to wildlife, cattle and horses.

Visitors to Ridgway or Telluride can plan their visit to Last Dollar Road in summer for the lush greenery, in the fall to enjoy splendid red, yellow and orange foliage, or in spring to gaze on alpine wildflowers dotting the grassy fields. Last Dollar Road is another one of those unique experiences in the vicinity of the San Juan Skyway that reward visitors for good planning or simply crop up as delightful surprises. This hidden dirt road through historic ranching country (including the ranch from the “True Grit” western starring John Wayne) between Ridgway and Telluride rewards adventuresome travelers turn after turn. Winding through a low valley surrounded by jagged peaks and deep-blue skies, each bend in the road never fails to deliver spectacular scenery. Aspens bathed in the sun along with furry pines open up to fields spreading up to the San Juan Mountains and stunning Wilson Peak.

Golden Autumn Aspen