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5 Tips for driving the Million Dollar Highway

I love, love, love travel gigs, and this one goes down in the books. Every moment, scrapbook worthy! Thanks to Toyota, myself, Patrick and a crew of other bloggers visited Colorado with one mission: Bond with the Million Dollar Highway.

Silly me had no idea that this was actually a nationally famous road, I thought the fun name was all part of the glory of the trip, a catchy title. It wasn’t until Patrick and I flew around edge after edge of one of the highest mountains in Colorado that I googled “Million Dollar Highway” to learn its history. That made the trip all the more exciting.

Here was our trusty chariot to kick off our trip. Toyota delivered this 2018 TRD Pro 4Runner to our house for the week. It has four-wheel drive with Active Traction Control, standard Multi-terrain Select with four modes, projector beam headlights, and my favorite, Siri Eyes Free Mode (the car talks to you!).

With all these features, I knew we were in for a big ride. Without further ado, here are my five best tips if you decide to travel the Million Dollar Highway, plus some other noteworthy sights to take in while in Colorado! Remember, we were newbies to this…

1. Read up on the Million Dollar Highway!

Known as one of the country’s most scenic highways, the Million Dollar Highway (aka US Highway 550) was built in 1888 and stretches about 25 miles, according to dangerousroads.org. The road hugs the outside of the mountain, sans any guardrails or shoulders. You can literally peek over the edge and see all the way down. It’s very chilling if you are not used to heights.

No one knows exactly how it earned it’s named. One story is travelers are so fearful they often say, “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to drive that again!” and another story is that it costs a million dollars per mile to build.

Patrick drove most of the way and he has a fear of heights. It worked out pretty well because he never had a moment to look down! I did and even though it felt pretty freaky, the scenes were breathtaking. Lush forests in an array of fall colors, set against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains and haunting fog. We don’t have that in Arizona that I’ve seen!

We went through Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, to Ridgway by the time we finished and reached 11,000 feet at our highest. I totally understand that John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High. I get it now!

Side note: My dad used to LOVE this song, I remember hearing it over and over as a kid growing up. So as we drove through these amazing scenes, I teared up a few times thinking about my dad and this song. 

Sentimental, melancholy memories. I don’t know if my dad ever traveled to Colorado, but I definitely knew his spirit was with us. 

2. Take a sturdy and safe vehicle!

This is where Toyota comes in. They knew their cars would handle this highway with a breeze and offered a variety of vehicles for us to take turns driving. Once we made it to Durango, we had dinner and then the next morning headed out to Silverton. We handed over the keys to the Durango and received the set for this Toyota Tacoma. This was the perfect ride to for going up and around the mountain. We always felt safe and the truck was easy to switch into whatever gear was needed for the terrain.

I’m not gonna lie, we took a wrong path at one point (thanks GPS!), and ended up in a weird patch of bumpy dirt trails. It wasn’t a problem at all, we turned this baby around and got back on track.

We made it to Silverton and the Toyota folks had French pastries waiting for us. Okay, then! It’s like they knew we needed comfort food!

3. Set an epic destination.

We stopped at the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour to learn about the history of the miners. It’s all part of the culture of the area, and has a lot of charm – and even chills. We took a train car down and deep into the mountain and we were told stories of the grueling work miners endured, all for the sake of gold.

Afterwards, we went into the city for lunch. It’s a small area but lined with so many cute shops, all filled with handmade items from artists. I wanted to take pictures so bad but knew it would be tacky (every store owner worked the floor!), so I didn’t. But one store had a whole wall of hearts and crosses, lots of colorful painted furniture and more. I left with so much inspiration to come home and create!

You know this is totally my style!

4. Get in the right mindset, and prepare to GET HIGH.

Our Toyota vehicles did all the hard work for us, from Siri Eyes Free to Bluetooth to seat warmers and custom temperatures – plus room to work on my laptop during those long stretches. As the driver, you can relax and enjoy the ride, easily stay focused on the twists and turns coming your way. Take your time and don’t rush.

Build in extra time to stop and take photos, you’ll see many people doing that along the way. Let yourself become inspired to take in the beauty. It’s really overwhelming and stunning. If you have a passenger, take turns driving so you both can experience the sights, that’s what we did.

Create a soundtrack, bring some yummy protein snacks. Here are more things you can do along the Million Dollar Highway!

It’s very important to remember that if you come from a lower elevation area, like us in Phoenix, your body will notice the difference in the much higher altitude. At times it was hard to breathe or I had a little bit of a headache. That’s why it’s best not rush, you’ll eventually adjust, no worries. Just know to expect it. Kinda like when you are on a cruise ship and you have to become used to being on the water.

NOTE: Make sure to check weather conditions before you take this journey!

5. Visit other parts of Colorado!

After we left Silverton, we made our way to Telluride. It’s just as pretty and just as exciting. We took a gondola ride up to a restaurant for our last dinner together.

Here we are being total nerds. Some teens hopped in the gondola with us and could tell we were newbies. They turned out to be super sweet and informed us when to jump out (“NOW!!!!”), and even snapped some pics for us.

Here’s what the cars, errr… gondolas looked liked. It was like a state fair sky ride on steroids! We went up high through the mountains until we reached our destination. We jumped out quickly because they don’t stop. They keep moving on to the next station that’s even higher. So yeah, I’m, happy those kids gave us the clue to hop out on time!

After dinner, we headed back down the mountain, confident we mastered the hights of Colorado. While we high fived and strolled back to the resort…we lost track of our path and wound up completely lost in the darkness. For a moment I could hear my heart pounding in my ear, and in that split second, I could have started to cry. We were flat out exhausted, all we wanted was to get to our room after a long day of adventures.

I kept my ish together. We didn’t have cell service, so we used our brains and iPhone lights to find our way back. All the resorts looked alike, seriously, we felt like we were in a movie! We entered one hotel I saw this on the floor. I wanted to fall and kiss this little piece of brass. It meant we made it to the right place!

So, another tip – pay attention!

We had such a great time on this trip, I’m so thankful to Toyota for inviting us! Remember last year I went on the balloon ride with Toyota?  This trip topped even that!

Make sure to follow #MillionDollar Highway to see other travelers’ adventures!

Oh! And the next week, I test drove a brand new Prius for a week! L-O-V-E-D it!!

To see more about Toyota vehicles, visit here!

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1 thought on “5 Tips for driving the Million Dollar Highway”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience on the drive and all the pictures! Back in 1912 there was talk about redoing the road. During a planning meeting one of the people at the table started adding up the quotes for different parts of the work and made the comment that it would cost around a million dollars (at the TIME!… close to $30 Million today) and so he kept calling it “this million dollar highway.” 🙂


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