Catch Them Before They Fall
Leaves crunch underfoot. The first whiffs of smoke drift from a far-off fireplace. Autumn has arrived in Colorado—and there's no better time to take a drive into the mountains. Here, four can't-miss routes covering nearly 250 miles of fall splendor.
The Million Dollar Highway
The Route: This out-and-back route follows the jaw-dropping Highway 550, aka Million Dollar Highway, north of Durango to Ouray with a potential side-trip to Silverton, 48 miles into your journey.
Total Miles: 70
Where to Eat: Sidle up to the bar at Carver Brewing Company (970-259-2545; www.carverbrewing.com) in Durango for a hearty home-style breakfast that'll fill your tank before jumping in the car (locals swear by the Super Scramble). In Silverton, lunching at the rustic Handlebars Restaurant & Saloon (970-387-5395)—where Rocky Mountain oysters coexist with award-winning buffalo chili—is a must. If libations are on your list, check out the Silverton Brewery (970-387-5033; www.silvertonbrewing.com), but be prepared for the effects of the 8.5 percent stout. "We don't make any weak, wimpy beers," says owner Joel Harvie. In Ouray, order up a rib-eye steak at The Outlaw Restaurant (970-325-4366; www.outlawrestaurant.com).
Where to Stay: Stretch out your legs (and your trip) with an overnight stay at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodge (970-325-4347; www.wiesbadenhotsprings.com) in Ouray. Soak in the warmth of the outdoor pool (99 to 102 degrees), which affords stellar views of the surrounding peaks.
The Kids Will Love: Durango's P is for Peanut (970-385-4525; www.pisforpeanut.com) will sate your pint-size travelers with freshly ground peanut-butter-infused fare—from the classic PB&J to the Anything Goes, which pairs peanut butter with M&Ms, mini marshmallows, sunflower seeds, or raisins. Don't forget to grab a few nutty items for the car. Mouse's Chocolates (970-325-7285) in Ouray, a modern emporium chock-full of fresh, handmade Belgian chocolates, makes for a great end-of-day treat or a perfect spot to grab a cup of freshly roasted joe for the return trip.
Photo Op: Pull into the Molas Pass overlook (about 42 miles from Durango at 10,899 feet) for over-the-top views of the foliage surrounding Snowdon and Electric peaks, two of Colorado's more majestic and mind-blowing thirteeners.
Bonus: Cool off in Ouray with a short hike into the thunderous Box Canyon Falls (accessed at the west end of Third Avenue)—a 285-foot waterfall pouring into a narrow canyon.
Quick Tip: Fuel stations are few and far between; fill up in Durango before you go. If you're in a pinch, Needles Country Store, just before Durango Mountain Resort, has gas; another station sits at the opposite end of Ouray from where you'll enter town.