The standard way to get from Telluride to Ridgway in southwest Colorado is a semi-circular route on highways 62 and 145. However, those with a little more time take a must-see detour winding diagonally between these paved highways — the rustic Last Dollar Road.
Bumpy, colorful, vast and adventurous, this hidden dirt road in historic ranching country gives stunning rewards for those willing the take the time to get around the bend.
As Last Dollar Road winds through a low valley surrounded by jagged peaks and deep-blue skies, each bend delivers jaw-dropping scenery. At one turn you’ll find yourself in a cathedral of sun-bathed aspens; at another, a flat vista with views of a quilt-like terrain of furry pines and aspens; turn again, and you’re in a wide-open grassy field, where pristine nature is the only thing between you and the San Juan Mountains.
Don’t miss the clear view of Wilson Peak, recognizable not only to geo-savvy Coloradans, but also to anyone who’s ever examined the label on a Coors bottle. Another point of interest is the historic ranch from the original “True Grit” western starring John Wayne.
Last Dollar Road isn’t a once in a lifetime trip — it’s more like a three times in one-year necessity. Go during summer for lush greenery as far as the eye can see; again in the fall for unparalleled red, yellow and orange foliage; and in spring, when grassy fields are blanketed with alpine wildflowers.
When this road was a mining supply route in the 1800s, the workers probably weren’t too enthusiastic about its sharp turns and bumpy patches. But today, travelers have a whole different attitude. Thrill seekers (and confident drivers) boldly take on Last Dollar with enthusiasm.
Like the infamous Road to Hana in Hawaii, Last Dollar Road can be a bit of a challenge (even impassible after a heavy rain), but is completely worth the trek. Most off-road experts in the area would classify this road as a beginner to intermediate trail. Four-wheel drive is not required when the road is dry, but we recommend utilizing one of the many ATV and jeep operators in the area. This is one adventure where you’ll want nothing keeping you from the scenic sights and fresh mountain air.
From Telluride: Take CO 145 west approximately five miles and turn right on Last Dollar Road. You will pass the Telluride airport on your right when the road is still paved.
From Ridgway: Take Highway 62 west until you see a sign for Last Dollar Road. Turn left off of the highway and continue left when you hit a fork in the road (a right turn will take you to the town of Sawpit).
Photo credits: Courtesy of Kane Scheidegger/Ouray Chamber Resort Association; copyright flickr/jypsygen.