Red Mountain Pass is in the Uncompahgre Gorge, a deep mountain canyon formed by the Uncompahgre River and Red Mountain Creek. This pass straddles a divide that separates Ouray and San Juan counties. From Silverton, U.S. Highway 550 (known as the Million Dollar Highway) winds over the Pass and descends into Ouray. Ouray is famous for its sulfur-free hot springs.
Begin in Ridgeway and ride southeast on US 550
Continue riding through Ouray
Riding to Red Mountain Summit--mile 23.6
Finish in Silverton--mile 33.5
This Pass provides the most squeamish ride amongst the Passport passes. The scenery is beautiful, but the road is treacherous; two-lanes wide with tight curves, mountain grades, and sheer drop-offs with no guardrail. The weather is highly unpredictable. Driving this Pass, let alone riding, on a rainy day may be hazardous with unsettling waterfalls appearing along the highway.
The descent into Ouray is one of the best in Colorado.
Ouray, 13 miles to the north
Silverton, 10.5 miles to the south
Ridgeway, 23.6 miles to the north
Ouray is famous for its sulfur-free hot springs and the perfect place to stop at the end of your ride. There are five hot springs in Ouray and nearby Ridgway. A multi-million dollar renovation to the hot springs will be completed by summer 2017.
The pass is named for the nearby Red Mountain on the northeast side of the pass. The name is derived from the iron oxide laden rock that forms its slopes.
The rush to the Red Mountain district started with the discovery of the iconic Yankee Girl Mine. Yankee Girl Mine was discovered by John Robinson establishing Colorado’s newest mining district in 1882. As he was hunting a piece of rock caught his eye so he picked it up. Robinson noticed the weight and when he broke it open he found silver-gray metallic metal (galena). He realized the rich find and began to excavate. He and his partners exposed a vein which turned out to be a vertical shaft or ‘chimney” of solid ore (extremely rare in the mining industry). In 1883, they interconnected tunnels to the Robinson and the Orphan Boy mines reaching a length of 25 miles.
A road across steep “impassable” cliffs to provide access to the Red Mountain Mining District was built quickly. It eventually became known as the famous Million Dollar Highway. The town of Silverton then completed the Silverton Railroad into the Red Mountain District. The short little twenty-mile railroad that Otto Mears, “the Pathfinder of the San Juans,” built is today one of the most historic and well known of all the narrow gauge railroads in Colorado. It carried the nickname of “The Rainbow Route” as it reached forward to a pot of gold and it arched across the steep Red Mountain Divide like a rainbow in the sky.
After the Silver Panic of 1893, Red Mountain mining was never the same. The Silverton Railroad cut back service, shortened the line and then was abandoned in 1922. The last great mine – the Idarado – closed in 1978. At the crest of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 is the ghost town site of Red Mountain Town. In its heyday, roughly 10,000 inhabitants and 100 businesses occupied the town where National Bell Mine is located.