The Last Dollar Road, located in South Central Colorado between the towns of Ridgeway and Telluride, is one of my favorite unpaved drives. It isn’t always ‘less traveled’ and it isn’t necessarily passable in a passenger car after heavy rains or when snow has fallen. It is especially beautiful for flowers in late June and for fall colors in late September.
From pavement to pavement, this route is about 18 miles. You can start from either end but I usually start from Ridgeway and go south to Telluride. You can find the Last Dollar Road turnoff on Highway 62, 12 miles from the only stoplight in Ouray County at the junction of Hwy 550 and CO. Hwy 62 in Ridgeway. There is a small Forest Service sign at the turn off, saying "Last Dollar Road". The road begins as a basic gravel road that winds through some large ranches. At this point there are wide open views of open ranch land and of the Sneffels Mountain Range.
After 5 miles on the gravel road, there is a turn off to the left that is labeled Last Dollar and Rd 58P. You take this road to the left. (The road to the right goes to the town of Sawpit on CO. Hwy 145.) You will head downhill as you turn left and the road will become narrow and more rocky for about one and a half miles where you reach a water crossing. It can be anywhere from a small trickle to a couple of large puddles and a small stream. I have been concerned a few times about the water here but have never actually had a problem. Though the puddles sometime may be large they have never been very deep. After you pass through this area you start to climb gradually and the road opens up more but it can be very rutted and muddy after hard rains. You again begin to see mountain views and after a few miles start to climb into pine forest. You will start to alternate pretty quickly between aspen groves and pines. In the fall it is hard to decide which aspen grove is actually the prettiest.
At 9.3 miles from Hwy. 62, you reach a look out point where you can see the red canyon walls that Hwy 145 to Telluride runs in. On clear day, off the the northwest you can see the La Sal Mountains near Moab, UT. You’ll see more pine forest and aspen groves and some dispersed camping sites as you climb to the highest point of this road which is at 10.5 miles from Hwy 62. At the top you will find the Alder Creek trailhead and several dispersed camping spots in the pine forest on both sides of the road. This is a great place to stop and enjoy some lunch.
From here the road is all pretty much downhill. The views toward Mount Wilson and Telluride to the south are fabulous. In late June the hillsides here are filled with flowers. In the fall the aspens on the hillsides are beautiful.
As you get down the hill, there is another small stream crossing, that has never been a problem for me. Further down you will find a rock slide area that can be easily crossed . At 12.4 miles from the Hwy 62 turn off you are basically down. The road turns to nice gravel as it starts to wind through ranches and homes. The houses here are in the multi-million dollar range. Tom Cruise has a home high on the eastern mountainside, but I have never been sure which is his. It is about 6 miles of nice gravel and nice views before you meet the pavement near the Telluride airport. To get to Telluride and Hwy 145 you go to the left. To the right is the airport. Telluride has lots of shops to explore. The Bridal Veil falls can be found on the south end of town. There is a free Gondola, that is dog friendly, that will take you up the mountain or over to the Mountain Village ski resort area. If you get off on the top of the mountain there are great views of Telluride and the surrounding mountains. You can return to our starting point in Ridgeway by taking Hwy 145 out of Telluride to Hwy 62 East. This route is part of the San Juan Scenic Byway and very beautiful as well.
The Last Dollar Road is usually passable in a passenger vehicle between June and September when it is dry. It is not advisable to do in a passenger car after heavy rains. It is a great route to explore.. Enjoy!