Most visitors to Colorado come for the Rocky Mountain National Park, or renowned ski towns such as Vail, Breckenridge and Beaver Creek. Less well known is the San Juan Skyway, far to the south, but it is perhaps “the most spectacular stretch of tarmac in America”, A 236-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains, it commands consistently “celestial” views of 14,000ft peaks (hence “skyway”), and passes through some of the state’s most charming towns. A new initiative, the Inns of the San Juan Skyway, offers two- to ten-day self-drive or all-inclusive guided trips, with stays at historic hotels in the former mining settlements of Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton, Durango and Telluride.
The John Wayne classic True Grit was filmed in Ridgway in 1968, and the town is still like a film set, with its western-style saloons, “faded” firehouse and collection of 19th century trains. Nearby Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America” for the amphitheatre of jagged summits in which it sits. Circling the town is a six-mile hiking path, the Perimeter Trail, with a metal cliff walkway that takes you “deep into the thunder” of the towering Box Canyon Falls. The vertiginous road onwards to Silverton offers perhaps the most “hypnotic” views of the entire route.
There are wonderful hot springs along the way, including a natural subterranean steam room near Ouray. At Mesa Verde National Park near Durango, there are more than 600 Native American cliff dwellings, which are around 1,000 years old – the bestpreserved such site in America. And the most sublime of the five towns comes last. Tucked deep in a box canyon with “dragontooth” summits all around, Telluride and the hiking trails around it are almost “unreal” in their beauty. A four-night trip costs from £1,470pp, half-board (coloradoskyway.com).