Winter in Colorado is no joke. Ice and snow-caked roads, highways, and mountain passes make for dangerous and hazardous driving conditions across the state. When it comes to traveling through heavy snow, strong gusty winds, and blistering cold temperatures, here’s our list of some of Colorado’s most dangerous roads to watch out for this winter.
1. I-70 Mountain Corridor
I-70 is a major east-west Interstate highway in the United States that runs from Maryland through Colorado into Utah, stretching for 2,151 miles. It serves as one of the main routes to Colorado’s ski country including Vail, Aspen, Winter Park, Keystone, and Breckenridge. I-70 mountain travel has its hiccups due to a combination of factors including traffic congestion, steep grades, accidents, and wild weather causing slick roads and other hazards – like that one time an avalanche covered the highway (video link).
If you are headed to the mountains on the weekend, plan ahead for more traffic than usual. It’s also important to watch out for mandatory chain and traction laws on I-70, especially during the winter months. Truckers are required to have chains and passenger vehicles must have either snow tires, mud/snow tires, chains, or an alternative device like an autosock. 4WD and AWD vehicles must have snow tires or all-weather tires with 3/16 inch tread depth. Portions of I-70 often close due to severe weather conditions. The highway is also notorious for serious semi-accidents and spin-outs due to its steep curvy descent.
I-25 is a major interstate highway that travels north and south, serving as the main connection from Denver to Colorado Springs. Traffic congestion due to rush hour and ongoing construction is normally expected for this particular stretch of the highway. When winter weather strikes, motorists are often advised to avoid taking I-25 from Castle Rock to Colorado Springs, particularly in the Monument Hill area where harsh weather tends to hit the hardest. Reduced speed limits and temporary closures are often put into place for safety concerns.
3. Denver metro area
Roads surrounding the Denver metro area are often a mess, especially when you add snow and ice to the mix. In fact, winter weather is often the blame for the majority of delays and crashes. One snowstorm resulted in more than 300 crashes in the Denver metro area, with 93 of those occurring within a 3-hour period.
According to a recent study, the average Denver commuter spends 83 hours per year stuck in traffic. While it’s unlikely that traffic jams will ever disappear, avoiding peak travel times allows for an easier and stress-free commute. Adding to all the chaos, Colorado drivers aren’t exactly known for their set of skills out on the roads and you’ll find more of those drivers in the Denver metro area than anywhere else.
4. Loveland Pass
Alpine travel often gets a little sketchy along Loveland Pass, an 8.7-mile road that soars high into the mountains at nearly 12,000 feet. It is located between I-70 and Keystone, offering an alternative route to I-70 and the Eisenhower Tunnel. Hikers and skiers often use the route for accessing backcountry terrain, as well as Arapahoe Basin Resort. It’s also noted as the highest road in the country that’s kept open on a year-round basis. Travel along this high alpine road is strongly discouraged amid snow, freezing temperatures, and blowing snow.
5. Monarch Pass
Monarch Pass winds beautifully into the mountains at 11,312 feet along the Continental Divide between Gunnison and Poncha Springs, located just 20 minutes from Salida. If you’re not familiar, Monarch Pass leads to the natural snowy slopes of Monarch Mountain. While skiers and riders will often go to great lengths to get to the mountains on a powder day, it’s important to drive carefully along this steep and winding alpine road.
6. Berthoud Pass
Don’t let the views distract you on Berthoud Pass. The steep, winding switchbacks can make your stomach turn on this high mountain pass, reaching an elevation of 11,307 feet. While the route offers a fast connection to Winter Park from Denver, avalanches and snowslides often make winter travel on this route extremely difficult. Cars are unable to make it up the pass during winter weather on a regular basis.
7. Red Mountain Pass
Travel in the winter months can be nerve-wracking along Red Mountain Pass. Not to mention, it’s known as one of the most treacherous roads in the state. Running between Ouray and Silverton, the mountain road caps off at 11,018 feet with grades as steep as 8%. Avalanches often trigger temporary closures, leaving portions of the road buried under several feet of snow. If natural disasters happen to occur, travelers are often rerouted between Ridgway and Durango over Lizard Head Pass – a much longer route. See what it’s like to plow this dangerous road here.
Independence Pass, Trail Ridge Road, Mount Evans Scenic Byway, and Kebler Pass all close annually for the winter season in Colorado. It’s important to note that dates and closures vary, depending on the weather and road conditions.
Don’t let snowy roads put a damper on your adventure plans. If you must go out, make sure you are prepared for winter travel and your tires meet the minimal requirements for Colorado’s new traction law. It’s also helpful to pack warm layers, snacks, water, and a flash flight for unexpected delays and emergencies. As always, travel safe and enjoy the views!
Editor’s Note: Never speed. If you’re traveling on slippery or snowy roads, use caution, slow down, and please, take it easy on the brakes. Make sure to keep a safe following distance between your car and one in front of you. Don’t forget to clear ice and snow from your windshield, windows, mirrors, and vehicle lights before driving. Before heading out, visit cotrip.org for the latest road conditions and closures.
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