Most Dangerous Colorado Roads
Colorado is a tourist destination that is favored by people from all over the world. Every year it attracts millions of people from dozens of different countries who come to enjoy the world-famous ski resorts, five-star retreats and spas, thriving local hotspots, and abundant wildlife, all set against a breathtaking, mountainous landscape.
Although the Centennial State has something for everyone, the rambling terrains and harsh weather present many hair-raising challenges for residents and out-of-state drivers alike. Based on data that was accumulated by the Colorado State Patrol, there were upwards of 3,700 car accidents in Colorado, of which nearly 300 were fatal, in 2022.
While natives and current residents might already be aware of the perils of Colorado roadways, especially in the middle of winter, the majority of the state’s visitors are completely oblivious to the dubious driving conditions they will have to deal with when traveling throughout the state.
Listed below are the five most treacherous roads Colorado has to offer, and what you should be prepared for while driving on them.
Rabbit Ears Pass Highway
Taking its moniker from the two pillars of basalt rock extending from the peak, Rabbit Ears Pass is a huge mountain pass that spreads across the Rocky Mountains for almost 60 miles.
Finished in 1917, Rabbit Ears Pass Highway has been recognized as one of the most influential cross-country roads in the United States. The Pas connects Steamboat Springs and Kremmling through U.S. Highway 40, which makes it a favorite route for anyone who wants to spend their vacation relaxing in natural hot springs and, of course, skiing.
Sporting an altitude of more than 9,400 feet, Rabbit Ears Pass is shorter than most of the mountain passes in the region, but this does nothing to deter the massive snowstorms that come through the winter, creating avalanches, icy roadways, and little to no visibility for anyone trying to drive.
Loveland Pass Road
Residing in Summit County, Loveland Pass is a tall mountain pass that reaches more than 11,000 feet above sea level. To get to the top, drivers have to climb a part of U.S. Highway 6 popularly known as Loveland Pass Road.
Despite the fact that it is usually open for the entire year, Loveland Pass Road is infamous for its dangerous road conditions during the winter because snow removal is an unreasonably difficult undertaking. The Pass is also home to quite a few heart-stopping trails best left to the stouthearted, such as a steep uphill climb with a 6.7 percent grade, countless switchbacks with no guardrails, and treacherous cliffs.
Since 1973, most visitors have bypassed this difficult drive by choosing to travel via the Eisenhower Tunnel that runs along Interstate 70. Unfortunately, the tunnel was not designed to fit trucks that measure more than 13 feet and 5 inches tall. This means a lot of tractor-trailers and other truck drivers have no choice but to take a higher road.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Situated parallel to Pikes Peak Highway is Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which sits at a higher elevation than any other road in North America. The 28-mile byway snakes all the way to the pinnacle of Mount Evans at an elevation of 14,000 feet.
As they traverse the byway, sightseers are forced to contend with a climb that gets progressively steeper, with the final five miles containing grades that vary between 2 and 5 percent, along with hairpin switchbacks and blind turns. The lofty elevation exposes the road to massive snowfalls and precariously little visibility, causing it to be reachable only between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.
Despite the fact that it is a formidable undertaking for any driver, the byway also boasts its share of beautiful forest and mountain views. The byway winds its way across five climate zones, through forests and lakes above the treeline, where hearty voyagers are welcomed with a picturesque view that reveals all the true beauty of our state.
Pikes Peak Highway
Pikes Peak, nicknamed “America’s Mountain, is situated in El Paso County in the Rocky Mountains and reaches just shy of 15,000 feet above sea level. It sits at one of the highest road elevations in the country. A tourist-favorite part of the scenery, Pikes Peak hosts more visitors than any other mountain in North America and is the second most popular mountain in the world for sightseers.
The road to the top is called Pikes Peak Highway. It is a winding toll road, 19 miles long, and was constructed in 1915. It receives more than half a million tourists each season. Even in beautiful weather, drivers are presented with many hurdles along the winding roadway, which has upwards of 150 curves, including plenty of tight switchbacks, and drop-offs that go down several hundred feet and feature not one single guardrail.
Those challenges are only intensified as snow and ice begin to develop across the pass early in the fall. The smallest change in handling or acceleration could result in your car spinning out, veering off the roadway, or losing control entirely. Although the road is mostly open all year long, area closures are typical as temperatures approach or go below freezing.
The Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway is part of the San Juan Skyway. Constructed in the 1880s, over the past 100 years, it has made a name for itself by having one of the most picturesque drives in America. It is a favorite, particularly among motorcyclists.
The road is 25 miles long and follows U.S. Route 550 from Ouray to Silverton, weaving up three high mountain passes, Red Mountain Pass, Cold Bank Pass, and Molas Pass each one sitting at an altitude that comes close to 10,600 feet.
The road conditions along the highway are extremely irregular. Snow starts to cover the road in the fall and storms cause landslides that cascade onto the road. Chains for winter driving are generally needed to traverse the highway safely during the winter, and closings are a common event. If all that isn’t harrowing enough for your nerves of steel, this road lacks even the most rudimentary of safety features such as side shoulders and guard rails.
Driving along the Million Dollar Highway is an extraordinary adventure, as drivers appreciate miles and miles of awe-inspiring views, but between the extreme elevation, unpredictable weather, and absence of safety features, they have to remain vigilant.