Colorado Dangerous Roads
Colorado is a tourist destination that people from all over the world favor. Every year it attracts millions of people from dozens of 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. Based on data that the Colorado State Patrol accumulated, upwards of 3,700 car accidents in Colorado, 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, most of the state’s visitors are utterly oblivious to the dubious driving conditions they will have to deal with when traveling throughout the state.
Below are the nine scariest roads in Colorado and what you should be prepared for while driving.
Interstate 70 through the mountains
Interstate 70 (I-70) is a major east-west highway that runs over 400 miles across Colorado, connecting Denver on the state’s eastern side with Grand Junction on the western side. However, the stretch of I-70 that runs through the Rocky Mountains is considered one of the most dangerous roads in Colorado due to its steep grades, tight curves, and challenging driving conditions.
The section of I-70 that runs through the mountains includes several steep grades and switchbacks that can be difficult to navigate, especially for large trucks and vehicles towing trailers. The highway also includes several tunnels, including the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest vehicular tunnel in the world, with an elevation of over 11,000 feet.
Winter weather conditions can make driving on I-70 through the mountains even more hazardous. Snow and ice can accumulate quickly, and strong winds can create whiteout conditions, reducing driver visibility. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) often implements traction and chain laws for commercial vehicles during winter storms to improve safety and reduce the risk of accidents.
To improve safety on I-70 through the mountains, CDOT has implemented several measures, including adding additional truck escape ramps for runaway vehicles, increasing law enforcement presence, and installing weather sensors and cameras to monitor road conditions. However, despite these efforts, accidents, and closures due to weather and accidents are not uncommon on this stretch of highway.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that runs through Rocky Mountain National Park, connecting Estes Park and Grand Lake in Colorado. The road reaches elevations of over 12,000 feet, making it the highest continuous paved road in the United States.
The road is only open during the summer, typically from Memorial Day weekend in late May through the first week of November, depending on weather conditions. However, even during the summer, weather on Trail Ridge Road can be unpredictable, with sudden storms and high winds creating hazardous driving conditions.
The road offers stunning views of the Rocky Mountains, including glaciers, alpine meadows, and towering peaks. Several pull-off areas and scenic overlooks along the road allow visitors to stop and take in the views. The road also offers access to several hiking trails and other recreational opportunities within Rocky Mountain National Park.
However, Trail Ridge Road’s high elevation and steep grades can be challenging, particularly for those not accustomed to driving in mountainous terrain. The road includes several switchbacks and hairpin turn, and some sections have no guardrails, adding to the risk of driving on this road.
To improve safety on Trail Ridge Road, the National Park Service (NPS) has implemented several measures, including regular maintenance of the road surface, installation of warning signs, and increased law enforcement presence. The NPS also provides safety tips for visitors, including reducing speed and increasing following distance, checking weather forecasts before driving on the road, and using lower gears to control speed when descending steep grades.
Despite the challenges of driving on Trail Ridge Road, it remains a popular destination for Rocky Mountain National Park visitors. It offers some of the most stunning views of the Rockies by car.
US 6 through Clear Creek Canyon
US 6 is a major east-west highway over 3,200 miles from Massachusetts to California. In Colorado, a particularly dangerous section of US 6 runs through Clear Creek Canyon in the Rocky Mountains.
Clear Creek Canyon is a narrow canyon with cliffs and sharp curves, making driving on US 6 through this area challenging. The road is heavily trafficked, with many large trucks and vehicles towing trailers, making the road even more hazardous.
In addition to the difficult driving conditions, Clear Creek Canyon is prone to rockslides, which can occur anytime and without warning. These rockslides can block the road and cause accidents or injuries to drivers and passengers.
To improve safety on US 6 through Clear Creek Canyon, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has implemented several measures, including installing warning signs, increasing law enforcement presence, and adding barriers to help prevent rockslides from reaching the road. CDOT also monitors the road for rockslides and other hazards and closes the road when necessary for safety reasons.
Despite these efforts, US 6 through Clear Creek Canyon remains dangerous, and accidents are common. Drivers on this road should exercise caution and be prepared for changing weather and road conditions. It’s crucial to reduce speed and increase the following distance when driving on this highway, primarily through the narrow and winding sections of Clear Creek Canyon.
Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass
the Continental Divide in central Colorado, connecting the towns of Aspen and Twin Lakes. The pass is located at an elevation of over 12,000 feet, making it one of the highest mountains passes in the United States.
Weather permitting, the road is typically open from late May to early November and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains, including the Elk Mountains and the Sawatch Range. The road includes several hairpin turns and steep grades, making driving challenging, particularly for those not accustomed to mountainous terrain.
Despite the area’s beauty, the road can be dangerous, particularly during winter when it is closed to traffic due to heavy snowfall and the risk of avalanches. Sudden storms and high winds can create hazardous driving conditions even during summer.
To improve safety on Colorado Highway 82 over Independence Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has implemented several measures, including regular maintenance of the road surface, installation of warning signs, and increased law enforcement presence.
Rabbit Ears Pass Highway
Taking its moniker from the two pillars of basalt rock extending from the peak, Rabbit Ears Pass is a vast mountain pass that spreads across the Rocky Mountains for almost 60 miles.
Rabbit Ears Pass Highway is a mountain pass in northern Colorado that runs along US Highway 40 between the towns of Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. The pass is named after a rock formation resembling a rabbit’s ears.
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. The road includes several hairpin turns and steep grades, making driving challenging, particularly during winter when the road can be icy and snow-covered.
Despite the area’s beauty, the road can be dangerous, particularly during winter when it is often closed to traffic due to heavy snowfall and the risk of avalanches. Even during summer, sudden storms and high winds can create hazardous driving conditions.
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 reach the top, drivers must climb a part of U.S. Highway 6 called Loveland Pass Road.
Even though 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 tricky 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 hard drive by traveling via the Eisenhower Tunnel along Interstate 70. Unfortunately, the tunnel was not designed to fit trucks more than 13 feet and 5 inches tall, which means many tractor-trailers and other truck drivers have no choice but to take a higher road.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Mount Evans Scenic Byway is parallel to Pikes Peak Highway, which sits at a higher elevation than any other road in North America. The 28-mile byway snakes to the pinnacle of Mount Evans at the height of 14,000 feet.
As they traverse the byway, sightseers are forced to contend with a progressively steep climb, with the final five miles containing grades varying between 2 and 5 percent, 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.
Even though 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 our state’s true beauty.
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 famous 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, constructed in 1915. It receives more than half a million tourists each season. Even in beautiful weather, drivers are presented with 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 no guardrail.
Those challenges only intensify as snow and ice develop across the Pass early in the fall. The slightest change in handling or acceleration could result in your car spinning out, veering off the roadway, or losing control entirely. Although the road is primarily open annually, area closures are typical as temperatures approach or go below freezing.
US 550, 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 sitting at an altitude close to 10,600 feet.
The road conditions along the highway are highly irregular. Snow starts to cover the road in the fall, and storms cause landslides that cascade onto the street. Chains for winter driving are generally needed to traverse the highway safely during the winter, and closings are typical. If all that isn’t harrowing enough for your nerves of steel, this road lacks even the most rudimentary 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. Still, they must remain vigilant between the extreme elevation, unpredictable weather, and absence of safety features.
it’s important to stay informed of road and weather conditions by checking CDOT’s road conditions website and other weather resources before setting out on a trip.