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Old 01-06-2020, 08:03 PM   #1
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Winter Driving On 70 Through Colorado

We're leaving Minnesota with our 5.0 for Death Valley somewhere around Jan 14-17, depending on the weather window, with our 1st DV reservation on Jan 24. We'll be staying at Cracker Barrels or Passport America sites along the way. Our second night will be in Big Springs, NE (Passport America) where we have to decide 70 through the mountains, or 80 across northern Colorado.

What's it like on 70 through the mountains, assuming the weather is halfway decent?

Have you actually driven your camper across Colorado's 70 in the winter?

Thanks,

Perry
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Old 01-06-2020, 08:41 PM   #2
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West is better than east. Once you make it through the Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail on 70 the worst is probably behind you. From then on better than 80. Alternative is to go farther South.
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Old 01-06-2020, 08:42 PM   #3
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Driven time and again. In decent weather its a beautiful drive. Lots of well kept rest areas.

This site will tell you about current road conditions throughout the state.

https://www.cotrip.org/map.htm#/defa...CameraId=11009

Here are some easy rest areas heading west on I-70. This list does not include every rest area. Just the ones we find convenient and easy when pulling the trailer.
Exit 238 just west of Idaho Springs. Just before this short spur road rejoins I-70 there is a large asphalt parking area.
Exit 205. Just west of Silverthorne. Rest area.
Just before Exit 195 is Uneva Lake. Good place to stop for pictures. Look for the lake and the sign about scenic area because it's not an official rest area.
Exit 163 rest area.
Exit 140. Gypsum. COSTO if you belong. Gas station. They permit overnight parking.
Exit 90. Rest area. Overnight parking OK
Exit 26. Grand Junction. All the major truck stops for gas.
Exit 10. The Fruita state welcome center. Free dump. Free water. Free coffee. Free maps. But no overnight parking. There is a very nice state park/campground just down the road. James M. Robb Colorado River SP.
Exit 2. Rabbit Valley. A free BLM camping area. 39.192945 -108.996319

Enjoy your trip.

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Old 01-06-2020, 09:14 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Viajante View Post
Alternative is to go farther South.
Exactly. Our winter weather tends to come from the northwest. 80 can be worse than 70 during winter storms. Not as mountainous, of course, but really bad driving.

In that event, I would take 25 south to 40 then west to the Las Vegas area then to Death Valley. No mountains. Nicer weather in general. But it’s still January.
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Old 01-06-2020, 10:10 PM   #5
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PLEASE pay attention to the weather. The Polar Vortex may make it's presence known as it dips down from the Arctic next week. There's a chance Portland will get snow next Tuesday/Wednesday (that's the farthest out for predictions). IF it happens here, the entire top portion of the USA is likely to see below freezing weather, combined with any moisture... YIKES.
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Old 01-06-2020, 11:12 PM   #6
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A good weather forecast can be a life saver. If internet is an option then go to one of our ski area websites and look at their forecast. Copper Mountain is located nicely between Loveland and Vail Passes and they will be quite focused on their locations. I copied today's forecast below just as an example.


January 6, 2020 7:43am MST

Update

As expected, Sunday was dry, and then on Sunday night, a storm brought snow.
The official report on Monday morning at 500am is that 1 inch accumulated at mid-mountain. This is on the low end of our 1-4 inch forecast because the heaviest snow stayed just to the north and east of the mountain. Still, one inch of new snow is a nice way to refresh the groomers on Monday morning.
On Monday, look for temperatures in the teens, mostly cloudy skies, additional snow showers, and light accumulations of a dusting to an inch or two.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will see partly-to-mostly sunny weather with temperatures in the 20s.
The next storm will bring waves of snow from Wednesday evening through Friday evening. Both Thursday and Friday could deliver soft snow with a storm total of 4-8 inches. I hope to offer more details soon about the timing of any heavier snow and which of the two days might be the best powder day.
From Friday night through Saturday midday, we will see a break in the snow.
Then a stormy period will begin on Saturday afternoon or evening and continue for about four days, ending around Wednesday night or Thursday (January 15-16). These multi-day storm cycles often lead to the best powder conditions so my excitement is rising. I’ll provide more details in the next few days as the forecast models become more consistent in their predictions.
Thanks for reading and check back each morning for daily updates!
JOEL GRATZ
Meteorologist at OpenSnow.com
Contact me: joel@opensnow.com
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Old 01-07-2020, 12:43 AM   #7
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We just returned from a long holiday trip and decided to gamble and go to OKC then head west on I40 since all the 10 day forecasts showed clear. When we hit Tucumcari, NM just after dark blinding snow was coming down and no mention of it on the forecasts. Snowed off and on until we dropped down into Albuquerque which was cold but clear,
We like the Walmart for overnight in Grants NM about 50 more miles and forecasts showed cold but clear with no issues so on we went. 11 mi from Grants we hit a wasteland of rolled over Class A’s, Semis, Jack-knifed semis, wrecked cars that had recently happened. All emergency personnel were on the highway figuring out the carnage.
At that point we just about joined them, but I didn’t touch the brakes and we got control back. Flash Freeze and black ice covered interstate that these people suddenly drove into at 75-85mph. They never had a prayer. We crept the last 7 mi at 20 mph into Grants through continued carnage and got into a full Walmart parking lot for overnight.
Not one bit of this snow or ice covered Interstate carnage was on any forecast including 511, and we had been continuously checking them all day to make decisions about proceeding.
Sometimes the forecasts can be helpful and sometimes they are absolutely worthless. Use extreme caution if you pull in Winter areas even if it is showing good.
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Old 01-07-2020, 12:56 AM   #8
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Old 01-07-2020, 11:28 AM   #9
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I drive I-70 through the mountains frequently year-round, with and without our 19. As others have suggested, keep a close eye on the forecast for either I-70 or I-80, and at various locations along the route as weather can change dramatically depending on where you are.

I-70 has several big descents (namely the drive down from the tunnel to Silverthorne, and Vail Pass) that can be tricky even in dry conditions. Glenwood Canyon also offers its own sort of treachery, with tight corners and lingering ice. I avoid towing at all on I-70 if there is a storm, or significant recent snowfall that has left the roads snowpacked. Slick roads, steep descents, and significant traffic are not a fun combination. cotrip.org has pretty good webcams and other resources that track road conditions on all of these sections.

Also, avoid the section from Denver to Frisco on Friday afternoons/evenings or Saturday morning, unless you enjoy stop-and-go traffic.

I-80 is less scenic, but is much flatter and straighter. However, 80 can have terrible winds (especially if paired with snow).

Edit to add: familiarize yourself with new tire/chain restrictions on I-70. https://www.codot.gov/travel/winter-driving/tractionlaw
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Old 01-07-2020, 04:11 PM   #10
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I-80 can be a fast way to get into Utah and Nevada. But the problem in January is often wind and blowing snow. If they close the road you will likely be directed to a parking lot in Cheyenne or Laramie and it will probably be too cold to de-winterize the trailer. A book has been written about the stretch of I-80 west of Laramie. The title is: "The Snow Chi Minh Trail." Also, once you make it across Wyoming you have to deal with heavy traffic around Salt Lake City.

A southern route might make more sense in the winter. We have found Kansas to be very RV friendly with many nice state parks and often free camping in city parks.
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Old 01-09-2020, 04:42 PM   #11
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Hi Perry:

Like several others here I live in Boulder CO. I travel both on a pretty regular schedule and I have some ideas to share with you.

Comparing the two roads, I-70 and I-80, they are VERY different.

I-70 thru the heart of the Colorado Rockies means constant up and down, very fast traffic, several notable hills (including Floyd hill outside of Denver) and two major mountain passes. Actually one, Vail pass but the Eisenhowser Tunnel needs to be handled like a pass. The run outs (both East and West) on the tunnel can be full of break neck speedy traffic. They are long!

Vail pass, although not as high as the tunnel can be worse! And the run out into Vail is tricky.There are tight turns at the bottom.

You can do all of it, but not if it is snowing or if it has snowed over the last few days. Just stay off those roads in stormy conditions. Wait until sunshine hits the road. It can get really bad. Same advice for I-80. Just stay put or time the storms so you don't hit them. This is really important.

After Vail you begin to ease into the desert. Mind you there are still mountains and curvy roads, but it should be easier. Glenwood canyon is spectacular and the hot springs are on the other side of the canyon. I love Glenwood Springs.

Eisenhowser Tunnel El. 11,000 feet.
Vail pass El. 10,666 feet.

These are big mountains with big downhill run outs. They go on for a while. After Glenwood Springs, you still have to be careful but you should be fine. I-70 is serious interstate.

I-80. NO big deal out of Cheyenne until you get to the top of the Laramie Mountains (Sherman Summit). The pass is 8,835 feet, but go very slowly West down the pass. I have seen some horrible driving there. There have been many bad wrecks going down into Laramie. You should be okay. Go slow, like 35 mph (to start)! After Laramie, the road is slightly uphill until you hit Arlington, and then you climb up to Elk Mountain Ridge. That pass is about 7,400. Be careful, but it is straightforward. The run out down into the North Platte river basin is long too.

After you hit the North Platte, you begin to climb gently into the Red Desert. Usually dry and easy.

If the roads are clear, I-80 is way easier than I-70. I-80 is pretty, but I-70 is stunning. I-80 is usually fast. Truckers can be rude.

When you get to Rock Springs on I-80, consider cutting down South to Hwy 191 into Vernal. You cross the Uinta mountains there and there are plenty of campgrounds around Dutch John. The Green River leaves the reservoir there and is crystal clear and full of very big trout. Lovely place to spend the night and the people and very friendly. Be careful coming down into Dutch John, there are several sections that you need to be alert. Those are steep grades. They are all paved and marked. Watch out for black cows and wild horses on the road.

From there, you can travel over the mountains and down to Moab Utah and drive thru the canyon country. Very beautiful. Several National parks including Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce and Zion. Lots more too. Both Hwy 191 and Hwy 89 are mind blowing. Lots of camping.

That is the easiest way thru the mountains and Hwy 191 is a wonderful choice and you avoid Salt Lake City. Watch out for I-15 thru Utah. Those are still the Rockies and way treacherous when it is snowing. Very pretty, dangerous when snowing.

I hope that gets you thinking.
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Old 01-09-2020, 04:56 PM   #12
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Either pass, be sure to stay hydrated to prevent altitude sickness, it got me the first time I went thru Colorado....
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Old 01-09-2020, 06:11 PM   #13
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Either pass, be sure to stay hydrated to prevent altitude sickness, it got me the first time I went thru Colorado....

Are you sure it wasn't that Spam milkshake you had for breakfast?
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Old 01-09-2020, 06:43 PM   #14
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No, I can eat spam and scrapple all day long, it is the poutine I have to watch out for.....
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Old 01-09-2020, 08:50 PM   #15
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I-80 can be a fast way to get into Utah and Nevada. But the problem in January is often wind and blowing snow...
Pay close attention to the wind forecast. The entire state of Wyoming can be a wind tunnel. So can the first 10-20 miles of I-70 heading west from Denver, but once you get over the first pass they taper off nicely.
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Old 01-10-2020, 04:49 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by alanmalk View Post
Pay close attention to the wind forecast. The entire state of Wyoming can be a wind tunnel. So can the first 10-20 miles of I-70 heading west from Denver, but once you get over the first pass they taper off nicely.
In Wyoming they use a piece of anchor chain from the USS Wyoming (BB-32) as a wind gauge.
Locals tell visitors that it's not really windy until a fathom of the chain is blowing parallel to the ground.
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Old 01-10-2020, 06:55 PM   #17
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Old 01-22-2020, 11:33 AM   #18
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Well, the potential hazards of 70 have been well articulated and this aspect should probably take precedence in a routing decisions. That said, the design and engineering that went into that hi-speed road through the mountains is remarkable and well worth viewing. I expect that if your schedule is flexible enough you can drive that route safely and at a time with minimum traffic.
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Old 01-22-2020, 08:00 PM   #19
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We're leaving Minnesota with our 5.0 for Death Valley somewhere around Jan 14-17, depending on the weather window, with our 1st DV reservation on Jan 24. We'll be staying at Cracker Barrels or Passport America sites along the way. Our second night will be in Big Springs, NE (Passport America) where we have to decide 70 through the mountains, or 80 across northern Colorado.

What's it like on 70 through the mountains, assuming the weather is halfway decent?

Have you actually driven your camper across Colorado's 70 in the winter?
Thanks,

Perry
Yes I have. Back in November I went through 285 down through Fairplay to Ouray with a 29 ft. 5th wheel and 2500 long bed 4x4 diesel. The weather changed and mild flurries in Ouray. Came back via 70 and the snow got really bad. Was running in 4WD watching cars coming at me to gauge the snow we were driving into. Around Vail there was suddenly no one coming at us, and then noticed nobody else behind passing me. The highway patrol had closed 70 both sides of us and we were in the dead space. I got through but my takeaway is it is passable even in some snow with 4x4 BUT it was knuckles white driving. The weather on the plains is no indication of the passes. You need a good clear stretch of good weather and use the camera site to see what it is like all along the route before you start your run .
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Old 01-23-2020, 07:03 AM   #20
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I found that some rest stops had the weather for travelers and sometimes a local am radio station can be helpful. That said, out last trip home from Osoyoos Rally 2019 was the worst weather I have ever encountered, all on I90 and I80 heading east. Some people had their wipers blown off their vehicle. They shutdown the highway and we had to seek shelter and fortunately found a spot between 2 semis for protection from the wind, hail, and sleet. I should realized that when it got dark before 8 pm there was a reason.
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