Driving from Denver to Vail in Colorado

Driving from Denver to Vail is not just one of the most exhilarating and spectacular roads you can take in the state of Colorado – it’s also one of the most dangerous!

Driving from Denver to Vail

Millions of people make the hazardous journey for business purposes or to access the famed Rocky Mountain Resorts that lay on the other side of the Vail Pass. In 2019 over 6,596,547 travelers made the nail-biting commute from Denver to Vail by car through the Eisenhower tunnel which connects Clear Creek County from the East and Summit County at the West.

What Makes the Road From Denver to Vail so Dangerous?

There are so many perilous sections of this drive, that it’s hard to know where to begin:

  1. The steep elevation drops and climbs leaving Denver: As soon as you drive outside of Denver going west bound on I70, be prepared to experience massive drops and climbs in elevation as you navigate tight winding turns that lead away from the city and into the Rocky Mountains. If you have ever been on a roller coaster – that’s exactly the sensation you should be prepared to experience on this section of the road. Some people have even reported getting altitude sickness here!
  2. More elevation drops outside Vail: If you thought you had a rough ride outside of Denver, just wait until you start approaching Vail. Just over the Vail Pass, be prepared to be greeted by a massive 7% grade shift (one of the biggest in Colorado). Be sure to have your brakes in good working order - you’re going to need them!
  3. Hazardous Winter Driving Conditions: Colorado gets a lot of snow – this is why this State is one of the world’s most popular snow sport destinations; it’s also why some of its roads are so dangerous! Sections of the Denver to Vail commute are shut down throughout the Winter season because they become too dangerous to navigate. There are several avalanches each year that bring the road to a complete halt. Police are stationed on both sides of the Vail Pass, and sometimes outside of the Denver city limits turning travelers away for their own safety. In fact, many tourists prefer using a professional car service when traveling from Denver to Vail during Winter because they are not comfortable driving on such a dangerous road.
  4. Lots of Truck Traffic – The Denver to Vail section of I70 is not only the main route tourists and sports enthusiasts take to get into the Rockies; it’s also the central trucking route used to transport millions of tons of cargo every year throughout the Mid-West. As such, the road has lots of big heavy trucks driving at crazy fast speeds (trying to make their quotas) navigating those same elevation drops and sharp turns as regular passenger vehicles. Luckily, police enforce chain laws with heavy fines for truckers who endanger others by not complying with safety regulations
  5. Frequent construction – as if all these other factors were not enough to make the Denver to Vail commute one of the most challenging driving experiences on the planet, motorists also have to navigate around all the major construction that’s always taking place here. Because trucks are required to use chains here regularly, and because of so much adverse weather and heavy traffic in general, the road surface quickly degenerates into being unsafe for travel. Construction crews are always present, perpetually fixing one section of the highway before moving on to the next, adding yet an extra hurdle for drivers taking this route to navigate through.

So Why Take this Dangerous Road?

Considering all the dangerous elements combined of traveling the road from Denver to Vail, you might be wondering why do so many people still choose to do so year after year?

Well, there are a multitude of reasons:

  1. It is the gateway to and from the Rocky Mountains: The Ski Resort towns of Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, and many other world-famous destinations are most conveniently accessed via this stretch of I70 called the “Road from Denver to Vail “. Tourists heading to the Rocky Mountain resorts from Denver Airport take this road to get to their destinations.
  2. It is a vital commerce route for trucks carrying cargo across the United States. The Denver to Vail section of I70 connects Denver to Utah and further West to California. Without this section of highway, trucks would have to go many hundreds of miles around either side of the Rockies and add many hours to their routes in the process.
  3. This is a spectacularly beautiful road. The views of the Colorado Rockies along this road are unparalleled. Big mountain formations line both sides of the road as it winds its way through the massive rocks. In the Wintertime the views are especially amazing (and the road is exceptionally dangerous). The Drive from Denver to Vail is one of the most beautiful roads in Colorado!

Famous Landmarks on the Road from Denver to Vail

Another reason this road is so popular is the fact that it passes through many famous landmarks that travelers are keen to see.

  1. Old Western Towns: The journey from Denver to Vail by car is sure to impress any history and wild west enthusiast. Several old cowboy and mining towns lay directly on this route. Idaho Springs, Frisco, Georgetown and Silverthorne were all wild west mining towns full of rich history and heritage. The town of Silver Plume is considered to be a “living ghost town” which most residents have left, but which still looks and feels very much like the Wild West!
  2. The Eisenhower Tunnel: This tunnel is a modern engineering feat of marvel! The tunnel is famous for being the longest tunnel going through mountain terrain and having the highest elevation of any tunnel system in the United States! For many years it was also the highest tunnel in the entire world, however now other systems in China have overtaken this long held record. Driving through the tunnel Eisenhower Tunnel can be treacherous in itself. Icy winter conditions lead to scary skids, and there have been a number of accidents over the years.

  1. The Vail Pass: The section of Denver to Vail known as the Vail Pass is perhaps the most dangerous part. At an elevation of 10,666 ft, not only is the ascent and descent extremely challenging for motorists in any weather condition; in the Winter it is extremely risky. Frequent “Whiteout” snow conditions force local law enforcement to completely close this section of the road – it becomes undrivable! Not even the bravest dare devils would venture through here during a Winter storm; it’s simply too dangerous!

So, Should You Take the Road from Denver to Vail?

There are ways of driving around the Rockies (though it will take much longer). You could also fly into Eagle Airport and then drive East bound to get to Vail and thus avoid the more dangerous sections of the route.

But if you have a well-maintained vehicle (especially the brakes), and you carefully research incoming weather systems, you will be absolutely fine taking the road from Denver to Vail. Millions of people do so every year without issues. If you’re still nervous about making the drive, you can always use a private car service.

The views from the Vail Pass, the thrill of going through the Eisenhower Tunnel and the exhilaration of the steep ascends and quick drops you will enjoy as you drive through this winding mountain road make this an experience you will never forget!