We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Level Contributor
209 posts
Save Topic
Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

I have never driven in the mountains, what do i need to do, not do, know, etc??

Also, we want to go to Pikes Peak but I am not driving up-down that little hill! Do they have rides or tours of some sort?


Colorado National Monument
Monuments & Statues, Mountains, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas, Parks
Colorado Western...
Destination Expert
for Ouray, Outdoors / Adventure Travel, Montrose
Level Contributor
671 posts
19 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

It's hard to give specific advice on "driving in the mountains", since it ranges from driving on a divided Interstate to driving on precarious 4WD-only roads, and from being on dry pavement with great visibility to struggling to see and slogging through freshly-fallen snow! I'm guessing you won't opt for any unpaved roads, so for the most part, you're just looking at some roads which can be rather curvy and some with dramatic drop-offs to the side -- but lots which are no big deal.

Pikes Peak: try out the train ride to and from the top. It's fun & the views are great:


Ouray, Colorado
Level Contributor
629 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Let's say you are driving I-70 from Denver to Vail. You will find the road has grades of 6-7% which doesn't sound like that much, but, trust me it is.

Of course the road is paved and of course the turns are geared to faster speeds. Their are two things you need to be mindful of when driving. When going up, you really tax the car engine. If you have a 4 cylinder car, you will probably need to be in the right lane and you won't be going the speed limit as the car cannot go that fast on those grades. If you have A/C and it is summer, you may want to turn it off to give your car more power. Going up, it is always good to watch the temperature gage since hot days will be hard to cool the engine and it is being taxed. If you have a 6 cylinder car or an V8, then, you will be able to go close to the speed limit or more going up. I still suggest you monitor the temperature gauge. If you are towing ANYTHING, then it is even harder on the vehicle... Stay right and go slow. Big Semi Trucks are a bit of an impediment as they only go 20 miles an hour on those grades when full.

Going down hill... the biggest concern here is riding the brakes. If you keep your foot on the brake the whole time, the brakes get hot and will lose some ability to work. Most people do some downshifting in their vehicles... If you drive an automatic, go down in 2 on I-70. Of course you use your brakes, just don't use them all the time. Be careful of dropping into first gear as that is hard on transmissions... you really need to let the weight of the car get you down so don't use the gas pedal very much on the steeps.

Keep plenty of distance in front of you and the next car and be aware. Take your time. You will be fine.

Destination Expert
for Colorado
Level Contributor
10,703 posts
166 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Pikes Peak Cog Railway is probably the best known way to see the mountain, and Gray Line also has tours. http://www.cograilway.com/ratestimes.htm


Those are the two options I know of but there might be other options. DH says to tell you it's really not a bad drive.

As far as mountain driving, I'm no expert, but I thought of some tips for you and then checked with my mechanic/CDL friend to see if I'd left anything out.

He said when he used to work at a car dealership repair shop, they used to see a lot of hot brakes and brake failures. He says to use your transmission to hold the car to a safe speed on downhills as much as possible (use a lower gear--automatics usually have low 1 and low2) and use your brakes as little as possible. The other mechanical problem people might have is overheating. He said if you are driving a rental you shouldn't have a problem but if you are driving your own vehicle, (esp. an older vehicle) to make sure your belts and hoses are in good condition and that you have adequate coolant. Also, watch your temperature gauge and if you see any signs of overheating, have your radiator professionally cleaned and refilled before you come.

He says to tell you that driving on Colorado's paved highways is not much different from driving anywhere else, really. (Mountain driving on "jeep roads"--4 wheeling-- adds an additional skill-set but it doesn't sound like that's what you are planning.) Observe the posted speed limits, slow down for curves, stay in the center of your lane, give yourself adequate time to pass (your visibility may be limited by curves or hills), maybe give yourself a little extra room between you and the car in front (in case he has to slow quickly for rocks in the road or deer, etc.) The driver should try to focus on the road instead of the scenery as much as possible. (Also try to avoid in-car distractions such as cell phones or fiddling with the CD player, etc. as a small distraction could mean a missed curve or hazard and you'll find yourself in the river!) Watch for rocks on the road if you're driving by cliffs, watch for animals in the road or by the road.

If you see deer beside the road, slow down. They are famous for jumping out in front of you at the last second. You'd think that when they see a car approaching, they'd run the other way, but no-oo-ooo. They are just as likely to look right at you and jump right in front of you. If that happens, your instinct will be to swerve to avoid the deer, but don't yank the wheel and lose control of the car. If you see a deer cross out in front of you, be aware that he probably has a couple of buddies who might follow. Be extra cautious in the early mornings and evenings.

Here are some websites with good info on mountain driving:




Level Contributor
11,514 posts
15 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Very good tips! One more thing I didn't see mentioned (or may have missed). Colorado law states that if you are traveling below the speed limit with five or more cars backed up behind you to pull over at the first safe opportunity. Please!

Fruita, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Fruita, Grand Junction
Level Contributor
6,769 posts
235 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Here are some more tips not mentioned - one is to take your car out of overdrive (which is actually 4th gear for highway driving) when you are going downhill. That really helps to slow your car down since it allows the engine to do some of the braking. If left on your transmission will keep switching back and forth from 3rd gear to 4th so if you are going uphill turning it off will give you more power. I don't use cruise control when I am doing mountain driving since that will allow brakes to overheat and give out. Another law in Colorado is that if the speed limit is 65 mph or more then you must drive in the right lane unless passing. That really is a problem in areas where people clog up the roads by not passing and just sit in the left lane. In the mountains on the interstate where the semis are going very slowly uphill (as mentioned) there are usually 3 lanes so you can safely be in the center lane. Be careful getting in front of those same semis on the downhill run, however, since they are going to pick up speed in an effort to make it up the next hill. You don't want to get in their way then. Also, don't ever park your car on the ramps used for runaway trucks. I've seen that happen once in awhile. Those nice sandy strips are designed for trucks who have overheated brakes to safely get off the highway, not for picnics. As mentioned, don't let traffic back up behind you. I try to pull off once in awhile because I know people have to get to work, pick up the kids from daycare, live a life while I am there to look at the scenery and enjoy my vacation. Don't let others push you to drive faster than you feel comfortable but do take cues from them - if locals slow down, you do the same. Once I saw a young man with out of state plates just about crash into a rock wall when he didn't slow down while everybody else was hitting the brakes. And get off the interstae once in awhile - if all you see of Colorado is what you view from the windshield you have missed so much. Hope your trip is great and relax. Millions of people drive here and live to tell about it.

Level Contributor
209 posts
Save Reply
6. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

Thanks for all the good advice, I have made notes and will be careful, appreciate it!

Gosport, United...
Level Contributor
239 posts
17 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

As a foreigner (now back home!) who's driven I70 4 times since last Monday night (from Vail as far as DIA one way & the road down to Moab the other) there are a couple of points I'd like to add - please.

Firstly, if it's raining/foggy/cloudy during the day in the Mountains PUT YOUR LIGHTS ON! I lost count of the number of cars - especially siver / grey ones - I couldn't see as they 'vanished' into the wet! Quite scarey!

Secondly - or so my son tells me - if you're from the 'lowlands' I believe you can get your car re-tuned for driving at altitude. I was in a rental car so it was no problem, but seeing some really powerful cars struggling on the 'up' bits with out-of-state plates makes me think this may've solved their problem!

Have fun - it's only roads, after all - &, ruts aside, they're pretty good! Which reminds me - watch out for those ruts! They can catch you unawares!

8. Re: Mountain driving, what do i need to know?

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 28 November 2009, 06:17