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Early March drive Aspen to Durango

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Early March drive Aspen to Durango

Hi there,

A group of us will need to drive Aspen to Durango on March 6th. Will normal roads be open (133-550) or do we need to take a different route? Will roads generally be driveable or should we expect snow/ice issues? We will either rent minivans or a large bus depending on difficulties.

Also need to drive Boulder to Aspen prior. I would think roads will be fine but please let me know if I'm wrong with this. Thanks in advance!

WestSlope,CO
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1. Re: Early March drive Aspen to Durango

Yes, expect snow/ice issues. What I'm going to tell you is going to sound very negative...people do travel in Colorado in the winter and early spring, often without mishap, but you do need to be aware, cautious, and flexible.

Roads might be just fine, but have plan B and plan C ready, and be prepared for bad weather and the possibility of delays. Check the road reports before you start out, but many times the road report will say something like, "snowing, icy and snowpacked in spots," which means the road is open and snowplows are out, but be careful. A four wheel drive vehicle is recommended, but they can slide on black ice just as easily as a two wheel drive vehicle, so don't expect to drive the posted speed limit in the winter if the road isn't dry.

March can be one of the heaviest snow months in Colorado. Roads can also be closed for avalanche danger, even on balmy spring days when the roads and weather are okay.

Your travel days might be just fine, but you also might face blizzard conditions and road closures due to weather or a jackknifed truck or an avalanche.

With that in mind, here's what I know about your route. Boulder to Aspen via Interstate 70 is very likely to be driveable with no problems, except give yourself some extra time. Check the road and weather reports and be aware that problems can crop up without much warning (like a wreck ahead of you, etc.) The approach to Eisenhower tunnel and Vail Pass are the spots likely to be slow going.

From Aspen to Montrose to Ridgway will likely be driveable.

I would avoid Ouray to Silverton to Durango on 550 unless you have very experienced mountain drivers. All the map searches will tell you to go that way and it appears to be the quickest route. It is a very beautiful and scenic drive but it closes quite often for hazardous conditions and avalanches, and you sure don't want to be the last car through before they decide to close the road. The road is very winding and curvy, with steep dropoffs and no guardrails in many places. There are no guardrails because there's not enough shoulder to construct them in many spots! Which means if you get a tire off the blacktop in one of those spots, you are going off a cliff. So, in the winter and spring, it is slow going at best and impassable much of the time. People do drive it when it is open, but it is extremely hazardous.

There are two alternate routes that I know of. Maybe other posters can suggest others...

The first would be to drive to Ridgway, then turn west on Highway 62 to Telluride, Rico, Dolores, and Mancos, then east to Durango. Check the roads in Dolores and see if locals recommend going via the Mancos cutoff or going a little more out of the way to Cortez before going back east to Durango. (Mancos cutoff might save a few minutes time if dry, but the main road is to Cortez, then east.) You might run into hazardous road conditions on this route, (Lizard Head Pass) but it is much more likely to be open than the route from Ouray to Durango over Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank. It looks like you are going out of your way, but the actual travel time, esp. in winter, can actually be quicker.

If Lizard Head Pass is closed or the weather sounds too bad that route, Plan C could be to go back to Glenwood Springs and Interstate 70 from Aspen, head east, and turn south on Highway 24 to Leadville, and south to Highway 160, I believe, to Pagosa Springs and west to Durango. I have not personally travelled that way in the winter so maybe someone else can advise you. There can certainly be hazardous conditions that way, as well. The thing is, there could be a blizzard in Telluride and it could be clear sailing in Leadville and vice versa.

I'm not sure whether the minivans or the bus would be better. Very often chains will be required on commercial vehicles or vehicles over a certain weight. I think it might be best to try to rent Suburbans or a similar vehicle. At the very least, ask to see if your vehicles are equipped with snow tires, and most people think 4 wheel drive, all wheel drive, or front wheel drive is preferable in snowy conditions than the rear wheel drive you have in some minivans. Maybe other posters will have more advice on that.

WestSlope,CO
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2. Re: Early March drive Aspen to Durango

I forgot to give you the road report websites. dot.state.co.us is the Colorado Dept of transportation. Check the link titled "winter driving." Also, cotrip.org is the website for road conditions and has links for weather, too.

The toll free number I have for road reports is 1-877-315-7623, but they say you can also dial 511.

3. Re: Early March drive Aspen to Durango

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