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Old 05-15-2010, 06:51 PM
 
Location: The Heart of Dixie
6,548 posts, read 11,629,504 times
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I'm taking a cross country trip with some friends from Baltimore to Los Angeles this summer and will be going through Colorado via I-70. We're trying to plan out our itinerary and I'm wondering if Rocky Mountain National Park is worth a day compared to just seeing the mountain scenery from the highways??? If we choose to visit is a day sufficient to see the most attractive portions of the park? Are there state park or other local places less out of the way from Interstate 70 that has comparable scenery? Do the small town in Colorado have a lot of unique charm like the small towns of the South and the Midwest?

We're also interested in spending some time off the Interstate for a more "authentic" experience but in Colorado would it actually be better to stay on the freeway? Are the local routes through the mountains well maintained and easy to drive on or they they be very winding and more risky for folks unaccostumed to that kind of terrain. I've driven on some mountain roads in the Blue Ridge and Shenendoah in Virginia and those already felt kind of hairy to me. Anywhere else close to I-70 that is a must-see?

Lastly, what's the weather like in Colorado in late July or early August? Does it get very cold in teh elevations that the freeway goes through or only if you climb high into the Rockies? Would shorts, flip flops and t-shirts be fine (Rocky Mountains, Denver, Golden) or should we back some heavier clothing just in case? Because the entire rest of the trip its all through pretty warm weather.

 
Old 05-15-2010, 09:32 PM
 
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I really couldn't judge for you cause you haven't really made note of your likes and dislikes enough.

The national park is going to be in peak season at the time, so it will be bumper to bumper traffic quite possibly. I think it depends what you really want to see or if you have specific interests. I think there are plenty of other 2 lane roads around Colorado that are just as nice if all you want to do is ogle mountains.

Unique charm? What do you define as "unique charm"? Most Colorado mountain towns are either ex or soon to be ex mining/oil/gas towns, ski towns or small agricultural towns. Having lived in the south and midwest, there were plenty of crappy towns there, so unique charm? Don't know, depends on what you find appealing. For instance some may find the hollywood, flashy Aspen to be charming and some may find Leadville, a mining town that had it's best days 120 years ago, charming.

Mountain driving has it's own hazards, much like driving in the city. I have been belabored by I-70 closures in the summer just as much as winter, everything from rock slides to flipped over tanker trucks. I even had a damn airplane crash land on the road on Vail Pass right in front of me by a few minutes. There are a number of significant elevation changes that happen on that road, plus other issues, so yes you need to be on the ball. The 2 lane roads can vary in maintenance due to the harsh weather at altitude and many can be just as winding as those back in the Appalachians.

If you are up above 8000ft yes it can get cold if there is an afternoon thunderstorm and the night temps can be below freezing, especially the higher you are. But mostly an extra sweater is fine if you are staying over for a day. And yes I have been snowed on at high elevation at that time.

Probably the main issue is exposure to the sun, you'll more easily get sunburned due to the thin air and high UV, and also the altitude and lack of oxygen which can take flatlanders by surprise if not adjusted. The dry air sucks moisture out of your lungs with every breath so drink plenty of water. If you are up above 9000-10000ft like in the national park, stay hydrated, use sunscreen and don't exertion yourself. The people that get in trouble are those that jet in from the coast to Denver, zoom up to the high country and start bounding around like hobbits. Next thing you know they stroke out from a heart attack or get sick.
 
Old 05-15-2010, 11:01 PM
 
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I'd avoid the park you mentioned during that time because it would be prime tourist season and the roads would be packed that close to Denver.

Small detours you should consider are:
Take the road over the top of the continental divide rather than going through Eisenhower Tunnel. Its only an extra 15 minutes or so of driving, but its worth it if you like mountain views. You could also probably find some snow up there for a snowball fight if you felt like it.
Stop at Glenwood Springs to go rafting, biking through Glenwood Canyon, visit the Fairy Caves, or other touristy stuff like swimming in the hot springs.
If you like desert scenery, Arches National Park near Moab, UT would be a great place to stop but its about 40 miles from I-70. If you don't want to detour that far, Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction has some beautiful views.

For clothing, you shouldn't need heavy winter clothes, but it wouldn't hurt to at least have a light jacket and long pants available if you need them. Because of our low humidity, it isn't uncommon at all for the temperature to drop 40 degrees as soon as the sun goes down.
 
Old 05-15-2010, 11:16 PM
 
Location: western Colorado, hoping to move to PA
51 posts, read 133,998 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Lennox 70 View Post
I'm taking a cross country trip with some friends from Baltimore to Los Angeles this summer and will be going through Colorado via I-70. We're trying to plan out our itinerary and I'm wondering if Rocky Mountain National Park is worth a day compared to just seeing the mountain scenery from the highways??? If we choose to visit is a day sufficient to see the most attractive portions of the park? Are there state park or other local places less out of the way from Interstate 70 that has comparable scenery? Do the small town in Colorado have a lot of unique charm like the small towns of the South and the Midwest?

We're also interested in spending some time off the Interstate for a more "authentic" experience but in Colorado would it actually be better to stay on the freeway? Are the local routes through the mountains well maintained and easy to drive on or they they be very winding and more risky for folks unaccostumed to that kind of terrain. I've driven on some mountain roads in the Blue Ridge and Shenendoah in Virginia and those already felt kind of hairy to me. Anywhere else close to I-70 that is a must-see?

Lastly, what's the weather like in Colorado in late July or early August? Does it get very cold in teh elevations that the freeway goes through or only if you climb high into the Rockies? Would shorts, flip flops and t-shirts be fine (Rocky Mountains, Denver, Golden) or should we back some heavier clothing just in case? Because the entire rest of the trip its all through pretty warm weather.
Well, I've driven I-70 from the western slope (where I live) to Denver lots of times, and it is a beautiful drive but the traffic on that route is pretty crazy sometimes and so you don't get much of a chance to enjoy it. The route itself is not that bad in the summer; it isn't all that winding or scary of a drive as far as mountain pass driving goes. As the previous poster said, though, you have to watch for diversions from acts of nature or accidents. The local routes, assuming you mean you'd exit from I-70 and explore some local areas, don't get too tenuous unless you're driving a fair distance from the main roads heading into the backcountry in which case there are a lot of one-lane dirt roads with the washboards and all that. But you really should have an idea of where you want to go if you're driving those, because you don't want to get lost. There are some you can take from one highway to another just for sightseeing--my dad took us on a route that his dad used to take him on that was like that, but for the life of me I can't remember where the area was or I would recommend it to you. Though I do remember getting some pretty severe motion sickness going over those washboard back roads as a kid.

The interstate goes all the way over the Rocky Mountains so there are definitely areas where it is quite cold. In the dog days of summer it is quite pleasant at the summit and shorts and flip flops should be just fine. I'd have a windbreaker or a sweater tied around my waist in case of wind or a drop in temperature. The weather this year has been crazy here. There are a lot of scenic pull-off as you drive over the pass where you can stop and take pictures and soak in the scenery.

I would suggest taking a stop around the Glenwood Springs area. I-70 runs right smack through Glenwood Springs. It is a small resort town but has a very funky vibe and some great shops. It also has a natural hot springs pool that's been developed into a small resort and if you feel like stopping someplace (and dropping like $20 on a ticket per person) it is a really cool place. I think it's more fun in the winter because there's something about swimming comfortably in 20 degree weather that's really cool, not to mention the steam that the hot springs creates is neat.

Also near Glenwood Springs, if you like hiking that is, you'll find Hanging Lake. It is a fair hike but absolutely doable for amateurs (assuming you don't have heart conditions or something). It is one of the most beautiful places in the state in my opinion. One drawback is that during certain parts of the year you'll find large groups hiking up there and doing annoying things like littering or touching the mineral deposits that the markers clearly state took THOUSANDS of years to create...grrr. And the hike up there and back, with time spent checking the area out, would eat up several hours of your itinerary. It's a really awesome area, though.

Glenwood Springs also has a little amusement park and shop that goes into the mining history of the area and some Old West type schticks. Right around this same area you can go on a pretty neat cave tour. It is quite cold in the caves so make sure to take a jacket if you go!

I think Glenwood is an awesome place to spend an entire weekend, but those are some things you might be interested in checking out if you were to just stop for the afternoon.
 
Old 05-16-2010, 01:26 AM
 
Location: The Heart of Dixie
6,548 posts, read 11,629,504 times
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Thanks a lot for all the tips. Looks like we definitely will stop at Hanging Lake....interesting how we actually have to turn around since we're going westbound. Looks very pretty in the pictures. I have a feeling Colorado will probably be the most beautiful stretch in terms of natural landscapes. We do already plan to stop at Moab, Utah and visit Arches, so I assume the traffic there is less intense than with Rocky Mountain National Park?

Its places like Hanging Lake that we'd like to see really in my queston about the national park too. Basically mountain lakes, river valleys, places where one can see the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, waterfalls. But not requiring too much hiking experience or equipment since everything we carry has to fit in a car/SUV and all of it has to get on a plane since we'll be flying back from Los Angeles. In terms of altitude sickness we're all men in our 20s so I don't think it should be a problem. I personally have been to Yellowstone and the Tetons before, don't know if that's higher or lower in elevation than Colorado's Rockies. Plus it will be a drive from Kansas up through Denver so I assume it's easier to adjust like someone pointed out. I'm surprised that Denver itself actually isn't IN the mountains yet is a "mile high". I've never heard "flatlander" before but where I live in definitely, almost completely flat on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
 
Old 05-16-2010, 01:29 AM
 
Location: The Heart of Dixie
6,548 posts, read 11,629,504 times
Reputation: 3970
Quote:
Originally Posted by sterlinggirl View Post
I'd avoid the park you mentioned during that time because it would be prime tourist season and the roads would be packed that close to Denver.

Small detours you should consider are:
Take the road over the top of the continental divide rather than going through Eisenhower Tunnel. Its only an extra 15 minutes or so of driving, but its worth it if you like mountain views. You could also probably find some snow up there for a snowball fight if you felt like it.
Stop at Glenwood Springs to go rafting, biking through Glenwood Canyon, visit the Fairy Caves, or other touristy stuff like swimming in the hot springs.
If you like desert scenery, Arches National Park near Moab, UT would be a great place to stop but its about 40 miles from I-70. If you don't want to detour that far, Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction has some beautiful views.

For clothing, you shouldn't need heavy winter clothes, but it wouldn't hurt to at least have a light jacket and long pants available if you need them. Because of our low humidity, it isn't uncommon at all for the temperature to drop 40 degrees as soon as the sun goes down.
Thanks! Which road in particular over the Continental Divide? Is it well marked as a scenic byway? Are there scenic overlooks where we can get out and take pictures? Perhaps with Hanging Lake and the continental divide we may skip the national park. Will be interesting since the idea of snow in August is very alien to me! So we'll be going from 95 degrees humid in Maryland to possibly below freezing in Colorado then 110 degrees in Nevada and California before we get to the coast.....
 
Old 05-16-2010, 08:17 AM
 
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How ya doin' Tom? The road that Sterlinggirl is referring to hear is Loveland Pass, which crosses the continental divide. Elevation at the top is 11,992 feet, I believe. Up until the early 70's this is how everybody went as the tunnel wasn't completed until early 1974 (I think!). This area is adequately staffed with C-Dot people for road and tunnel maintenance. They send the gas tankers (and anyone else carrying hazardous liquids) over Loveland Pass.
 
Old 05-16-2010, 09:02 AM
 
Location: western Colorado, hoping to move to PA
51 posts, read 133,998 times
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Hey, Tom--I found on this site that it looks like the trail will be closed until August 1. You mentioned going in late July/early August, so I hope you will still be able to check it out! Hopefully that doesn't also mean that everyone and their brother will be going up there for the month and a half that it's open. It's such a beautiful place and so much nicer when it's peaceful up there.

And yeah, doubling back to take the exit for the trail can get kind of crazy. The last time my husband and I went there was a ton of construction and chaos in that area and we missed the exit THREE times. Not being able to get there from the other direction we kept having to drive to Molina and turn around over and over and head all the way back to Glenwood before we could try again, LOL!
 
Old 05-16-2010, 12:38 PM
 
3,460 posts, read 4,792,436 times
Reputation: 6677
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Lennox 70 View Post
Thanks! Which road in particular over the Continental Divide? Is it well marked as a scenic byway? Are there scenic overlooks where we can get out and take pictures?
It is Loveland Pass, and there is a scenic overlook at the top where you can get out to take pictures and wander around a bit. I don't remember if its marked as a scenic byway, but you shouldn't have any trouble finding it.

Moab shouldn't be too bad traffic-wise. It is the busy season there, but that area is so isolated that it never gets as crowded as Rocky Mountain National Park. Make sure to take plenty of sunscreen!
 
Old 05-18-2010, 03:23 PM
 
Location: The Heart of Dixie
6,548 posts, read 11,629,504 times
Reputation: 3970
Thanks again for all the help. Umberlee how far of a distance is it to double back? Its always annoying when you can only exit or exit onto a freeway from one direction but with the mountain terrain its understandable especially when they want to minimize the affect on the environment. We'll probably be going in August.
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