Mountain Living 101: How to Drive in the Mountains

By Kathy Harris, 

The leaves are turning, snow season is on the horizon and more people are heading into the mountains for weekend trips. But before you travel Colorado’s mountain roads, there are a few things you should know.

  • Most mountain roads in Colorado lack guardrails, even on dangerous, inches-from-the-edge-of-mountain curves. So, order up some nerves of steel if you’re not used to that kind of driving, and don’t look down.
  • Don’t feel rushed if cars begin to back up behind you because you are actually going the speed limit. But DO use pullouts to let others pass. Those of us who live along mountain roads know them like the back of our hand and tend to drive faster because of it. Or better yet, park in a safe place and admire the scenery on foot.
  • If you come to a narrow part of a road, remember that the uphill driver always has the right of way.
  • Signs that say “slow around this curve,” or something like that, are there for a reason. Going too fast around a mountain curve can send you spiraling thousands of feet below—or dangling from a pine tree, if you’re lucky.
  • When you’re going downhill on a steep grade, consider using a lower gear to save your brakes.
  • And when you are going uphill on a steep grade, you might also use your lower gear to get better performance from your engine, especially if you only have a V6 or lower.
  • Bring a few gallons of water just in case your engine overheats. Mountain driving can be hard on an engine, but don’t add water until your engine has cooled.
  • Keep a full gallon of windshield wiper fluid in your car. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than driving 65 mph on I-70, getting hit by a trucker’s mud backsplash and not being able to clear the windshield quickly.
  • Watch for wildlife on the road. Deer and elk are on the move this time of year, and they don’t seem to worry about darting out in front of you, especially in the morning or evening.
  • Make sure your gas tank is full—gas stations can be few and far between in mountain areas.
  • And probably the most important tip: Pay attention to the weather forecast before you head out. Weather can change on a dime in the mountains. Snow can fall any day this time of the year above 9,000 ft., even if it’s sunny and warm in Denver.

Enjoy your fall drives into the mountains this season. The leaves and peaks combine for an experience you’ll want to hold on to for quite a while.