Driving in Winter

Driving from Denver to Crested Butte in Winter

We will get through this. Yes, you can make the drive from Denver to Crested Butte in the winter without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. All routes to Crested Butte are pretty crucial arteries of travel for the state, so they are plowed and salted regularly. It would certainly help to have 4-wheel drive, but it’s not mandatory. However, depending on the snowfall in a particular storm, 4-wheel drive and chains might be your best friend. 

You can make the trip with no problems if you bring chains for your vehicle. If not, we would not advise driving to Crested Butte in heavy snow. The chains are vital to your success if things get messy. For the most part, you won’t need them. But there are signs that will alert you to when you should pull over and put on chains (or turn around because you don’t have them). You can also look at what other people are doing. If they are adding chains, then chances are, you should follow suit.

During the drive, you will drive over three passes that may require chains. The passes are Kenosha, Red Hill, and Monarch. Monarch is the steepest and longest so even if you don’t require chains for the other passes, you may need them to go over Monarch Pass. You will hit this not long after you turn West on Highway 50.

Make the drive during the daytime if you can. Much safer and easier to see. 

Note that sometimes these roads can be closed down. This can happen if the roads are deemed hazardous due to excessive snow and ice or if there’s an avalanche. It’s rare, but it does happen. Salida and Buena Vista are two good spots to stay for an overnight until the weather passes and the roads clear.

When we travel in the winter, we always take a sleeping bag per person and some water. Just in case. And some whiskey. Also, just in case. This trip may sound chaotic and complicated, but you probably won’t have anything to worry about. We just want to help you plan for the worst case scenarios. As dumb as this might sound, the key is safety, not speed. If the conditions are less than ideal, just realize that it is going to take you longer, slow down, and get there safely. LOTS can go wrong on that drive, and it will most certainly happen in the worst spot and not next to a gas station. So just be smart, as my old man used to say.

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