Driving to Colorado: Tips, Tricks, and Laws

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Jason Tushinski
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does not have a vast toll network, so you might spend some time dealing with Centennial State traffic. However, do know there are plenty of great drives in Colorado, even if you end up spending a bit more time in your car than you’d like.

The best routes for driving to Colorado

Wherever you hail from, whether the snowy Northeast, the sunny West Coast, or the humid Southeast, we’re here to map out a great trip to Colorado. Here are some popular routes:
  • Providence
    (38 hours): Whether you’re tired of
    Rhode Island
    winters, or you’re planning a ski trip in Aspen, this cross-country journey offers plenty of sights to see. Hug the shores of Long Island Sound before heading west and passing the southern shores of Lakes Erie & Michigan. You’ll be within striking distance of a
    pitstop before roaring through Iowa cornfields and Nebraska grasslands. Wheel through
    before arriving in this classic ski town.
  • Los Angeles
    to Rocky Mountain National Park (15 hours): From LA, barnstorm your way through
    Las Vegas
    , the Mojave Desert, and
    before crossing the Colorado frontier and landing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Enjoy stunning vistas, jaw-dropping wildlife, and fresh, mountain air.
  • San Francisco
    to Denver (18 hours): If tech’s favorite city ain’t your cup of tea, make a beeline for Denver. Head northeast and pass through
    , then take in Lake Tahoe’s beauty before passing
    and charging through
    . You’ll cross into Utah and pass by
    Salt Lake City
    , then continue through southern
    shrubland before heading south for your descent into vibrant, cosmopolitan Denver.
  • New Orleans
    to Great Sand Dune National Park (19 hours):  If the Big Easy is not quite easy enough for your tastes, hit the road and head northwest to see one of the country’s greatest national parks. You can stop in
    for some fish fry before you continue through
    and see how much of a big deal Big D really is. Saddle up again and ride through West
    before crossing into the moody
    New Mexico
    desert. You’ll then head north into Colorado and find yourself at the sandy foot of the awe-inspiring Great Sand Dune National Park.
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How good are Colorado’s roads?

Unfortunately, Colorado’s roads aren’t great. A recent study ranked Centennial State roadways the
15th worst
in the country. 
Nearly 20% of the state’s roads are considered in poor condition, while 42% percent are considered in good condition. Roads in urban centers, such as Denver and
Colorado Springs
, can be worn down by traffic and heavy winter weather. Also, beware if you’re taking on any mountain passes—they can be notorious for poor conditions.

Does Colorado have toll roads?

Colorado has just three toll roads, and all are cashless. They are the following:
  • E-470: Runs along Denver’s eastern perimeter
  • Northwest Parkway: connects with the E-470 and I-25 N, US 36 and State Highway 120 in Bloomfield
  • I-25 EXpress Toll Lanes: These run between downtown Denver and US 36 
If you’re renting a car on your trip to Colorado, participating rental agencies have made their vehicles PlatePass ready, meaning you can take Colorado’s toll roads and your credit card on file will be seamlessly charged.

How bad is Colorado traffic?

Colorado may be renowned for its beauty, but it's also known for bad traffic. Denver leads the way in congestion and is actually ranked in the 20 worst cities in the country for traffic. Colorado’s bad winter weather doesn't help traffic, either.
If you’re planning on hitting the slopes, be prepared for some gridlock, as roads in and around Aspen, Vail,
, and other ski towns are known to be clogged.
Colorado’s cities with the worst traffic are the following:
If you’re roaring through Colorado on a road trip, do your best to avoid rush hour, especially in and around Denver. Weekend driving is your best bet for less traffic, or try and be on the road before the morning rush or after the evening drive home.
Key Takeaway Colorado is known for bad traffic, especially in Denver and in and around popular ski towns.
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What are Colorado’s speeding laws?

In Colorado, there are three types of speeding limits: basic speed limits, presumed speed limits, and absolute speed limits. We’ll break all of these down below:
  • Basic speed limits: Following Colorado’s basic speed limits mean driving safely considering the context. If you’re on the highway on a beautiful day going 60 mph, that’s fine. But if you’re going the same speed through a blinding snowstorm, that can be considered reckless driving, which is a violation of the law.
  • Presumed speed limits: These are expected speed limits that drivers are expected to follow. Driving 25 mph through a school zone is considered normal. But if you break the presumed speed limit, you won’t be automatically guilty—you’ll be able to make your case in court and explain why your speed was safe considering the context.
  • Absolute speed limits: These are the posted speed limits, and you are not legally allowed to drive any faster. In Colorado, the absolute speed limit for vehicles is 75 mph. For low-powered scooters, the absolute speed limit is 45 mph.

Fines for speeding in Colorado

Here are how speed infractions are determined in Colorado:
  • 1 to 4 mph over a reasonable speed limit or the maximum lawful speed: $30
  • 5 to 9 mph over a reasonable speed limit or the maximum lawful speed: $70
  • 10 to 19 mph over a reasonable speed limit or the maximum lawful speed: $135
  • 20 to 24 mph over a reasonable speed limit or the maximum lawful speed: $200
  • 25 or more mph over a reasonable speed limit, or the maximum lawful speed: minimum $150, maximum $300 (along with possible jail time)
  • 25 or more mph over a reasonable speed limit or the maximum lawful speed in a construction zone: minimum $300, maximum $1000 (along with possible jail time)
Keep in mind, any speeding tickets can add points to your record and cause your
car insurance
premium to rise steeply. If you want to do all you can to keep your rates low, give
a shot!

What are Colorado’s alcohol laws?

Colorado’s alcohol laws are pretty straightforward: you are forbidden to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% (adults), 0.04% (commercial drivers), or 0.02% (drivers under 21). 
As a rule, you should never drink and drive. If you do plan on having a drink, arrange to be driven home, either by a friend, cab, rideshare service, or public transit. Even one drink can impair your driving ability.
In terms of driving with alcohol in your car,
Colorado’s open container laws
are clear—it is illegal to drive in your vehicle with any unsealed alcohol containers. However, you are allowed to transport alcohol in containers that are fully sealed and unopened.
Alcohol-related violations, such as
, can have severe consequences. You could be fined, have your license suspended, or be jailed. On any road trip through Colorado, stay dry—don’t drink and drive.

Can you use headphones while driving in Colorado?

In Colorado, it is illegal to drive with headphones in your ears. However, it is permitted to take a cell phone call with an earbud in one ear only
There are exceptions, of course, for the following individuals:
  • Emergency workers
  • Maintenance or construction workers
  • Drivers requiring ear protection for a medical condition
MORE: Texting and driving in Colorado
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Perhaps not surprisingly, Denver and Colorado Springs are the two worst cities to drive in Colorado, owing to their size, traffic, and bad winter weather. Ski towns such as Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge are also known to have heavy traffic during the high season.
Driving across Colorado is a journey that will take you 380 miles, in about 6 hours.
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