Getting to Colorado
Getting to Colorado
Denver is Colorado's hub; the state's two major interstates, I–25 and I–70, intersect here, and most of the state's population lives within a one- or two-hour drive of the city. The high plains expand to the east from Denver, and the western edge of the metro area ends at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A corridor of cities along I–25 parallels the foothills from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and the most lonely stretches of highway are in the eastern portion of the state on the plains. Although air, rail, and bus service connects Denver to many smaller cities and towns, a car is the most practical way to explore the state.
It takes about two hours to fly to Denver from Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas. From New York and Boston the flight is about 3½ hours. If you'll be checking skis, arrive even earlier.
The major air gateway to the Colorado Rockies is Denver International Airport (DEN), usually referred to by its nickname, DIA. It's 30 miles northeast of downtown Denver and 45 miles from Boulder. Flights to smaller, resort-town airports generally connect through it. Inclement weather, fairly common in winter, occasionally delays or cancels flights. In recent years, the airport has expanded its restaurant offerings to include higher-end spots like steak house Elway’s and the Denver Chophouse, but also includes more casual fare. Currently, all airport hotels are located 7 miles west toward Denver, but an airport expansion slated to open in 2015 will include a hotel and conference center within the terminal.
Colorado Springs Airport (COS) has direct flights from many major cities and is slightly less subject to bad winter storms than Denver. The airport is sometimes still open when bad weather closes other airports (especially those in the ski towns). Some of the major airlines and their subsidiaries serve communities around the state: Grand Junction (GJT), Durango (DRO), Steamboat Springs (HDN), Gunnison–Crested Butte (GUC), Montrose (MTJ), Telluride (TEX), Aspen (ASE), and Vail (EGE). Some major airlines have scheduled service from points within the United States to Colorado Springs Airport (COS); the relatively mild weather in Colorado Springs means that its airport is sometimes still functional when bad weather farther north and west affects the state's other airports. Many ski towns increase their seasonal service, adding direct flights.
Colorado Springs Airport (COS) (719/550–1900. www.springsgov.com/airportindex.aspx.)
Denver International Airport (DEN) (800/247–2336. www.flydenver.com.)
If you are driving, the best route from Denver International Airport to Denver, the ski resorts, or the mountains is to drive west on I–70. You can bypass some traffic by using the E–470 tollway, which you can access west of the airport. It connects to I–25 both south and north of Denver. When flying into Colorado Springs, take I–25 north and south. Vail, Aspen, Telluride, and the surrounding towns are accessible on Highway 24 without going through Denver.
RTD, the city's public transit, has frequent bus service to Denver and Boulder; visit their booth in the main terminal for destinations, times, and tickets. There are taxis and various private airport shuttles to cities along the Front Range from the airport, and some offer door-to-door service. Many hotels and ski resorts have their own buses; check with your lodging or ski resort to see if they offer service. The Ground Transportation Information Center is on the fifth level of the main terminal, and can direct travelers to companies' service counters.
Transfers Between AirportsIf you’re transferring between Denver International and Colorado Springs airports is easily done with your originating airline if you are flying Allegiant Airlines, American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Northwest Airlines, United, or US Airways. If you choose, bus and shuttle services are available through Ramblin Express or Supershuttle.
Denver International Airport (DEN) has direct flights from most major U.S. cities, as well as quite a few smaller ones, especially in the West. A few international carriers serve Denver with nonstop flights from London, England; Frankfurt, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; as well as Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal. United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Frontier Airlines (based in Colorado) are Denver's largest carriers, with the most flights and the longest list of destinations. Colorado Springs is served by Allegiant Airlines as well as by most major domestic airlines. United Express and Great Lakes Airlines connect Denver with smaller cities and ski resorts within Colorado.
Aero Mexico (800/237–6639. www.aeromexico.com.)
Air Canada (888/247–2262. www.aircanada.com.)
Alaska Airlines (800/252–7522. www.alaskaair.com.)
Allegiant Airlines (702/505–8888. www.allegiantair.com.)
American Airlines (800/433–7300. www.aa.com.)
British Airways (800/247–9297. www.britishairways.com.)
Delta Airlines (800/221–1212. www.delta.com.)
Frontier (800/432–1359. www.frontierairlines.com.)
Great Lakes (800/554–5111. www.flygreatlakes.com.)
JetBlue (800/538–2583. www.jetblue.com.)
Lufthansa (800/645–3880. www.lufthansa.com.)
Southwest Airlines (800/435–9792. www.southwest.com.)
United Airlines (800/864–8331. www.united.com.)
USAirways (800/428–4322. www.usairways.com.)
Traveling by bus within the Denver–Boulder region is fairly easy with RTD, because the coverage of the area is dense and most routes are not too circuitous. The free 16th Street MallRide and the light-rail routes within Denver make travel to and from downtown attractions easy.
Mountain Metropolitan Transit serves the Colorado Springs area. Colorado Mountain Express offers both shared-ride shuttles and private-car airport services from Denver International Airport (DEN) and Eagle County Regional Airport.
Colorado Mountain Express (800/525–6363 or 970/754–7433. www.coloradomountainexpress.com.)
Mountain Metropolitan Transit (719/385–7433. www.springsgov.com.)
RTD (303/299–6000. www.rtd-denver.com.)
Car travel within the urban corridor north and south of Denver can be congested, particularly weekday mornings and afternoons. Weekends, too, can have quite a bit of traffic, particularly along I–70 between Denver and the high mountains. Heavy traffic is not limited to ski season or bad weather. It is nearly a matter of course now for eastbound I–70 to be heavily congested on Sunday afternoons. If you are returning to Denver International Airport for a Sunday-afternoon or evening flight, allow plenty of time to reach the airport.
At this writing, gasoline costs between $3.50 and $4 a gallon. Gas prices in larger communities are comparable to those elsewhere in the country, but can be considerably higher in rural towns and mountain resorts. Although gas stations are plentiful in many areas, you can drive more than 100 miles in remote areas without finding gas.
License Plate Toll
Denver's Eastern Beltway, the E–470, and the connecting Northwest Parkway are both toll roads. You are automatically a License Plate Toll customer on both roads if you're not an EXpressToll or GO-PASS customer with a transponder. No advance registration is required, and customers drive nonstop through the tolls. Cameras photograph the license plates and a bill is sent one month later to the registered owner of the vehicle for tolls incurred during that period.
On-street metered parking as well as by-the-hour garages and lots are fairly plentiful in larger cities. Meters take coins and, increasingly, credit cards.
Colorado offers some of the most spectacular vistas and challenging driving in the world. Roads range from multilane blacktop to barely graveled backcountry trails; from twisting switchbacks considerately marked with guardrails to primitive campgrounds with a lane so narrow that you must back up to the edge of a steep cliff to make a turn. Scenic routes and lookout points are clearly marked, enabling you to slow down and pull over to take in the views.
One of the more unpleasant sights along the highway is roadkill—animals struck by vehicles. Deer, elk, and even bears may try to get to the other side of a road just as you come along, so watch out for wildlife on the highways. Exercise caution both for the sake of the animal in danger and your car, which could be totaled in a collision.
AAA Colorado (866/625–3601. www.colorado.aaa.com.)
Colorado State Patrol (303/239–4501; *277 from a cell phone.)
License Plate Toll
E-470 (303/537–3470 or 888/946–3470. www.expresstoll.com.)
Northwest Parkway (303/533–1200. www.northwestparkway.org.)
Road Condition Information
CO Trip (303/639–1111. www.cotrip.org.)
For police or ambulance, dial 911.
Rules of the Road
You'll find highways and national parks crowded in summer, and almost deserted (and occasionally impassable) in winter. Follow the posted speed limit, drive defensively, and make sure your gas tank is full. The law requires that drivers and front-seat passengers wear seat belts.
Always strap children under age five or under 40 pounds into approved child-safety seats. You may turn right at a red light after stopping if there's no sign stating otherwise and no oncoming traffic. When in doubt, wait for the green.
If your vehicle breaks down, or you are involved in an accident, move your vehicle out of the traffic flow, if possible, and call for help: 911 for emergencies and *277 from a cell phone for the Colorado State Patrol.
The speed limit on U.S. interstates in Colorado is up to 75 mph in rural areas and between 55 mph and 65 mph in urban zones. Mountain stretches of I–70 have lower limits—between 55 mph and 70 mph.
Modern highways make mountain driving safe and generally trouble-free even in cold weather. Although winter driving can occasionally present real challenges, road maintenance is good and plowing is prompt. However, in mountain areas tire chains, studs, or snow tires are essential. If you're planning to drive into high elevations, be sure to check the weather forecast and call for road conditions beforehand. Even main highways can close. It's a good idea to carry an emergency kit and a cell phone, but be aware that the mountains can disrupt service. If you do get stalled by deep snow, do not leave your car. Wait for help, running the engine only if needed, and remember that assistance is never far away. Winter weather isn't confined to winter months in the high country (it's been known to snow in July), so be prepared year-round.
AAA Colorado (www.aaa.com.)
Rates in most major cities run about $70 to $95 a day and $490 to $660 a week for an economy car with air-conditioning, automatic transmission, and unlimited mileage. Rates can vary greatly from company to company, so it's worth comparing online. Keep in mind if you're venturing into the Rockies that you'll need a little oomph in your engine to get over the passes. If you plan to explore any back roads, an SUV is the best bet, because it will have higher clearance. Unless you plan to do much mountain exploring, a four-wheel drive is usually needed only in winter.
To rent a car in Colorado you must be at least 25 years old (or be willing to pay surcharges) and have a valid driver's license; most companies also require a major credit card. Some companies at certain locations set their minimum age at 21, and then add a daily surcharge. In Colorado, child-safety seats or booster seats are compulsory for children under five (with certain height and weight criteria).
You'll pay extra for child seats ($5–$13 a day), drivers under age 25 (at least $25 a day), and usually for additional drivers (about $10 per day). When returning your car to Denver International Airport, allow 15 minutes (30 minutes during busy weekends and around the holidays) to return the vehicle and to ride the shuttle bus to the terminal.
Major Rental Agencies
Alamo (888/233–8749. www.alamo.com.)
Avis (800/633–3469. www.avis.com.)
Budget (800/218–7992. www.budget.com.)
Hertz (800/654–3131. www.hertz.com.)
National Car Rental (877/222–9058. www.nationalcar.com.)
Amtrak connects several stations in Colorado to both coasts and major American cities. The California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief pass once per day with east- and west-bound trains that stop in Denver, Winter Park, Granby, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, and Trinidad. There are also several scenic narrow-gauge sightseeing railroads all over the state.
Amtrak (800/872–7245. www.amtrak.com.)
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (888/286–2737 or. www.cumbrestoltec.com.)
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (888/872–4607. www.durangotrain.com.)
Georgetown Loop Railroad (888/456–6777. www.georgetownlooprr.com.)
Royal Gorge Route Railroad (888/724–5748. www.royalgorgeroute.com.)
Leadville, Co. & Southern Railroad Company (719/486–3936 or 866/386–3936. www.leadville-train.com.)
Rio Grande Scenic Railroad (719/587–0520 or 877/726–7245. www.riograndescenicrailroad.com.)
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